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Hair loss and lower libido among long Covid symptoms – new research

Long Covid sufferers may have experienced a wider variety of symptoms than previously thought, new research has found.
About 2 million people in the UK have persistent symptoms after Covid -19 infection, termed long Covid.
Commonly reported long Covid symptoms, such as fatigue and shortness of breath, have a significant effect on people’s daily activities, quality of life and capacity to work.
But long Covid symptoms are much broader than this. In a new study published in the journal Nature Medicine, we identified 62 symptoms associated with long Covid. We also explored some of the factors linked to an increased risk of developing long Covid.
Much of the initial work undertaken to understand long Covid has been among people who were hospitalised, but most people infected with Covid have been managed in primary care. We therefore know relatively little about long Covid in people with typically milder initial infections.
In our study, we analysed electronic primary care records from more than 450,000 people in England with a confirmed diagnosis of Covid-19, and 1.9 million people with no prior history of Covid-19, from January 2020 to April 2021. We matched both groups very closely in terms of their demographic, social and clinical characteristics. We then assessed the relative differences in the reporting of 115 symptoms to GPs. For those who had Covid-19, we measured this at least 12 weeks after they were infected.
We found that people who had been diagnosed with Covid-19 were significantly more likely to report 62 symptoms, only 20 of which are included in the World Health Organization’s clinical case definition for long Covid.
Some of these symptoms were expected, like loss of sense of smell, shortness of breath and fatigue. But some of the symptoms that we found to be strongly associated with Covid-19 beyond 12 weeks were surprising and less well known, such as hair loss and reduced libido. Other symptoms included chest pain, fever, bowel incontinence, erectile dysfunction and limb swelling.
These differences in symptoms reported between the infected and uninfected groups remained even after we accounted for age, sex, ethnic group, socioeconomic status, body mass index, smoking status, the presence of more than 80 health conditions, and past reporting of the same symptom.
We also found that younger age, female sex, belonging to certain ethnic minority groups, lower socioeconomic status, smoking, obesity, and a wide range of health conditions were all associated with a higher risk of reporting persistent symptoms more than ...

How to Win Friends and Influence People – a story of prejudice, repentance, and recompense

Influencers are a large part of what I dislike about social media. Perfect people in perfect places living perfect lives, and all the while getting paid to make me jealous and insecure. But then.
I like to think I’m a cultured under-30 (with a few months of contrived denial left).
My mom calls me an “old soul”.
My friends call me “old fashioned”.
Gen-Zs would probably use some neologism I’ve never heard of equating to “a grumpy, obsolete antique”, although they’ve never heard of me because I’m not on TikTok.
On the back of me telling my friend, Melanie, that I “enjoyed writing” and “would probably have been a journalist in another life”, I recently managed to crack an unexpected invite for an expenses-paid press trip across Botswana.
Despite an immediate onset of crippling imposter syndrome coupled with a rush of adrenaline and excitement, I had to feign acquiescence and accept her offer. Having never been to the country and having a special interest in wildlife, birds, and the photography thereof, this was the opportunity of a lifetime. When I asked who else would be joining, the vague response was “a handful of travel writers and travel marketing people”. Not wanting to ask any more questions in fear of having her realise her folly and revoke my invite, I stymied my curiosity and started feverishly researching the upcoming trip.
When we assembled in Johannesburg, the introduction was tame enough. Melanie and I met with Sharon, our representative from the Indaba Hotel group which, along with Kwando Safaris and Under One Botswana Sky, were assisting our escapades.
We started proceedings with a guided tasting at their on-site Gin School. We were well warmed up by the third, and last, sample and discussing the intricacies of sophisticated tasting notes and viscosity when the fourth member of our party rolled in. Senzelwe (IG: @senz_m) is a bubbly, braided, and beautiful woman, and her fashionably late entrance was paired with her likewise haute couture outfit. She joined us and immediately began to capture every visual detail of the miniature bronze pot still on her iPhone X. This fascination with the photography amused me, but I thought nothing of it as journalists have to accompany their work with images. However, my observation was brought into stark relief when during our post-tasting chat I found out that she had joined the trip as a social media influencer.
Now, let me explain my rather aghast (and, ...

