At 17, she was her family’s breadwinner on a McDonald’s salary. Now she’s gone into space

LinkedIn
Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos announced he'll be on board a spaceflight next month, in a capsule attached to a rocket made by his space exploration company Blue Origin. Bezos is seen here in 2019.

By Jackie Wattles, CNN

A rocket built by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin carried its fifth group of passengers to the edge of space, including the first-ever Mexican-born woman to make such a journey.

The 60-foot-tall suborbital rocket took off from Blue Origin’s facilities in West Texas at 9:26am ET, vaulting a group of six people to more than 62 miles above the Earth’s surface — which is widely deemed to make the boundary of outer space — and giving them a few minutes of weightlessness before parachuting to landing.

Most of the passengers paid an undisclosed sum for their seats. But Katya Echazarreta, an engineer and science communicator from Guadalajara, Mexico, was selected by a nonprofit called Space for Humanity to join this mission from a pool of thousands of applicants. The organization’s goal is to send “exceptional leaders” to space and allow them to experience the overview effect, a phenomenon frequently reported by astronauts who say that viewing the Earth from space give them a profound shift in perspective.

Echazarreta told CNN Business that she experienced that overview effect “in my own way.”

“Looking down and seeing how everyone is down there, all of our past, all of our mistakes, all of our obstacles, everything — everything is there,” she said. “And the only thing I could think of when I came back down was that I need people to see this. I need Latinas to see this. And I think that it just completely reinforced my mission to continue getting primarily women and people of color up to space and doing whatever it is they want to do.”

Echazarreta is the first Mexican-born woman to travel to space and the second Mexican after Rodolfo Neri Vela, a scientist who joined one of NASA’s Space Shuttle missions in 1985.

She moved to the United States with her family at the age of seven, and she recalls being overwhelmed in a new place where she didn’t speak the language, and a teacher warned her she might have to be held back.
“It just really fueled me and I think ever since then, ever since the third grade, I kind of just went off and have not stopped,” Echazarreta recalled in an Instagram interview.

When she was 17 and 18, Echazarreta said she was also the main breadwinner for her family on a McDonald’s salary.

“I had sometimes up to four [jobs] at the same time, just to try to get through college because it was really important for me,” she said.
These days, Echazarreta is working on her master’s degree in engineering at Johns Hopkins University. She previously worked at NASA’s famed Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. She also boasts a following of more than 330,000 users on TikTok, hosts a science-focused YouTube series and is a presenter on the weekend CBS show “Mission Unstoppable.”

Space for Humanity — which was founded in 2017 by Dylan Taylor, a space investor who recently joined a Blue Origin flight himself — chose her for her impressive contributions. “We were looking for some like people who were leaders in their communities, who have a sphere of influence; people who are doing really great work in the world already, and people who are passionate about whatever that is,” Rachel Lyons, the nonprofit’s executive director, told CNN Business.

Click here to read the full article on CNN.

Felix Zhang ‘only student on the globe to ever ace the AP Calculus exam
LinkedIn
Penn Junior Felix Zhang being interviewed by reporters. (Credit: Penn-Harris-Madison School Corporation)

An Indiana teenager, Felix Zhang, has achieved something no other student in the world achieved this spring: a perfect score on the Advanced Placement Calculus AB exam. The story will amaze you.

The Penn-Harris-Madison School Corporation said that the College Board, which administers the AP exams, told the school’s principal that Felix Zhang achieved a perfect “5” rating and was the only student in the world to earn every possible point on the AP Calculus AB exam. In other words, he achieved a 108 out of 108.

“I felt pretty confident knowing that I knew what to do on the test, but there was always a chance I would make a small error or something,” he said. “So I wasn’t really expecting to see a perfect score. And that was pretty surprising to me because I felt like, there’s a lot of other people out there who probably perform very well on this test, and I’m pretty surprised that no one else got a perfect score.”

Felix Zhang is currently studying AP Calculus CB.

Read the Full Article on Fox11

3 Things To Know About What Scientists Say About Our Future Climate
LinkedIn
climate control post. hands holding a world globe

By , NPR

More than 200 climate scientists just released a stark look at how fast the climate is warming, showing heat waves, extreme rain and intense droughts are on the rise. The evidence for warming is “unequivocal” but the extent of future disasters will be determined by how fast governments can cut heat-trapping emissions. Here are the top findings from the report.

