Friday, September 26, 2014

European Regulator Says In-Flight Mobil-Phone Use Is Safe

European Regulator Says In-Flight Mobil-Phone Use Is Safe

September 26, 2014

European airlines received permission from regulators to have passengers use personal electronic devices including mobile phones during flight, removing one of the last remaining bastions of talk-free zones. 
The European Aviation Safety Agency gave the green light for in-flight deployment of smartphones, tablets, laptops, e-readers and MP3 players once airlines perform a one-time check for possible interference, according to a statement today. Current rules allow phone use before take-off and after landing. 
The ruling follows a move by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration almost a year ago, and is another step to help establish in-flight offerings including Internet access for passengers. It also sets the stage for airlines to supervise the use of phones in an aircraft cabin and balance the urge to remain connected with the desire for quiet in a confined space. 
“EASA has been working toward enabling airlines to allow the use of personal electronic devices with freedom comparable to that in other modes of transport, for example in trains,” EASA said in a statement. “This has been achieved.” 
Devices can stay on without the need to be in “airplane mode” that cuts transmission of data once airlines have proven they do not interfere with aircraft systems, EASA said. Any airlines rules about the use of mobile devices always take precedent over the regulator’s permission, EASA said. 
To contact the reporter on this story: Richard Weiss in Frankfurt at 
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Benedikt Kammel at Christopher Jasper 

Reboot or Die Trying


Reboot or Die Trying

A star political blogger for, David Roberts spent so much time posting and Tweeting and staring at screens that he almost went nuts. So he pulled the plug for a year, restarting his relationship with technology and actively seeking health, balance, and adventure in the real world. What he learned just might save you from meltdown.


The average American adult spends about 7.4 hours per day looking at screens.   Photo: Grant Cornett

One night, late in the summer of 2012, discussion at my dinner table turned to the venerable topic of What to Be When You Grow Up. My older son, Griffin, then nine years old, wanted to be an “underwater paleontologist.” His little brother, Huck, then seven, wanted to be a monkey.

“Do you know what I do for a living?” I asked Huck.

His eyes grew wide. “All you do is sit on your computer and say, ‘Blah blah blah Congress, blah blah blah Mitt Romney’!”

We all—OK, mostly my wife—got a big laugh out of that. For my birthday that year, she and the boys gave me a print emblazoned with Blah Blah Blah. It’s hanging in my office.

Huck was not wrong. At the time, I was a journalist covering climate-change politics for a nonprofit Seattle news site called Grist. I’d been with Grist almost ten years, and as my job had transitioned into full-time writing, I’d lived through—indeed, built a career on—the rise of blogging, social media, and hyperspeed news cycles. By the end of 2012 I was, God help me, a kind of boutique brand, with a reasonably well-known blog, a few cable-TV appearances under my belt, andmore than 36,000 Twitter followers.

I tweeted to them around 30 times a day, sometimes less but, believe it or not, gentle reader, sometimes much more. I belong to that exclusive Twitter club, not users who have been “verified” (curse their privileged names) but users who have hit the daily tweet limit, the social-media equivalent of getting cut off by the bartender. The few, the proud, the badly in need of help.

It wasn’t just my job, though. My hobbies, my entertainment, my social life, my idle time—they had all moved online. I sought out a screen the moment I woke up.
I ate lunch at my desk. Around 6 p.m., I took a few hours for dinner, putting the kids to bed, and watching a little TV with the wife. Then, around 10 p.m., it was back to the Internet until 2 or 3 a.m. I was peering at one screen or another for something like 12 hours a day.

From my perspective, that time involved a dazzling variety of activities: reading, blogging, gossiping, shopping, listening to music, watching movies. But from Huck’s perspective, I only ever did one thing: sit on my computer. Maybe he had a point.

It wasn’t always this way. There was a time—it seems prehistoric now—when I started the workday by “getting caught up.” I’d go through my e-mail, check a few websites, and start on the day’s new tasks. By mid-2013, there was no such thing as caught up; there was, at best, keeping up. To step away from e-mail, news feeds, texts, chats, and social media for even a moment was to allow their deposited information to accumulate like snow in the driveway, a burden that grew every second it was neglected.

I spent most of my daytime hours shoveling digital snow. The core of my job—researching, thinking, writing at greater-than-140-character length—I could accomplish only in the middle of the night, when things calmed down. I spent more and more hours working, or at least work adjacent, but got less and less done.

Meanwhile, my mind and body adapted to the pace of digital life, with its ceaseless ping ping ping of notifications and alerts. I got twitchy if I was away from my phone for more than a few seconds. I felt it vibrating in my pocket when it wasn’t there, took it with me to bed, even to the bathroom. (I got pretty good at tweeting while I peed, to my enduring discredit.)

All my in-between moments, the interstitial transitions and pauses that fill the cracks of a day, were crowded with pings. My mind was perpetually in the state that researcher and technology writerLinda Stone termed continuous partial attention. I was never completely where I was, never entirely doing what I was doing. I always had one eye on the virtual world. Every bit of conversation was a potential tweet, every sunset a potential Instagram.

