Daily Briefing: Another reason to feel blue about screens
Logically, I know that being in front of a computer, phone, laptop and games console for nearly my entire waking day is bad for me.
That doesn’t mean that you won’t find me lying on my bed at quarter past midnight, half watching Great British Bake Off, half playing Zelda and occasionally switching to my phone to send a WhatsApp.
A while back researchers started telling us about the bad effects of the blue light that our screens emit, which has been linked to bad sleep and therefore countless other health problems.
The good news keeps on coming though as, according to a new study published in the journal Scientific Reports, this blue light might also give us more of a chance of going blind.
Researchers from The University of Toledo have shown how blue light can make molecules become ‘toxic’, turning vital molecules within the eye’s cells into poison.
This in turn leads to age-related macular generation, which is one of the biggest causes of blindness.
"We are being exposed to blue light continuously, and the eye's cornea and lens cannot block or reflect it," said Ajith Karunarathne, assistant professor in the UT Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and one of the authors of the study.
"It's no secret that blue light harms our vision by damaging the eye's retina. Our experiments explain how this happens, and we hope this leads to therapies that slow macular degeneration, such as a new kind of eye drop."
This is big, because the degeneration the study is talking about means cells can’t regenerate.
“When they're dead, they're dead for good," said Kasun Ratnayake, a PhD student researcher and another author of the study.
Karunarathne said there are special sunglasses that filter both UV and blue light in an attempt to offer some protection, but there’s no hard evidence yet whether they actually offer much protection.
The best thing to do is try and limit screen-time, particularly when it's dark, which will also help you get a good night’s shuteye.
"Every year more than two million new cases of age-related macular degeneration are reported in the United States," said Karunarathne.
"We hope to find a way to protect the vision of children growing up in a high-tech world."
Is someone messing with your messages?
For lots of people – myself included – WhatsApp is now the main messaging platform I use. Which means this latest piece of news is really disturbing.
Check Point Research has found that WhatsApp messages can be intercepted and manipulated, letting attackers change messages within chats.
The technical version is that they are able to exploit vulnerabilities between the app and the web-based version.
The non-technical version is that this will let them do not-very-fun things like changing the name of the person who has sent the message or even change the text of a reply. This could cause some serious ruckus in group chats, which are complicated enough already.
They can also send a private message to a group that appears to be a public message, tricking other members to post a public reply.
This might seem really low down on the threat scale, but think about all the secrets that must be shared over the platform. Check Point uses this as an example, although the damage could be much worse than ruining dad’s surprise party.
The researchers have three suggestions to help keep safe until a proper safeguard comes along.
First, if something sounds too good to be true it probably is, second, remember that misinformation spreads faster than the truth and third, always make sure you check your facts.
Machines use their brains to treat brain cancer
As anyone whose life has been affected by cancer knows, even the treatment is horrible, with hair loss, nausea and a whole load of other rough side effects to deal with.
Researchers at MIT are using machine learning to make a tough time a little easier though, by figuring out the minimum dosage each patient needs to keep side effects as low as possible.
At the moment it’s focussed on toxic radiotherapy and chemotherapy for glioblastoma, which is the most aggressive type of brain cancer, but I could definitely see lots of other applications for the tech.
Currently, doctors administer treatment for the cancer in the maximum safe doses, but even these can have harmful side effects like hair loss, nausea and fatigue.
The MIT model instead focuses on a positive reinforcement model. It uses machine learning to look at patient data and current treatment to figure out a course that will be effective with the fewest number of doses at the lowest possible potency.
In the trial, almost all the patients were able to lower their dosage to a quarter or half strength, and in some cases it lowered the regularity of treatments to twice a year instead of once a month, which would make an incredible difference to a patient’s life.
FinTech performs at the Fringe
I’ve always wanted to go to the Edinburgh Fringe, but at this rate it looks like my first visit will see a much more tech-savvy festival, after the introduction of contactless tipping for street performers.
I can definitely see the appeal because no one carries change on them anymore. I get seriously indignant if I’m at a car park or shop that doesn’t accept card, to the point where you’d think they’d asked me for a vital organ instead of a few coins.
This year, the Fringe Society has enlisted the help of Swedish tech company iZettle to move the whole thing into the future, trialing cashless payments through ‘tap to tip’ units.
It’s an interesting idea, although as always they need to go through the pain barrier first.
One visitor says that she’d be uncomfortable giving her card info, and instead the festival should give out special ‘tap to tip’ tickets that could work like an Oyster card.
Performers are cautious as audiences often duck in and out of payments, or don’t see the terminals so they still seem to have more luck with cash.
In March some street buskers in London also started using the tech, so if the highlands and the lowlands can make it work then word on the street is this could really be the future.