Thursday, August 16, 2018

Max Dalton: Jazz Album Art

Some hip Max Dalton jazz album covers -- I especially like the Winsor McCay riff on the Monk cover -- double-collectible...

'Max Dalton lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and has been drawing since he was two or three years old. Max has too many interests to list here -- from writing to painting to playing music and reading about animals -- but his all-time favorite is drawing. He is the illustrator of "The Lonely Phone Booth," "The Lonely Typewriter," and "Extreme Opposites."'

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Seeing Earth's Magnetic Fields: Cryptochromes and Blue Light

Birds Can See Earth's Magnetic Fields -- And We Finally Know How That's Possible

By Michelle Starr

The mystery behind how birds navigate might finally be solved: it's not the iron in their beaks providing a magnetic compass, but a newly discovered protein in their eyes that lets them "see" Earth's magnetic fields.

These findings come courtesy of two new papers -- one studying robins, the other zebra finches.

The eye protein is called "Cry4," and it's part of a class of proteins called "cryptochromes" -- photoreceptors sensitive to blue light, found in both plants and animals. These proteins play a role in regulating circadian rhythms.

There's also been evidence in recent years that, in birds, the cryptochromes in their eyes are responsible for their ability to orient themselves by detecting magnetic fields, a sense called "magneto-reception."

We know that birds can only sense magnetic fields if certain wavelengths of light are available -- specifically, studies have shown that avian magneto-reception seems dependent on blue light.

This seems to confirm that the mechanism is a visual one, based in the cryptochromes, which may be able to detect the fields because of "quantum coherence."

To find more clues on these cryptochromes, two teams of biologists set to work. Researchers from Lund University in Sweden studied zebra finches, and researchers from the Carl von Ossietzky University Oldenburg in Germany studied European robins.

The Lund team measured gene expression of three cryptochromes, Cry1, Cry2, and Cry4, in the brains, muscles and eyes of zebra finches. Their hypothesis was that the cryptochromes associated with magnetoreception should maintain constant reception over the circadian day.

They found that, as expected for circadian clock genes, Cry1 and Cry2 fluctuated daily -- but Cry4 expressed at constant levels, making it the most likely candidate for magnetoreception.

This finding was supported by the robin study, which found the same thing.

"We also found that Cry1a, Cry1b, and Cry2 mRNA display robust circadian oscillation patterns, whereas Cry4 shows only a weak circadian oscillation," the researchers wrote.

But they made a couple of other interesting findings, too. The first is that Cry4 is clustered in a region of the retina that receives a lot of light -- which makes sense for light-dependent magnetoreception.

The other is that European robins have increased Cry4 expression during the migratory season, compared to non-migratory chickens.

Both sets of researchers caution that more research is needed before Cry4 can be declared the protein responsible for magnetoreception.

The evidence is strong, but it's not definitive, and both Cry1 and Cry2 have also been implicated in magnetoreception, the former in garden warblers and the latter in fruit flies.

Observing birds with non-functioning Cry4 could help confirm the role it seems to play, while other studies will be needed to figure Cry1's role.

So what does a bird actually see? Well, we can't ever know what the world looks like through another species' eyes, but we can take a very strong guess.

According to researchers at the Theoretical and Computational Biophysics group at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, whose researcher Klaus Schulten first predicted magnetoreceptive cryptochromes in 1978, they could provide a magnetic field "filter" over the bird's field of view (like in the picture above).

The zebra finch study was published in the "Journal of the Royal Society Interface," and the robin study was published in "Current Biology."

Robert Cika: Cortlandt Manor

Shades of John Lautner! Designed by architect Robert Cika, Jackie Gleason's two UFO-inspired party houses were constructed by a Norwegian shipbuilder, who shipped the completed pieces to Cortlandt Manor for final assembly.

Gleason personally oversaw the project, which cost $650,000 -- roughly equivalent to $5.6 million today --and took five years to complete (in 1959). It was a marvel, and one that he shared with his many celebrity guests, including Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, and Joe DiMaggio.

The "Mothership" was the main house. Designed to host large parties, it has two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and two bars -- the centerpiece being a 14-person, curving bar, which had a baby grand piano, and a microphone that would emerge from the marble floor to the delight of Gleason’s guests.

Jonny Quest Tech

I still love all that Mid-Century Modern "Jonny Quest" tech...

Sunday, August 12, 2018

On the Reading Table: "No Middle Name: The Complete Collected Jack Reacher Stories"

It's been a long time since I've read some mystery/ crime fiction. I've been reading mostly non-fiction for quite a spell. I've long enjoyed the crime fiction writings of Lee Child -- they remind me of the work of another favorite, John D. MacDonald -- which makes perfect sense -- since I read somewhere that Child was inspired by MacDonald in his approach to storytelling. Anyway, I snagged this recent "Jack Reacher" paperback from a "Little Free Library" in Anchorage, and finally started my pleasure reading. 

"This anthology compiles the complete collection of 'Reacher' short stories to date and includes an original novella, 'Too Much Time,' which leads into 'The Midnight Line' (the 22nd Reacher novel) alongside eleven reader favorites -- 'Deep Down,' 'Everyone Talks,' 'Guy Walks into a Bar,' 'High Heat,' 'James Penney’s New Identity' (the original version which is longer), 'Maybe They Have a Tradition,' 'No Room at the Motel,' 'Not a Drill,' 'Second Son,' 'Small Wars,' and The Picture of the Lonely Diner.'"

