Social media virus – recovery mode

26 02 2012

You may remember the particularly bizarre version of alleged mass hysteria allegedly being spread via social media in a New York High School. A group of about 12 teenage girls and one female adult had come down with a bizarre Tourette’s-like illness characterised by ticks, twitching and uncontrolled verbal outbursts. The girls had been posting videos of themselves on Youtube and authorities were concerned that this was a form of transmission for what they believed to be a conversion disorder. To be clear – this doesn’t mean that they are faking the symptoms, only that the symptoms are psychological in origin. We humans are suggestible beings.

Well, it appears that as mysteriously as it began, victims are recovering. But just as the cause was the subject of speculation and disagreement, so is the treatment. Nothing like a mysterious epidemic affecting teenage girls to bring out the feeding frenzy – medical and media.

Some girls are recovering after behavioural modification, psychological help and medication for anti-anxiety, depression and headaches by Dr. Laszlo Mechtler, medical director at DENT Neurologic Institute in western New York. Others have been treated with antibiotics after being diagnosed with PANDAS – Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections by Dr. Rosario Trifiletti, a child neurologist from New Jersey. And as with all good stories, it is not clear how many girls are being treated in each treatment group, or the recovery rates for each group. Both groups claim success.

Well-known environmental campaigner Erin Brokovich has also been on the case investigating whether cyanide and trichloroethylene (TCE) that was spilled a few miles from the school following a train wreck in December 1970. Parents invited Ms Brokovich to investigate environmental options after disputing psychological causes. The State Health Department had done soil testing and testing on the building, as well as considering illegal drugs and infectious diseases when the symptoms first emerged and announced negative results. I guess given her well-publicised background, Ms Brokovich probably doesn’t want to take that at face value. Her team will continue testing samples from around the school after being denied permission to take samples on school grounds.

(TCE exposure does have recognised psychological side-effects although they do not closely correlate with the reported symptoms of the girls. TCE affects the central nervous system and can cause drowsiness, difficulty moving and headaches. Psychological effects of cyanide include sluggishness, convulsions, coma. No information was found in my brief search regarding the combination of TCE and Cyanide on the nervous system.)

However, the question has to be asked – if it is due to environmental toxins from the train wreck, why now 41 years later, why only a few girls at the high school (not boys, not even all the girls, not the whole school, not teachers who may have taught there for many years and would presumably have had a much greater exposure to any environmental toxins). And if it is PANDAS – why is this surely quite rare side effect of strep throat suddenly showing up in a larger than usual number of cases?

If, as it seems from reading about this case and from my non-clinical standpoint, the diagnosis of mass hysteria turns out to be correct, despite the unpalatableness of a psychological cause to some students and parents, the up-side is that it is recoverable. So while it is important to ensure there is nothing more sinister going on and there are no toxins or other disease mechanisms causing this illness, a treatable psychological diagnosis would be the best outcome for those affected. And a level of anonymity that has perhaps not been happening so far with the posting of You-tube videos and the media attention.





The “It must be Friday” Social Media round-up

24 02 2012

A few interesting articles crossing my desk this morning. It must not be a full moon because the loony stories aren’t out there, but here are a few interesting tidbits to whet your appetite….

1. Following on from recent postings about tracking down fugitives via social media, and the impact of social media on the jury-system, comes a new one: the serving of legal papers via social media. Normally papers are served in person, in hard copy or faxed (thereby setting a precedent for electronic forms of transmittal, I presume). The story is that when lawyers had difficulty tracking and confirming a residential address and email address for someone they wanted to serve with a subpoena, UK High Court judge Nigel Teare authorised serving via the individual’s active social media page on Facebook. Apparently while this is a first for Facebook in the UK, it is not a total-first. Previous papers have been served via Twitter in 2009 (UK) and Facebook (Australia and Canada), and via text message to the Occupy London protesters in December 2011. Another reason to keep your social media account privacy settings high? And of course, if you name is John Smith or Jane Smith, there may be issues regarding identification.