#1 Humans are causing rapid and widespread warming
Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has now reached the highest level in at least the past 2 million years. As a result, temperatures are warming quickly. Since 1970, global temperatures have increased faster than in any other 50-year period in the last 2,000 years. Some parts of the globe, like the poles, are warming even faster.

#2 Extreme weather is on the rise and will keep getting worse
Heat waves are more frequent and intense. Storms are dumping more rainfall, causing floods. Droughts are getting hotter and drier. Scientists are finding these trends are directly linked to the human influence on the climate and they’re getting worse.

#3 If humans cut emissions, the worst impacts are avoidable
While the planet will continue warm in the near-term, scientists say there is still time to prevent catastrophic climate change. That would mean a rapid drop in emissions from power plants and cars over the next few decades, essentially halting the use of fossil fuels.

Click here to read the full article on NPR.

Scientists Partially Restored a Blind Man’s Sight With New Gene Therapy
LinkedIn
In previous studies, researchers have been able to treat a genetic form of blind ness called Leber congenital amaurosis, by fixing a faulty gene that would otherwise cause photoreceptors to gradually degenerate.

By Carl Zimmer, Yahoo! News

A team of scientists announced Monday that they had partially restored the sight of a blind man by building light-catching proteins in one of his eyes. Their report, which appeared in the journal Nature Medicine, is the first published study to describe the successful use of this treatment. “Seeing for the first time that it did work — even if only in one patient and in one eye — is exciting,” said Ehud Isacoff, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Berkeley, who was not involved in the study.

The procedure is a far cry from full vision. The volunteer, a 58-year-old man who lives in France, had to wear special goggles that gave him the ghostly perception of objects in a narrow field of view. But the authors of the report say that the trial — the result of 13 years of work — is a proof of concept for more effective treatments to come.

“It’s obviously not the end of the road, but it’s a major milestone,” said José-Alain Sahel, an ophthalmologist who splits his time between the University of Pittsburgh and the Sorbonne in Paris.

Sahel and other scientists have tried for decades to find a cure for inherited forms of blindness. These genetic disorders rob the eyes of essential proteins required for vision.

When light enters the eye, it is captured by photoreceptor cells. The photoreceptors then send an electrical signal to their neighbors, called ganglion cells, which can identify important features like motion. They then send signals of their own to the optic nerve, which delivers the information to the brain.

In previous studies, researchers have been able to treat a genetic form of blindness called Leber congenital amaurosis, by fixing a faulty gene that would otherwise cause photoreceptors to gradually degenerate.

But other forms of blindness cannot be treated so simply, because their victims lose their photoreceptors completely.

“Once the cells are dead, you cannot repair the gene defect,” Sahel said.

For these diseases, Sahel and other researchers have been experimenting with a more radical kind of repair. They are using gene therapy to turn ganglion cells into new photoreceptor cells, even though they don’t normally capture light.

The scientists are taking advantage of proteins derived from algae and other microbes that can make any nerve cell sensitive to light.

In the early 2000s, neuroscientists figured out how to install some of these proteins into the brain cells of mice and other lab animals by injecting viruses carrying their genes. The viruses infected certain types of brain cells, which then used the new gene to build light-sensitive channels.

Originally, researchers developed this technique, called optogenetics, as a way to probe the workings of the brain. By inserting a tiny light into the animal’s brain, they could switch a certain type of brain cell on or off with the flick of a switch. The method has enabled them to discover the circuitry underlying many kinds of behavior.

Click here to read the full article on Yahoo! News.

Why Mars? The fascination with exploring the red planet
LinkedIn
A rendering of the planet Mars

By Ashley Strickland of CNN

The mystique of Mars is one that humans can’t seem to resist. The red planet has easily captured our interest for centuries, heavily featured in science fiction books and films and the subject of robotic exploration since the 1960s.