Feeling connected enhances mental and physical health – here are 4 research-backed ways to find moments of connection with loved ones and strangers

Psychology researchers know what kinds of behavior enhance feelings of social connection.
A woman and her fiancé joke and laugh together while playing video games after a long day.
A college freshman interrupts verbal harassment aimed at a neighbor, who expresses gratitude as they walk home together.
A man receives a phone call to confirm an appointment, and stumbles into a deep and personal conversation about racism in America with the stranger on the other end of the line.
Each of these scenarios was recalled by a research participant as a moment of meaningful human connection. One’s sense of belonging and emotional safety with family, friends and communities is built through actual interactions. As these examples suggest, these connections can come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Often small and fleeting and sometimes powerfully memorable, moments of connection occur with loved ones and strangers, in person and online.
I spent the past several years exploring moments of connection as a graduate student in psychology, with a particular eye toward how people experienced meaningful connection during the pandemic. It’s not just a little bonus to forge these connections; they have real benefits.
Feeling well connected to others contributes to mental health, meaning in life, and even physical well-being. When loneliness or isolation becomes chronic, human brains and bodies suffer, straining a person’s long-term well-being at least as significantly as major health risks such as obesity and air pollution.
Researchers know what kinds of behavior enhance feelings of social connection. Here are four ways to connect.
1. Heart-to-hearts
For many people, the first thing that comes to mind when asked about meaningful connections are heart-to-heart conversations. These are key moments of emotional intimacy. One person opens up about something personal, often emotional and vulnerable, and in return another person communicates understanding, acceptance and care – what researchers call responsiveness.
For example, I could open up to you about my current experience of becoming a new father, sharing complex and precious sentiments that I would not disclose to just anyone. If I perceive in that moment that you really “get” what I reveal to you, that you accept my feelings as valid, whether or not you can relate to them, and that I matter to you, then I’ll probably feel a sense of closeness and trust.
In emotionally intimate moments, personal sharing is often reciprocal, though a sense of connection can arise whether you are the one opening up or offering responsiveness.
2. Giving ...

Mixed messages: Is coffee good or bad for us? It might help, but it doesn’t enhance health

Drinking a cup of coffee means ingesting a complex mixture of chemicals. Research has given us mixed messaging about whether coffee is beneficial or harmful.
Coffee is good for you. Or it’s not. Maybe it is, then it isn’t, then it is again. If you drink coffee, and follow the news, then perhaps you’ve noticed this pattern.
A recent study showed that coffee, even sweetened, was associated with health benefits. But other studies have come to more mixed conclusions.
What’s driving these pendulum swings in the health status of coffee? Like a good cup of coffee, the answer is complex, but seems to boil down to human nature and scientific practice.
Wishful optimism
Globally, we consume about two billion cups of coffee each day. That’s a lot of coffee, and many of those who imbibe want to know what that coffee is doing to us, in addition to waking us up.
As a species, we are often delusionally optimistic. We want the world to be better, maybe simpler, than it is. We squint at our morning cup through those same rosy glasses: We really want coffee to bring us health, not just a sunny disposition.
But is that likely? In drinking coffee, we’re ingesting a complex brew that includes literally thousands of chemicals, including one that evolved to dissuade herbivores from munching on the coffee plant: caffeine.
Coffee for the caffeine
Our morning kickstart comes from a plant toxin. The possible health benefits of coffee are generally attributed to other molecules in the brew, often antioxidants including polyphenols, a group that are found in substantial concentrations in coffee. But they, and other antioxidants, are also found in many plants like broccoli or blueberries, and in higher concentrations.
We drink coffee for the caffeine, not the antioxidants. The best we can realistically hope for is that we aren’t harming ourselves by drinking coffee. With any luck, coffee isn’t killing us nearly as quickly as other things that we’re doing to our bodies. I’m looking at you doughnuts, microwave popcorn and celebratory cigars.
The dynamic nature of science also drives our on-again, off-again medical love affair with coffee. Scientists like to study coffee almost as much as we like to drink it; there are almost three and a half million scientific articles focused on coffee (thanks Google Scholar). Even the number of cups we consume is surprisingly contentious, with many aspects being subject to scrutiny, study and debate.
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Changing research ...

Digital doubles: In the future, virtual versions of ourselves could predict our behaviour