2. So moving from one profession to another: do you want your surgeon tweeting during your open heart surgery? Personally I’d prefer s/he concentrate on one thing at a time – this is not the time for multi-tasking! On February 21, 2012, Cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon, Dr. Michael P. Macris, performed the first live twittercast of a double-bypass open heart surgery in the United States.

Now I admit, reading the Twitter feed, it does appear that it was not the surgeon who actually did the tweeting, since he is referred to in the third person, and the information, although necessarily brief, is interesting, and is accompanied by a fairly graphic slideshow with embedded video.

So – novelty value or a new effective form of education?

3. Anyone who has any exposure to social media knows that *some* people post pretty inappropriate things. But what if you got sued – and got fined and home detention for it? A Spanish woman has been fined 1000 Euros and had 8 days house arrest for posting a photograph of a novelty t-shirt on her Facebook site. The offending caption? “Mi exmarido es Gilipollas” which roughly translates as “My ex-husband is an asshole”. The ex-husband in question sued for the damage to his reputation, and the Provincial Court found in his favour.

And now the case has had international attention, and we all know what sort of person he is (the sort of person who sues over a t-shirt). And his ex-wife has hopefully learned to keep her privacy settings high, be careful who she “friends” on Facebook, and be careful what she posts. I doubt it has changed her opinion of him! And everyone else who bought this sort of commercially-available t-shirt as a joke…….be careful!

4. OK, this may not really be social media, but its bizarre, so I include it here to entertain and encourage you to keep reading. It would seem that Fox Business News has awoken to the evil cultural cancer that is Dr Suess. With Hollywood set to film the Lorax, Fox News is alerting the “right-thinking” world (wording deliberate) to the evil plot being perpetrated by Dr Suess and the left-wing Hollywood types to destroy your children’s brains! (For those of you who can’t remember the story of the Lorax, he is pro-trees and anti-logging). And while we’re at it, how coincidental is it that The Muppets resurface during the US pre-pre-election campaign, featuring an evil oil baron? Those naughty Hollywood commies.

So for those of you who need a decoding manual to understand the true “horror” of the Dr Suess conspiracy, the following image is presented for your education:

image from George Takei's Facebook page

(As an interesting aside, I have been told that The Lorax was in fact banned in some states of the US at one stage. I’d be keen to heard more information on this, if you have any.)

5. This one is in the category of “public information warning”. Scam artists and other criminals are increasingly using social media as ways of targeting victims – and dating sites are apparently rich pickings because of the personal information people are willing to share and because, by definition, people on the dating sites are open to making relationships with people they have not previously met. The full article is here, but basically it suggests that the owners / proprietors of sites need to be vigilant against scam, spam and other misuse, install security measures, and harness your members to continually monitor and feed back suspicious activity. And remember, the criminals are constantly working at ways to get around any security measure, so security has to be a constant work-in-progress.

6. World of Warcraft may have a new target market. It seems this game can increase your cognitive abilities in a fairly short period of time. A study by Dr. Anne McLaughlin, an assistant professor of psychology at North Carolina State University used World of Warcraft required participants aged between 60 and 77 to play WoW 14 hours over two weeks. Compared with baseline data and a control group, participants demonstrated improved cognitive abilities in the areas of spatial ability and focus, but not in memory. WoW was chosen as the representative game because it was considered to be “a cognitively challenging game in a socially interactive environment that presents users with novel situations.” The paper will be published in the journal Computers in Human Behaviour. No news on whether playing 24/7 has an effect on your cognitive processing – although it certainly can have an effect on your social life, sleep, and potentially hygiene and nutrition.

7. A new study shows that parents rarely know the extent of cyber-bullying because it often happens in private chat rooms, on messaging and via mobile phone. Even if you are your child’s Facebook friend, you won’t necessarily see any of it. And children don’t tell their parents, and parents often don’t know to ask. Unless you have your child’s passwords and can log in and check the messaging, you are unlikely to know what is really going on. Scary.

8. Continuing the phishing pun (and I do love a pun), there is now another more targeted and dangerous threat to be concerned about – spear phishing. This is similar to the phishing emails that try to get you to click on links or provide confidential information such as banking details or computer passwords, but these are targeted at companies. And they are tailored to be more likely to hook someone – any employee – in. Large companies such as Google and RSA have reportedly lost intellectual property in the last year due to effective spear phishing campaigns that started with one employee falling for it. And it only takes one.