In February, three spacecraft arrived at Mars after departing from different launch points on Earth in July. These myriad missions seek to understand our planetary neighbor and unlock the secrets of its past to prepare for future exploration.
The three missions — China’s Tianwen-1, the United Arab Emirates’ Hope Probe and NASA’s Perseverance rover — took advantage of an alignment between Mars and Earth that occurs every 26 months, allowing for quicker and more efficient trips when the two planets are on the same side of the sun.
The Hope Probe will stay in orbit for a Martian year — equivalent to 687 days on Earth — to gather data about Mars’ atmosphere.
Tianwen-1, whose name means “Quest for Heavenly Truth,” is orbiting the planet before landing a rover on the surface, with the hope that it can gather important information about the Martian soil, geological structure, environment, atmosphere and signs of water.
The Perseverance rover is searching for signs of ancient life on Mars and will collect samples to be returned to Earth by future missions.
Perseverance also carries the names of nearly 11 million people etched on three silicon chips. She is a robotic scientist exploring Mars on behalf of humanity and is able to share what she sees and hears through 23 cameras, including video, and two microphones.
If three missions arriving at Mars within days of each other seems excessive, imagine explorers seeing Earth for the first time and wanting to understand all aspects of its past, climate, water, geology and life systems. It takes time and different capabilities to explore aspects of an entire planet to know the real story.
Photo Credit: Adobe Stock
Genetic tricks of the longest-lived animals
LinkedIn
a small bat about a third the size of a mouse, was recaptured, still hale and hearty, 41 years after it was initially banded to check its genetic make up

By , KNOWABLE MAGAZINE

Life, for most of us, ends far too soon—hence the effort by biomedical researchers to find ways to delay the aging process and extend our stay on Earth. But there’s a paradox at the heart of the science of aging: The vast majority of research focuses on fruit flies, nematode worms and laboratory mice, because they’re easy to work with and lots of genetic tools are available. And yet, a major reason that geneticists chose these species in the first place is because they have short lifespans. In effect, we’ve been learning about longevity from organisms that are the least successful at the game.

Today, a small number of researchers are taking a different approach and studying unusually long-lived creatures—ones that, for whatever evolutionary reasons, have been imbued with lifespans far longer than other creatures they’re closely related to. The hope is that by exploring and understanding the genes and biochemical pathways that impart long life, researchers may ultimately uncover tricks that can extend our own lifespans, too.

Everyone has a rough idea of what aging is, just from experiencing it as it happens to themselves and others. Our skin sags, our hair goes gray, joints stiffen and creak—all signs that our components—that is, proteins and other biomolecules—aren’t what they used to be. As a result, we’re more prone to chronic diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s and diabetes—and the older we get, the more likely we are to die each year. “You live, and by living you produce negative consequences like molecular damage. This damage accumulates over time,” says Vadim Gladyshev, who researches aging at Harvard Medical School. “In essence, this is aging.”

This happens faster for some species than others, though—the clearest pattern is that bigger animals tend to live longer lives than smaller ones. But even after accounting for size, huge differences in longevity remain. A house mouse lives just two or three years, while the naked mole rat, a similar-sized rodent, lives more than 35. Bowhead whales are enormous—the second-largest living mammal—but their 200-year lifespan is at least double what you’d expect given their size. Humans, too, are outliers: We live twice as long as our closest relatives, the chimpanzees.

Bats above average
Perhaps the most remarkable animal Methuselahs are among bats. One individual of Myotis brandtii, a small bat about a third the size of a mouse, was recaptured, still hale and hearty, 41 years after it was initially banded. That is especially amazing for an animal living in the wild, says Emma Teeling, a bat evolutionary biologist at University College Dublin who coauthored a review exploring the value of bats in studying aging in the 2018 Annual Review of Animal Biosciences. “It’s equivalent to about 240 to 280 human years, with little to no sign of aging,” she says. “So bats are extraordinary. The question is, Why?”

There are actually two ways to think about Teeling’s question. First: What are the evolutionary reasons that some species have become long-lived, while others haven’t? And, second: What are the genetic and metabolic tricks that allow them to do that?

Answers to the first question, at least in broad brushstrokes, are becoming fairly clear. The amount of energy that a species should put toward preventing or repairing the damage of living depends on how likely an individual is to survive long enough to benefit from all that cellular maintenance. “You want to invest enough that the body doesn’t fall apart too quickly, but you don’t want to over-invest,” says Tom Kirkwood, a biogerontologist at Newcastle University in the UK. “You want a body that has a good chance of remaining in sound condition for as long as you have a decent statistical probability to survive.”

This implies that a little scurrying rodent like a mouse has little to gain by investing much in maintenance, since it will probably end up as a predator’s lunch within a few months anyway. That low investment means it should age more quickly. In contrast, species such as whales and elephants are less vulnerable to predation or other random strokes of fate and are likely to survive long enough to reap the benefits of better-maintained cellular machinery. It’s also no surprise that groups such as birds and bats—which can escape enemies by flying—tend to live longer than you’d expect given their size, Kirkwood says. The same would apply for naked mole rats, which live their lives in subterranean burrows where they are largely safe from predators.