Digital twins could be used in the future to predict and influence our behaviour, but this raises concerns about who owns our data and how we can access and control it.
A digital twin is a copy of a person, product or process that is created using data. This might sound like science fiction, but some have claimed that you will likely have a digital double within the next decade. As a copy of a person, a digital twin would — ideally — make the same decisions that you would make if you were presented with the same materials.
This might seem like yet another speculative claim by futurists. But it is much more possible than people might like to believe. While we might tend to assume that we are special and unique, with a sufficient amount of information, artificial intelligence (AI) can make many inferences about our personalities, social behaviour and purchasing decisions.
The era of big data means that vast quantities of information (called “data lakes”) are collected about your overt attitudes and preferences as well as behavioural traces that you leave behind.
Equally jarring is the extent to which organizations collect our data. In 2019, the Walt Disney Company acquired Hulu, a company that journalists and advocates pointed out had a questionable record when it came to data collection. Seemingly benign phone applications — like ones used for ordering coffee — can collect vast quantities of from users every few minutes.
The Cambridge Analytica scandal illustrates these concerns, with users and regulators concerned about the prospects of someone being able to identify, predict and shift their behaviour.
But how concerned should we be?
High vs. low fidelity
In simulation studies, fidelity refers to how closely a copy, or model, corresponds to its target. Simulator fidelity refers to the degree of realism a simulation has to real-world references. For example, a racing video game provides an image that increases and decreases in speed when we depress keys on a keyboard or controller. Whereas a driving simulator might have a windscreen, chassis, gear stick and gas and brake pedals, a video game has a lower degree of fidelity than the driving simulator.
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A digital twin requires a high degree of fidelity that would be able to incorporate real-time, real-world information: if it is raining outside now, it would be raining in the simulator.
In industry, digital twins can have radical implications. If we are able ...

Levitating frogs and the power of play

Watching graphite peel off the point of a pencil I was sharpening reminded me of a quirky tale about levitating frogs and a Nobel Prize that began with playfulness and a pencil.
This is a story about the power of play and a levitating frog. Its hero is a man named Sir Andre Konstantin Geim, a Russian-born Dutch and British citizen and professor at the University of Manchester, whose dictum is that it’s better to be wrong than boring.
After levitating the frog, he explained that, in his experience, if people didn’t have a sense of humour they didn’t make very good scientists. He has and he is: Geim’s the only scientist to win both a Nobel Prize in 2010 for his discovery of the world’s strongest substance, graphene, and an Ig Nobel Prize awarded for experiments so outlandish they first make people laugh – then make them think. It’s not a new story but worth retelling.
When news of the flying frog began making the rounds in April 1997, people assumed it was an April Fool’s joke. It wasn’t and may result in anti-gravity cars that never touch the road. This is how it happened.
It had never occurred to scientists that water’s magnetism – billions of times weaker than iron – was strong enough to counter gravity. But one evening, while working with Radboud University’s High Field Magnet Laboratory in the Netherlands, Geim set the electromagnet to maximum power and poured water into the expensive machine’s hollow core. He can’t remember why he acted so unprofessionally.
The descending water “got stuck” within the vertical bore and balls of water started levitating. He had discovered that a “feeble magnetic response of water” could act against a magnetic force, including that of the earth. Frogs are mostly water so he tried with a frog and it levitated too, with no ill effect on the creature.
It was the first time a living organism had levitated purely due to a magnetic field. He would share the Ig Nobel prize with colleague Michael Berry and be awarded the International Creativity Prize for Water.
What seemed like a late-nighFt lark evolved into what Geim calls the Friday Night Experiments – a bunch of scientists working after hours every Friday on the “crazy things that probably won’t pan out at all, but if they do, it would be really surprising”. From the start of his career, he had devoted 10% of ...

Beyoncé has helped usher in a renaissance for African artists

With Renaissance, Beyoncé is again shaping pop culture, honouring black disco pioneers and Africa’s rise.
Beyoncé has released her seventh solo studio album, titled Renaissance (2022). The album, an event in global popular culture, is the first of a three-part project by the US artist. Her previous outing, the visual album Black is King (2020), collaborated with a host of African artists. Renaissance pays tribute to black dance music and again features African artists, including Nigerian singer-songwriter Tems, who is having a global moment of her own.
In history, the renaissance era (from the 1400s) was characterised by the rebirth and renewal of culture and scholarship in Europe following a period of stagnation. Today, still, art – paintings, music, fashion – contributes to how people dress and behave, what they choose to post and talk about, and how they perceive themselves and society.
For the last three decades, Beyoncé has played a major role in shaping global popular culture. She has continuously empowered listeners and sparked debate, and her lyrics have often been quoted in discussions on societal issues. Her views on monogamy on the album Dangerously in Love (2003), for example, offer a counter narrative to the patriarchal depiction of hypersexuality in black women.
On Lemonade (2016), Beyoncé uses music genres beyond those expected of a black female artist. In the process she challenges the discrimination she faces. On Black is King she reflects a renaissance of African art forms in a time when cultural norms dominated by western thinking are on the decline and Africa’s star is rising in popular culture.
In this article, I argue that throughout her career, Beyoncé has contributed to a renewal of various narratives in popular music and has in so doing engaged meaningfully with African culture and music.
African collaborations
Beyoncé has involved various African artists in her projects and many a time introduced them to international audiences. Before Black is King, these include poetry by Kenyan-born Warsan Shire on Lemonade, a quote by Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on Flawless (2013) and choreography by Tofo Tofo – the Mozambique-based dance group – in the Run the World (Girls) video.
Though not as prominently as on Black is King, Beyoncé has included African artists on Renaissance too, particularly on the song Move, which has an Afrobeats-inspired style and features P2J (Nigeria) and GuiltyBeatz (Ghana) as producers, as well as Tems as a writer and performer.
Tems (Temilade Openiyi), a versatile vocalist ...