Friday, August 10, 2018

Good Social Connections Are Healthy

Social Pain -- is often caused by loss, rejection, and deep embarrassment. Isolation, exclusion, submission, and appeasement -- are all evolutionary harmful psychic forces to be aware of. Try to connect and be kind to your fellow people. Bullying (workplace, social media, or otherwise) is wrong. That is all.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Possible Biological Marker for Depression

Investigators at Stanford and elsewhere have shown, for the first time in humans, that low blood levels of acetyl-L-carnitine track with the severity and duration of depression.

People with depression have low blood levels of a substance called acetyl-L-carnitine, according to a Stanford University School of Medicine scientist and her collaborators in a multicenter study.

Naturally produced in the body, acetyl-L-carnitine is also widely available in drugstores, supermarkets and health food catalogs as a nutritional supplement. People with severe or treatment-resistant depression, or whose bouts of depression began earlier in life, have particularly low blood levels of the substance.

The findings, published online July 30 in the "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences," build on extensive animal research. They mark the first rigorous indication that the link between acetyl-L-carnitine levels and depression may apply to people, too. And they point the way to a new class of antidepressants that could be freer of side effects and faster-acting than those in use today, and that may help patients for whom existing treatments don’t work or have stopped working.

Natalie Rasgon, MD, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford, described the findings as “an exciting addition to our understanding of the mechanisms of depressive illness.”

“As a clinical psychiatrist, I have treated many people with this disorder in my practice,” she said.

Depression, also called major depressive disorder or clinical depression, is the most prevalent mood disorder in the United States and the world, affecting 8-10 percent of the general population at any given time, with every fourth person likely to experience the condition over the course of a lifetime.

“It’s the No. 1 reason for absenteeism at work, and one of the leading causes of suicide,” Rasgon said. “Worse, current pharmacological treatments are effective for only about 50 percent of the people for whom they’re prescribed. And they have numerous side effects, often decreasing long term compliance.”

Rasgon shares senior authorship of the study with Bruce McEwen, PhD, professor and chief of the Laboratory of Neuroendocrinology at The Rockefeller University in New York City. The lead author is Carla Nasca, PhD, a postdoctoral scholar in McEwen’s lab.

Results in animal studies

“In rodent experiments led by Dr. Nasca both here at Rockefeller and elsewhere previously, a deficiency of acetyl-L-carnitine was associated with depression-like behavior,” McEwen said. Oral or intravenous administration of acetyl-L-carnitine reversed the animals’ symptoms and restored their normal behavior, he said.

What’s the appropriate dose, frequency, duration? We need to answer many questions before proceeding with recommendations, yet.

In those studies, the animals responded to acetyl-L-carnitine supplementation within a few days. Current antidepressants, in contrast, typically take two to four weeks to kick in -- in animal experiments as well as among patients.

Nasca’s animal studies suggest that acetyl-L-carnitine, a crucial mediator of fat metabolism and energy production throughout the body, plays a special role in the brain, where it works at least in part by preventing the excessive firing of excitatory nerve cells in brain regions called the hippocampus and frontal cortex.

The new study, also initiated by Nasca, recruited 20- to 70-year-old men and women who had been diagnosed with depression and, amid episodes of acute depression, had been admitted to either Weill Cornell Medicine or Mount Sinai School of Medicine, both in New York City, for treatment. These participants were screened via a detailed questionnaire and assessed clinically, and their blood samples and medical histories were taken. Twenty-eight of them were judged to have moderate depression, and 43 had severe depression.

In comparing their blood samples with those of 45 demographically matched healthy people, the depressed patients’ acetyl-L-carnitine blood levels were found to be substantially lower. These findings held true for both men and women, regardless of age.

Lowest levels = worst symptoms

Further analysis showed that the lowest levels occurred among participants whose symptoms were most severe, whose medical histories indicated they were resistant to previous treatments, or whose onset of the disorder occurred early in life. Acetyl-L-carnitine levels were also lower among those patients reporting a childhood history of abuse, neglect, poverty or exposure to violence.

These patients, who collectively account for 25-30 percent of all people with major depression disorder, are precisely the ones most in need of effective pharmacological interventions, said Rasgon, who performed the bulk of the advanced data analysis for the study.

But she cautioned against rushing to the store to pick up a bottle of acetyl-L-carnitine and self-medicating for depression. “We have many previous examples of how nutritional supplements widely available over the counter and unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration — for example, omega-3 fatty acids or various herbal substances — are touted as panaceas for you-name-it, and then don’t pan out,” she said.

Big questions remain, she added. “We’ve identified an important new biomarker of major depression disorder. We didn’t test whether supplementing with that substance could actually improve patients’ symptoms. What’s the appropriate dose, frequency, duration? We need to answer many questions before proceeding with recommendations, yet. This is the first step toward developing that knowledge, which will require large-scale, carefully controlled clinical trials.”

Rasgon is a member of the Stanford Neurosciences Institute.

Researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College, the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Duke University and the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, also contributed to the work.

Stanford University shares in a multi-institutional agreement concerning intellectual property generated by this research.

The study was funded by the Hope for Depression Research Foundation, the Pritzker Neuropsychiatric Disorders Research Consortium and the Robertson Foundation.

Stanford’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences also supported the work.