But the question that researchers most urgently want to answer is the second one: How do long-lived species manage to delay aging? Here, too, the outline of an answer is beginning to emerge as researchers compare species that differ in longevity. Long-lived species, they’ve found, accumulate molecular damage more slowly than shorter-lived ones do. Naked mole rats, for example, have an unusually accurate ribosome, the cellular structure responsible for assembling proteins. It makes only a tenth as many errors as normal ribosomes, according to a study led by Vera Gorbunova, a biologist at the University of Rochester. And it’s not just mole rats: In a follow-up study comparing 17 rodent species of varying longevity, Gorbunova’s team found that the longer-lived species, in general, tended to have more accurate ribosomes.

The proteins of naked mole rats are also more stable than those of other mammals, according to research led by Rochelle Buffenstein, a comparative gerontologist at Calico, a Google spinoff focused on aging research. Cells of this species have greater numbers of a class of molecules called chaperones that help proteins fold properly. They also have more vigorous proteasomes, structures that dispose of defective proteins. Those proteasomes become even more active when faced with oxidative stress, reactive chemicals that can damage proteins and other biomolecules; in contrast, the proteasomes of mice become less efficient, thus allowing damaged proteins to accumulate and impair the cell’s workings.

DNA, too, seems to be maintained better in longer-lived mammals. When Gorbunova’s team compared the efficiency with which 18 rodent species repaired a particular kind of damage (called a double-strand break) in their DNA molecules, they found that species with longer lifespans, such as naked mole rats and beavers, outperformed shorter-lived species such as mice and hamsters. The difference was largely due to a more powerful version of a gene known as Sirt6, which was already known to affect lifespan in mice.

Click here to read the full article on KNOWABLE MAGAZINE.

This is how the human heart adapts to space
LinkedIn
Two men are standing looking at each other in front of what appears to be a map.

By Ashley Strickland

When astronaut Scott Kelly spent nearly a year in space, his heart shrank despite the fact that he worked out six days a week over his 340-day stay, according to a new study.

Surprisingly, researchers observed the same change in Benoît Lecomte after he completed his 159-day swim across the Pacific Ocean in 2018.
The findings suggest that long-term weightlessness alters the structure of the heart, causing shrinkage and atrophy, and low-intensity exercise is not enough to keep that from happening. The study published Monday in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation.
Photo : CNN
The gravity we experience on Earth is what helps the heart to maintain both its size and function as it keeps blood pumping through our veins. Even something as simple as standing up and walking around helps pull blood down into our legs.
When the element of gravity is replaced with weightlessness, the heart shrinks in response.
Kelly lived in the absence of gravity aboard the International Space Station from March 27, 2015, to March 1, 2016. He worked out on a stationary bike and treadmill and incorporated resistance activities into his routine six days a week for two hours each day.
Lecomte swam from June 5 to November 11, 2018, covering 1,753 miles and averaging about six hours a day swimming. That sustained activity may sound extreme, but each day of swimming was considered to be low-intensity activity.
Even though Lecomte was on Earth, he was spending hours a day in the water, which offsets the effects of gravity. Long-distance swimmers use the prone technique, a horizontal facedown position, for these endurance swims.
Researchers expected that the activities performed by both men would keep their hearts from experiencing any shrinkage or weakening. Data collected from tests of their hearts before, during and after these extreme events showed otherwise.
Kelly and Lecomte both experienced a loss of mass and initial drop in diameter in the left ventricles of the heart during their experiences.
Both long-duration spaceflight and prolonged water immersion led to a very specific adaptation of the heart, said senior study author Dr. Benjamin Levine, a professor of internal medicine/cardiology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
While the authors point out that they only studied two men who both performed extraordinary things, further study is needed to understand how the human body reacts in extreme situations.
Read the full article at CNN.
Empowering Women in STEM at Stanford
LinkedIn
Stanford women in stem pose together with arms around each other shoulders smiling

By Taylor Kubota

Although women are graduating with science degrees in increasing numbers, their representation diminishes by the time they reach more senior levels.

To give women a sense of belonging in STEM departments—and ultimately ensure the world benefits from their ideas and insights—over a dozen groups at Stanford University are pushing their communities to amplify and encourage the influence of women in STEM.