Beyoncé is cutting a sample of Milkshake out of her new song – but not because she ‘stole’ it

It’s not a copyright infringement, it’s a far more complicated and personal issue.
There was lot of excitement leading up to Beyoncé’s album Rennaissance, which was leaked two days before it release. Maybe it could have done with a bit more time, as two songs are set to be rerecorded and released. The song Heated will have ableist language removed from it, while the song Energy will be rerecorded without one of the samples on which it is built.
This second change has been portrayed as a response to the singer Kelis calling the use of the sample “theft”, and to Beyoncé “allegedly failing to seek permission for usage”. But that’s not actually true. While Kelis might not have been paid for the sample – and that is an issue – that’s to do with her legal contract with her producers, not a failure on Beyoncé’s part.
Kelis is the performer of Milkshake, which was released in 2003. Now you might think she should be getting money for any use of the song. However, the credits and the royalties for Milkshake go to Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams, together known as The Neptunes, who reportedly wrote and produced it.
In the music industry, when a song is recorded it has two rights attached to it. One in the actual sound recording and one in the song itself. This is why Taylor Swift re-recorded and release her music to reclaim her rights in the sound recordings. She was the owner of the songs themselves but not the recordings, so she made new recordings.
These different rights are often owned by different people and are governed by contracts. So who owns what and how much they earn depends heavily on the agreement between the people involved.
In 2020, Kelis revealed in an interview that she doesn’t make any money from her two albums produced by The Neptunes. She said that she was told everything would be split three ways and so didn’t double check when presented with the contract.
She was 19 at the time of signing the contract and claimed that she was “blatantly lied to and tricked” but didn’t notice at first because she had other sources of income, like from touring. “Their argument is: ‘Well, you signed it.’ I’m like: ‘Yeah, I signed what I was told, and I was too young and too stupid to double-check it.’” So, due to the contract, Kelis doesn’t have ...

Movies, series and games coming soon to a screen near you

While quiet on the gaming front, the past few days have been full of staggering film and series cancellations.
The most surprising news of the week is that Batgirl has been canned. Despite filming having wrapped, and $90-million having been spent on the superhero movie to date, the first solo film for the DC Comics heroine has been aborted.
According to Variety’s report, the cause was primarily a change in business objectives, stemming from the Warner Bros and Discovery merger. The new plan is to make superhero blockbusters for theatrical release first, and then bring them to HBO Max. Although things changed during its development, Batgirl was originally intended to be an HBO Max exclusive, and therefore didn’t fit the new scheme. Decision-makers were unwilling to spend the money to fine-tune and market the film for cinemas, and will now claim it as a tax write-down. To do that, though, Batgirl can never be screened.
Batgirl, helmed by Bad Boys for Life filmmakers Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, had Barbara Gordon (Leslie Grace), the daughter of Gotham City’s police commissioner James Gordon (JK Simmons), draw inspiration from masked vigilante Batman (Michael Keaton), and take up crime-fighting herself. The big villain of Batgirl was pyromaniac Firefly (Brendan Fraser). El Arbi and Fallah have expressed shock at the news.
In similar news, video game adaptation Tomb Raider 2 has fallen victim to the politics of mega-corporate buyouts, more specifically Amazon’s purchase of MGM. Live-action Lara Croft star Alicia Vikander commented just the other week that the sequel, to be helmed by Misha Green, was stalled by the business deal.
Now Tomb Raider 2 is no more. MGM has lost the rights to big-screen Tomb Raider adaptations and Vikander has had her contract ended. A bidding war is under way to seize the rights, but the next movie, whenever it happens, is likely to be another reboot with another leading actress.
Finally, if Top Gun: Maverick left you craving for more intense fighter-pilot action on the big screen, here’s the new trailer for Devotion, a film based on the non-fiction book Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship, and Sacrifice, by Adam Makos; it is centred on the camaraderie and bravery of American fighter pilots during the Korean War, when propeller planes came up against enemy fighter jets. Lovecraft Country and Marvel Cinematic Universe actor Jonathan Majors stars with Glen Powell in this true story. Devotion lands in ...