9. Tumblr has changed its content policies to address the growing issue of “thinspiration”, self-harm and mutilation blogs on its site. The company has put out the following guidelines in its policy:

Don’t post content that actively promotes or glorifies self-injury or self-harm. This includes content that urges or encourages readers to cut or mutilate themselves; embrace anorexia, bulimia, or other eating disorders; or commit suicide rather than, e.g., seek counseling or treatment for depression or other disorders. Online dialogue about these acts and conditions is incredibly important; this prohibition is intended to reach only those blogs that cross the line into active promotion or glorification. For example, joking that you need to starve yourself after Thanksgiving or that you wanted to kill yourself after a humiliating date is fine, but recommending techniques for self-starvation or self-mutilation is not.

Of course,the devil is in the detail, and it is not clear how they will be able to police this, but this does at least give them a framework for removal of any offending content, should they come to its attention. Tumblr states that it will give the blog owner a grace period to remove offending content, then shut down the blog if it is not removed. It will also display public health announcements next to any search terms referring to these types of activities.

Hurrah for Tumblr!

Like more bizarre Social Media tidbits?
And today’s bizarre social media news……
and more from the bizarre worlds of marketing and espionage…
And live, from the sequestered jury…..





Pretty pictures en France

23 02 2012

Amboise

As well as the many sites we visited, there were some photos that, while not fitting into any particular story, are gorgeous. So here are a few!

near Ferriers en Brie

Chartres

Brest

near the village of Lascaux


Want more photos of France? Here are a few more….
Arrival in Paris
Caves of Lascaux
Notre Dame
French menus
Standing Stones of Carnac
Les Grottos en France
The Louvre
Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel)
Streets of Paris
Arc de Triomphe
The troglodytes of Maison Fort de Reignac
Fontainebleau – Versailles without the queues
Chartres
La Seine
Theme Parks, French Style
Where Da Vinci lived





Where Da Vinci lived

23 02 2012

Da Vinci spent his last few years in the picturesque town of Amboise, where he was provided with a house and gardens by his patron. This property is now preserved as a tourist attraction providing interesting insights into the many and varied inventions of Da Vinci – and a copy of the Mona Lisa!

The house is set in a large well-kept gardens. While the house itself is furnished much as Da Vinci would have known it, the basement area is full of replicas of some of his inventions – some which were not made in his day, but built from his drawings. Notably a large number of these are weapons of some sort – more accurate long-range cannons, machine gun, etc. Presumably this was at least in part due to who his funders and patrons were at the time, and the type of inventions they required of him.

The gardens feature a number of large working models of other inventions which are sturdy enough for children to play and experiment with, as well as some posters of his diagrams of anatomy.

Da Vinci was trained or self-taught in many areas of endeavour – anatomy, botany, engineering, art, geometry. In an era where we are encouraged to specialise in one area of study from mid-secondary school, he is a salient lesson in following your interests, and the intersection of many fields of endeavour.

screw-based helicopter

replica tank made up as a children's roundabout

screw pump for raising water

wheel for lifting heavy objects

poster displays of Da Vinci's anatomical drawings

two layered bridge to combat the plague (waste went across lower level, people on upper level)

working kitchen garden


Want more photos of France? Here are a few more….
Arrival in Paris
Caves of Lascaux
Notre Dame
French menus
Standing Stones of Carnac
Les Grottos en France
The Louvre
Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel)
Streets of Paris
Arc de Triomphe
The troglodytes of Maison Fort de Reignac
Fontainebleau – Versailles without the queues
Chartres
La Seine
Theme Parks, French Style





Theme Parks, French style

23 02 2012

Travelling with children meant we tried to mix up the type of sites we went to: famous landmarks, educational sites, impressive historic castles – and theme parks. So we managed to get through a few of them. Here is my somewhat jaundiced summary of the parks we visited.