One such group, led by Margot Gerritsen, professor of energy resources engineering in the School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences, runs an international network of data science conferences that feature woman panelists and speakers called the Women in Data Science Conference (WiDS).

“We do not just want work with women at the exclusion of others. We do want to promote outstanding work by outstanding women, and show women they are not alone in this field.” Gerritsen said.

A Vision for Stanford

As part of Stanford’s vision, the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access in a Learning Environment (IDEAL) initiative is working across the entire campus community to advance the university’s commitment to the values of diversity and inclusion.

“Promoting diversity at Stanford is critical for ensuring our intellectual strength and ability to contribute to our communities in meaningful ways,” said Provost Persis Drell. “The number of women undergraduates in STEM subjects at Stanford is increasing—which is great—but there is still a large disparity for women entering these fields professionally. And women leave their STEM-based careers at a much higher rate than men. These campus organizations help call attention to these issues.”

Centering Women, Welcoming All

Stanford’s Women in STEM groups focus on supporting women, but are open to anyone who shares the goal of promoting a supportive and encouraging environment for all.

“The default is for men to feel more wanted and for women to doubt whether they should attend an event or speak up during a discussion. It’s important to have some spaces where we reverse that expectation and explicitly tell women that they belong here,” said Julia Olivieri, a graduate student in the Institute for Computational and Mathematical Engineering who is also co-president of Women in Mathematics, Statistics and Computational Engineering (WiMSCE).

Olivieri founded WiMSCE with her co-president, Allison Koenecke, also a graduate student in the Institute for Computational and Mathematical Engineering, inspired by Gerritsen’s efforts to elevate women in their institute.

As with many similar groups, they aim to create an environment where women don’t have to worry about being the spokesperson for their gender or about bringing up issues specific to being a woman in STEM.

“Oftentimes you’re the only woman in the room, so you’re scared that if you say something wrong, not only will they think you’re stupid, they’ll think that all women are stupid,” said Koenecke. “These women-centric groups, like WiMSCE, are a place for women to gain experience in asking questions and not be afraid to fail.”

The Women in STEM groups at Stanford support many activities, bridging professional, personal and cultural enrichment. They host networking and career development events, where attendees can find mentors, meet with industry professionals and learn how to ask for raises. They have informal community-building events, like paint nights and hangouts, to discuss the week’s highs and lows.

The groups do delve into specific issues that tend to go hand-in-hand with existing as a woman in academia, such as the imposter syndrome (the idea that you don’t deserve your success, even in the face of clear evidence that you do) and the “mom effect” (the expectation that as teachers, they should be more nurturing than teachers who are men).

“I went to community college before transferring and was fortunate enough to learn about programs that encourage women and minorities in science,” said Priscilla San Juan, a graduate student in biology and president of Stanford Hermanas in STEM. “We can make an impact just by being present, so that these young students can see that there’s more than one kind of scientist.”

Elevating Others

Many of Stanford’s groups supporting women in STEM are having an impact outside the campus community. Stanford’s Womxn in Design had over 350 people attend their conference last fall, and hosted their first makeathon in February.

“As we were searching for a diverse lineup of conference speakers, we were faced with the harsh reality— the rest of the field isn’t really elevating womxn of color. So, we are really pushing to be more inclusive,” said Nicole Orsak, a management science and engineering major and co-president of Stanford Womxn in Design. “We’ve also changed the ‘e’ in our name to an ‘x’ to make it clear that we welcome all womxn and, really, anyone who is an ally to womxn.”

Stanford’s Hermanas in STEM is also considering a name change in order to reinforce that their membership goes beyond women and Latinx people.

“Everyone is welcome in Hermanas in STEM. All we ask is that people advocate for Latinx folks in academic spaces because we don’t always feel welcome or that we belong,” added San Juan.

Gerritsen, too, acknowledges that the success of WiDS sets the stage for a more complex effort to promote other minority groups in data science, such as women of color and gender non-binary people.

For now, she’s focused on how to make the WiDS network as strong as possible.

“What I’m hoping is someday these conferences are totally unnecessary. That would be great,” said Gerritsen. “We just want to normalize that there are women out there doing outstanding work.”