Loeriesfontein — home of the giant steel flowers

A museum dedicated to windpumps is the star attraction in this Namaqualand village.
There is no better starting point to explore the history of the windpump in South Africa than Loeriesfontein in the Northern Cape Karoo. A collection of 27 old windpumps is arrayed there, creaking and straining at their chains outside the Fred Turner Culture and History Museum.
Their rudder-like steel tails proclaim many brand names that have long passed into memory. Here is a Gearing Self-Oiled, an Ace, an Atlas, a Massey Harris, a Conquest, a Hercules, a Spartan, a Vetsak President, a Gypsy Wonder, a Springbok, an Eclipse, a Malcomess, a North, a Beatty Pumper, a Dandy and nearly a dozen more. In the springtime, they all stand amidst the famous daisy blooms of Namaqualand.
There are two other windpump museums in the world. One is outside a town called Foremost, in Canada’s Alberta province. The other is in the United States, where 53 specimens stand tethered outside the Mid-America Windmill Museum in Kendallville, Indiana.
Fred Turner was a travelling Bible salesman and devout Baptist. In 1894, he settled here and built a trading store in what was then the middle of nowhere. It was Loeriesfontein’s first permanent structure, and now houses a Spar supermarket.
The late museum curator, Ben Daniels, uncovered the history of Fred Turner’s old smouswa (trader’s wagon) sold in 1919 to Jan Visser for £90. The Visser family used it for travelling to communion (nagmaal), for visiting friends, and for transporting sheep. That wagon made it three times over the Kamiesberg and through Bitterfontein all the way to Hondeklipbaai.
Fred Turner’s wandering life echoes that of the trekboers (nomadic farmers) of long ago, before the time of windpumps.
The trekboers were subsistence livestock farmers who moved from the Dutch-colonised Cape into the Great Karoo from around 1760 onwards. They competed directly for water and grazing with the indigenous Khoi pastoralists and the nomadic San Bushmen hunters.
James Walton, on writing a book called The Windpumps of South Africa in 1998, issued a plea that somewhere a museum be set up to preserve them. Loeriesfontein was the only town to heed his call, and now outside the old museum they stand like giant steel flowers, facing the wind.
The little Namaqualand village first made world headlines in February 1951, when Loeriesfontein local Johanna Lombard gave birth (in nearby Calvinia) to quadruplets: Klasie, De Waal, Jan and De Villiers.
The Philadelphia Enquirer caught up with ...

A robot breaks the finger of a 7-year-old: a lesson in the need for stronger regulation of artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence is developing quickly, and the law needs to catch up.
Disturbing footage emerged this week of a chess-playing robot breaking the finger of a seven-year-old child during a tournament in Russia.
Public commentary on this event highlights some concern in the community about the increasing use of robots in our society. Some people joked on social media that the robot was a “sore loser” and had a “bad temper”.
Of course, robots cannot actually express real human characteristics such as anger (at least, not yet). But these comments do demonstrate increasing concern in the community about the “humanisation” of robots. Others noted that this was the beginning of a robot revolution – evoking images that many have of robots from popular films such as RoboCop and The Terminator.
While these comments may have been made in jest and some images of robots in popular culture are exaggerated, they do highlight uncertainty about what our future with robots will look like. We should ask: are we ready to deal with the moral and legal complexities raised by human-robot interaction?
Human and robot interaction
Many of us have basic forms of artificial intelligence in our home. For instance, robotic vacuums are very popular items in houses across Australia, helping us with chores we would rather not do ourselves.
But as we increase our interaction with robots, we must consider the dangers and unknown elements in the development of this technology.
Examining the Russian chess incident, we might ask why the robot acted the way it did? The answer to this is that robots are designed to operate in situations of certainty. They do not deal well with unexpected events.
So in the case of the child with the broken finger, Russian chess officials stated the incident occurred because the child “violated” safety rules by taking his turn too quickly. One explanation of the incident was that when the child moved quickly, the robot mistakenly interpreted the child’s finger as a chess piece.
Whatever the technical reason for the robot’s action, it demonstrates there are particular dangers in allowing robots to interact directly with humans. Human communication is complex and requires attention to voice and body language. Robots are not yet sophisticated enough to process those cues and act appropriately.
What does the law say about robots?
Despite the dangers of human-robot interaction demonstrated by the chess incident, these complexities have not yet been adequately considered in Australian law and policies.
One fundamental legal ...

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