Paris Disney

Cheshire Cat in the Middle of the Alice in Wonderland Maze, Paris Disney


In my mind this is still Euro-Disney, but they seem to be making an effort to rebrand it. We had heard quite negative things about this outpost of the Disney franchise (dirtiness, smoking, poor service), but I have to say they seemed to have cleaned their act up. If you like Disney – well, it’s a Disney. Personally, having visited Orlando, it all seemed very deja vu. So Haunted House, Pirates of the Caribbean, Alice in Wonderland, teacups, fewer roving characters than we saw in Orlando, all the same merchandise stores. They do have creperies as an option within the park (small carts) for that French flavour, and the show in the afternoon (it was a show not a parade, so we were seated in exactly the wrong place) was in French. Yes perhaps we should have expected it but since the rest of the park was bilingual, we thought the show would be too.

Summary: if you like Disney, you’ll like this. If you are over it, you will be over this too.

Puy du Fou

Puy du Fou Viking story - this boat slid down the hill (this was not the one that rose out of the water)

This medieval theme park was pretty interesting, and seems to be the focus of great pilgrimages by people who are into medieval dress-ups. We stayed in the park hotel – little cabins built out over a lake – very nice. We ate in the hotel dining room – frankly pretty ordinary food and a limited range (despite the buffet). I’d give it a miss next time. The theme park itself has lots of olde worlde crafts and trades on display (live blacksmithing was a hit for us) and also has some historic shows which are really well produced and quite surprising. The viking show features a viking ship rising out of the lake complete with fire torches and live people on board. Love to know how they did that!. The Roman circus (in the Colosseum) featured live animals (lions) and a chariot race. The Joan of Arc show (it wasn’t called that) featured stunt riding and a massive mobile set. And another section had life-size automatons producing music and song. The merchandising is in theme – the salted caramel biscuits and violet-flavoured boiled lollies in the shape of delicate flowers were exquisite.

Summary: Even if you aren’t into medieval dress-ups, this is an interesting and suprising place to visit.

Asterix Parc

Asterix Parc

A great hit with the French – Asterix is a national hero! The great thing about Asterix Parc was that there were virtually no queues! After the queues at Disney, this was a great relief. Asterix Parc features a wide variety of rides including log-rafts, the swinging ship one, rollercoasters, and rides for smaller children. It is well set-out, the grounds are clean and the entire place is themed in the style of the various cultures of the Asterix books. The merchandising is also Asterix themed – we bought a selection of Asterix books in English (one of many languages available in the stores). NB: The Tom-Tom had difficulty locating Asterix Parc as a feature until we were in the local town.

Summary: a smaller park with fewer queues, but a great day out.

Futuroscope

Futuroscope

Futuroscope is another place the Tom-Tom had difficulty with it kept sending us to the staff entrance. As with anything labelled “Future”, it probably has difficulty living up to its name and hence had a sort of Jetsons feel about it, but having said that, there are a range of activities available, and some of them are even educational! The planetarium features shows about the origin of the universe. But there were also fun rides. Dancing with Robots involves sitting inside a robot contraption which then shakes you around, turns you upside down. Arthur and the Invisibles was a simulator ride that was an enormous hit with the children (but the queues were very long). And the biggest hit was a boat ride where you squirted water at the boats in front and behind you. Great shrieks of delight!

Summary: good day out, lots of quite unique attractions and rides, but the best ones all have long queues. Be prepared.


Want more photos of France? Here are a few more….
Arrival in Paris
Caves of Lascaux
Notre Dame
French menus
Standing Stones of Carnac
Les Grottos en France
The Louvre
Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel)
Streets of Paris
Arc de Triomphe
The troglodytes of Maison Fort de Reignac
Fontainebleau – Versailles without the queues
Chartres





Does depression contribute to the aging process?

23 02 2012

Via Scoop.itMudmap
Stress has numerous detrimental effects on the human body. Many of these effects are acutely felt by the sufferer, but many more go “unseen,” one of which is shortening of telomere length. 
Via www.sciencedaily.com





Study: Facebook profile beats IQ test in predicting job performance

23 02 2012

Via Scoop.itMudmap

Can a person’s Facebook profile reveal what kind of employee he or she might be? Study: Facebook profile beats IQ test in predicting job performance
Via www.latimes.com