Source:  https://news.stanford.edu/2020/03/02/recognizing-empowering-women-stem/

Stressed out? Blame bad technology
LinkedIn

By Reuters

There is no question that we are all more dependent on technology than ever. So what happens when that tech does not work?

In the past, Emily Dreyfuss used an old-school strategy: She yelled.

When Amazon’s Alexa spat out wrong answers or misunderstood questions, Dreyfuss let the virtual assistant have it.

“I used her as a scapegoat for my feelings,” said Dreyfuss, a writer and editor for Harvard’s Shorenstein Center. “When you have a non-sentient and annoying device in your home, who isn’t doing what you want, I talked to her in not the nicest terms. And my husband ganged up on her, too.”

Tech frustrations like this have happened to all of us. Your wifi is always dropping out. Your passwords do not work. Your laptop crashes, and you lose everything you were working on. Just reading about those possibilities could be enough to raise your blood pressure.

Technology can damage our state of mind, and new research is bearing that out: Computer giant Dell Technologies, in partnership with neuroscience firm EMOTIV, put people through a gauntlet of bad tech experiences, and then measured their brainwaves to gauge their reactions.

Test subjects had trouble logging on, or had to navigate sluggish applications, or saw their spreadsheets crash.

“The moment people started using bad technology, we saw a doubling of their levels of stress,” said Olivier Oullier, EMOTIV’s president. “I was a bit surprised by that, because you rarely see those levels going so high. Tech stress had a lasting effect, Oullier added. “People don’t relax back into calmness quickly. It takes a long time.”

Company bottom lines have suffered along with the mental health of employees. Constant frustration with bad tech affects how staffers handle their daily workloads, especially younger workers. Gen Z and Millennial test subjects saw a whopping 30% productivity drop as a result.

“Bad experiences affect you regardless of computer literacy,” said Cile Montgomery, who leads customer experience initiatives for Dell. “But young people seem to be even more impacted, because they expect technology to work.”

Read the full article at Reuters.

Six Apps that Help you Stick to a Budget
LinkedIn
A cartoon of six smart phone being held by a group of hands, displaying various screens

In these days of furloughs, layoffs, and shortened hours, when many people are struggling to pay their rent, figure out how to manage their bills, and looking askance at their college loans, it can help to have a solid financial app to assess your situation, create a budget, figure out exactly what you can (or can’t) afford, work with those pesky and confusing figures, find a better way to save, or just keep from panicking.

We asked four staff members from The Verge to talk about what they used to keep financially sane, and here’s what they recommended.

Buxfer: All Around Accounting

First of all, I need to admit that I monitor my finances in an absurdly old-fashioned way. I don’t use an app that downloads all of my accounts and tracks everything for me (although I have played around with Mint a bit). Instead, I enter all of my expenses and income manually into my accounting software and then check off which expenses have cleared at the end of the month. That way, I can “pay” many of my bills ahead of time by entering them before the payments are actually made and end up with a much clearer picture of how much cash I’ll have available afterward.

For years, I used native accounting software that just sat on my personal computer, like Microsoft Money. In fact, I held on to Money for several years after Microsoft sunsetted it but still kept it available as a download. (Thank you for that, Microsoft!) However, I found out how much of a mistake that was the day my computer decided to (figuratively) crash and burn. I had a backup, so I wasn’t in much trouble — except I decided I didn’t want to be dependent on a backup. I wanted to be able to access my data from the cloud, so I could access it from a computer or from my phone. However, I still enter it manually.

It took a while, but I found Buxfer. This personal accounting software is simple to learn, easy to use, and flexible enough so that, while it will happily download all of your data for you, it will also let you manually enter your expenses and income (something most other current accounting apps do not). Buxfer does pretty much everything more well-known accounting apps do: it downloads your accounts (if you want it to), tracks your budget, lets you know how you’re doing using charts and tables, follows your investments, and lets you set goals for, say, saving up for a home or paying down a credit card. It even lets you split bills with a spouse or a roommate, so you can track who is paying for what.

If you only need something to manually add expenses and income to, Buxfer is free to use. If you want more sophisticated features — like, for example, automatic syncing with your bank and credit card accounts or automatic tagging of your accounts (so you can easily find “utilities” or “mortgage”) — then a “Pilot” account costs $2 / month. The cost increases up to $10 a month, depending on how many features you need.

I really like Buxfer. It has a clean, understandable interface; lets you choose how many of your features you want to use (and lets you ignore the others); and doesn’t bother you with intrusive ads — even on the free version. And although I was using the free version, when I had a question, I got a prompt reply to my email. Buxfer may not be as well-known as Quicken or YNAB, but it’s certainly worth checking out. —Barbara Krasnoff, reviews editor

Credit Karma:  Keep your Data Secure

A couple of years ago, I needed to find a company (cheap or free) that I could use for identity monitoring, and someone at work recommended Credit Karma. I soon found out that, in signing up for Credit Karma, I was signing up for much more than just identity monitoring.

Credit Karma watches all of your accounts for possible data breaches, monitors your credit standing and notifies you when it changes and why, and helps you to do things like lock your credit so that it’s harder for somebody to open an account in your name, among other services. It also offers links to information about buying a home, buying or leasing a car, paying down an overdrawn credit card, and other financial services. There is an entire section on financial relief, which could be very useful for those impacted by the current situation.

The site makes a variety of suggestions for low-interest credit cards, loans, and other financial instruments. Of course, these suggestions aren’t given strictly out of the kindness of its heart — you know that Credit Karma is getting compensated if you take it up on any of its offers — but I’ve checked out a few of its deals, and most of them aren’t bad. For example, one of their savings accounts offered considerably more interest than my local bank, without charging anything extra. (Unfortunately, when interest rates began to dive, the usefulness of that particular account dove with it.)

Unlike most of the other apps mentioned here, Credit Karma will not help you pay your bills or track your bank account. But it does offer some really useful information and services, and while I don’t check it more than once a month or so, I find it helps me make sure my finances are safe and on the right track. —Barbara Krasnoff

Continue to The Verge to read the full article

Can Virtual Reality Help Autistic Children Navigate the Real World?
LinkedIn
Mr. Ravindran adjusts his son’s VR headset between lessons. “It was one of the first times I’d seen him do pretend play like that,” Mr. Ravindran said of the time when his son used Google Street View through a headset, then went into his playroom and acted out what he had experienced in VR. “It ended up being a light bulb moment.

By Gautham Nagesh, New York Times

This article is part of Upstart, a series on young companies harnessing new science and technology.

Vijay Ravindran has always been fascinated with technology. At Amazon, he oversaw the team that built and started Amazon Prime. Later, he joined the Washington Post as chief digital officer, where he advised Donald E. Graham on the sale of the newspaper to his former boss, Jeff Bezos, in 2013.

By late 2015, Mr. Ravindran was winding down his time at the renamed Graham Holdings Company. But his primary focus was his son, who was then 6 years old and undergoing therapy for autism.

“Then an amazing thing happened,” Mr. Ravindran said.

Mr. Ravindran was noodling around with a virtual reality headset when his son asked to try it out. After spending 30 minutes using the headset in Google Street View, the child went to his playroom and started acting out what he had done in virtual reality.

“It was one of the first times I’d seen him do pretend play like that,” Mr. Ravindran said. “It ended up being a light bulb moment.”

Like many autistic children, Mr. Ravindran’s son struggled with pretend play and other social skills. His son’s ability to translate his virtual reality experience to the real world sparked an idea. A year later, Mr. Ravindran started a company called Floreo, which is developing virtual reality lessons designed to help behavioral therapists, speech therapists, special educators and parents who work with autistic children.

The idea of using virtual reality to help autistic people has been around for some time, but Mr. Ravindran said the widespread availability of commercial virtual reality headsets since 2015 had enabled research and commercial deployment at much larger scale. Floreo has developed almost 200 virtual reality lessons that are designed to help children build social skills and train for real world experiences like crossing the street or choosing where to sit in the school cafeteria.

Last year, as the pandemic exploded demand for telehealth and remote learning services, the company delivered 17,000 lessons to customers in the United States. Experts in autism believe the company’s flexible platform could go global in the near future.

That’s because the demand for behavioral and speech therapy as well as other forms of intervention to address autism is so vast. Getting a diagnosis for autism can take months — crucial time in a child’s development when therapeutic intervention can be vital. And such therapy can be costly and require enormous investments of time and resources by parents.

The Floreo system requires an iPhone (version 7 or later) and a V.R. headset (a low-end model costs as little as $15 to $30), as well as an iPad, which can be used by a parent, teacher or coach in-person or remotely. The cost of the program is roughly $50 per month. (Floreo is currently working to enable insurance reimbursement, and has received Medicaid approval in four states.)

A child dons the headset and navigates the virtual reality lesson, while the coach — who can be a parent, teacher, therapist, counselor or personal aide — monitors and interacts with the child through the iPad.

The lessons cover a wide range of situations, such as visiting the aquarium or going to the grocery store. Many of the lessons involve teaching autistic children, who may struggle to interpret nonverbal cues, to interpret body language.

Autistic self-advocates note that behavioral therapy to treat autism is controversial among those with autism, arguing that it is not a disease to be cured and that therapy is often imposed on autistic children by their non-autistic parents or guardians. Behavioral therapy, they say, can harm or punish children for behaviors such as fidgeting. They argue that rather than conditioning autistic people to act like neurotypical individuals, society should be more welcoming of them and their different manner of experiencing the world.

“A lot of the mismatch between autistic people and society is not the fault of autistic people, but the fault of society,” said Zoe Gross, the director of advocacy at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. “People should be taught to interact with people who have different kinds of disabilities.”

Mr. Ravindran said Floreo respected all voices in the autistic community, where needs are diverse. He noted that while Floreo was used by many behavioral health providers, it had been deployed in a variety of contexts, including at schools and in the home.

“The Floreo system is designed to be positive and fun, while creating positive reinforcement to help build skills that help acclimate to the real world,” Mr. Ravindran said.

In 2017, Floreo secured a $2 million fast track grant from the National Institutes of Health. The company is first testing whether autistic children will tolerate headsets, then conducting a randomized control trial to test the method’s usefulness in helping autistic people interact with the police.

Early results have been promising: According to a study published in the Autism Research journal (Mr. Ravindran was one of the authors), 98 percent of the children completed their lessons, quelling concerns about autistic children with sensory sensitivities being resistant to the headsets.

Ms. Gross said she saw potential in virtual reality lessons that helped people rehearse unfamiliar situations, such as Floreo’s lesson on crossing the street. “There are parts of Floreo to get really excited about: the airport walk through, or trick or treating — a social story for something that doesn’t happen as frequently in someone’s life,” she said, adding that she would like to see a lesson for medical procedures.

However, she questioned a general emphasis by the behavioral therapy industry on using emerging technologies to teach autistic people social skills.

A second randomized control trial using telehealth, conducted by Floreo using another N.I.H. grant, is underway, in hopes of showing that Floreo’s approach is as effective as in-person coaching.

But it was those early successes that convinced Mr. Ravindran to commit fully to the project.

“There were just a lot of really excited people.,” he said. “When I started showing families what we had developed, people would just give me a big hug. They would start crying that there was someone working on such a high-tech solution for their kids.”

Clinicians who have used the Floreo system say the virtual reality environment makes it easier for children to focus on the skill being taught in the lessons, unlike in the real world where they might be overwhelmed by sensory stimuli.

Celebrate the Children, a nonprofit private school in Denville, N.J., for children with autism and related challenges, hosted one of the early pilots for Floreo; Monica Osgood, the school’s co-founder and executive director, said the school had continued to use the system.

Click here to read the full article on New York Times.

Boeing Skyscraper Pride

Danaher

Danaher

Alight

Alight Solutions

Leidos

Upcoming Events

  1. City Career Fair
    January 19, 2022 - November 4, 2022
  2. The Small Business Expo–Multiple Event Dates
    February 17, 2022 - December 1, 2022
  3. National College Resources Foundation Upcoming Events–Mark Your Calendar!
    September 24, 2022 - April 1, 2023
  4. Anaheim & CA STEAM Symposium? Yes, Come Present In Person!
    October 1, 2022 - October 2, 2022
  5. HACU 36th Annual Conference
    October 6, 2022 - October 8, 2022
  6. ROMBA Conference
    October 6, 2022 - October 8, 2022

Upcoming Events

  1. City Career Fair
    January 19, 2022 - November 4, 2022
  2. The Small Business Expo–Multiple Event Dates
    February 17, 2022 - December 1, 2022
  3. National College Resources Foundation Upcoming Events–Mark Your Calendar!
    September 24, 2022 - April 1, 2023
  4. Anaheim & CA STEAM Symposium? Yes, Come Present In Person!
    October 1, 2022 - October 2, 2022
  5. HACU 36th Annual Conference
    October 6, 2022 - October 8, 2022
  6. ROMBA Conference
    October 6, 2022 - October 8, 2022