What had begun as blogging had become “lifecasting,” a manic, full-time performance of Internet David Roberts. With some lamentable exceptions, I was, and am, proud of Internet David Roberts. But he had flourished at the expense of the slump-shouldered, thick-bellied, bleary-eyed shut-in Huck saw sitting on the computer every day. That guy was wrung out. He needed some attention.

I was 40 years old, due for a midlife crisis, and I didn’t want to have an affair or buy an impractical sports car, so instead I decided that I would take a break. A big one. For a year, I would leave behind online life to attend more closely to what we Internet people call meatspace.

There are about 1,000 certified mindfulness-based stress-reduction instructors in the U.S. Photo: Grant Cornett
There are about 1,000 certified mindfulness-based stress-reduction instructors in the U.S.  Photo: Grant Cornett
My bosses at Grist, supportive as always, agreed to an unpaid sabbatical. A year with no salary is not nothing, but my wife brings home considerably more of the bacon than I do anyway, so with some belt tightening, we figured we could manage me taking my feet off the pedals and coasting a bit. If you’re wondering, yes, my wife is the coolest person on the planet, and yes, she will get her year someday.

In August 2013, I wrote a postannouncing my plan to unplug. I explained that I was desperately burned out and cited two goals for my year off: to regain my physical health and work on a novel. I was a little nervous I’d be deemed a weenie; instead my post unleashed a torrent of goodwill. Soon there were more than 300 comments, almost every one positive and supportive (the Internet equivalent of Sasquatch riding by on a unicorn). People e-mailed, they called, they wrote actual paper letters. I heard two things over and over again: “I know exactly how you feel” and “I’m so glad you’re doing this.”

Lots and lots of people would like a break from hyperconnected life, but very few have concrete plans to take one. It’s not surprising: in white-collar work, the expectation of round-the-clock connectivity has become pervasive, bleeding into nights, weekends, and vacations. A survey by the Center for Creative Leadership found that smartphone-carrying professionals “report interacting with work a whopping 13.5 hours every workday.”

And for more and more Americans, social circles have moved at least partially online. According toPew Research, as of 2013, 73 percent of adult Internet users are on social media. Among those 18 to 29, it’s now 89 percent. It has long since become many people’s primary means of keeping tabs on friends and family. Being offline can feel like being invisible.

So it was with trepidation that I began my sabbatical on September 1, 2013. I didn’t go full Luddite or “quit the Internet.” I used Google Maps to get around, maintained my long-running Words with Friends rivalry with my aunt, and bought flip-flops on Zappos. But I did have some hard-and-fast rules: no work, work-related e-mail, or work-related reading. No daily news cycles or social media. Most of all, I would not blog, tweet, share, pin, like, star, favorite, or forward anything. Internet David Roberts would go silent.

By the time you read this, I’ll be back to the grind. While I haven’t unearthed any cosmic truths (except: not working beats working), over the past year I have developed some tools and techniques that help me feel calmer, more at peace, and better equipped to navigate the pings of modern life.

Will it be enough? I don’t know.

I was standing on my locked left leg, hunched over, trying to grab the bottom of my lifted-up right foot, and after a few slippery failures I had a grip. Hey, hot yoga isn’t so hard!

My fingers were turning white with the effort when the teacher said, “And now, lift your leg straight up in front of you and lock your knee.” My laugh, a strangled snort, produced a sprinkler of sweat. I thought it was gallows humor. The teacher gave me a look as all around legs popped up, locked in perfect right angles, torsos bent double.

I spent most of that first class on my back, trying to slow my racing heart, pondering the great irony that after years of sedentary living it was exercise that was going to kill me. I almost didn’t go back.

Those early days of screenlessness were bewildering. My mind, wound up like a top for years, continued spinning. I experienced sporadic surges of angst and adrenaline, sure I was supposed to be doing… something. I’d pull my phone out every few minutes, even though no one was e-mailing me and I’d uninstalled all social-media apps. The habits and mental agitations of digital work life persisted like phantom limbs.

My symptoms were testament to the power of what psychologists call variable intermittent reinforcement. Famed behaviorist B. F. Skinner discovered long ago that if you really want to ingrain a habit, you encourage it with rewards that arrive at variable times, in variable sizes. The lab rat knows that it will periodically be given food for pressing the lever, but not exactly when or how much. The result: a compulsive rat.

It’s the same with humans. Variable intermittent reinforcement explains why slot machines are so enthralling, why video games contain hidden caches of coins or weapons, and why we’re all helpless before our e-mail accounts. One time you check your inbox and there’s a single new message, from LinkedIn, which reminds you that you can’t figure out how to delete your LinkedIn account. Sad face. The next time you check, you have five new messages, including one from an old friend and another from a potential employer. Happy face! So you check, check, check.

What’s true of e-mail is true of more and more software—the hot trend is to “gamify” everything, which just means using intermittent reinforcement to hook users. It’s no accident that you can earn points or badges in virtually every app these days.

The kinds of rewards offered in online communities are particularly compelling, based on what Dan Siegel, a UCLA professor of psychiatry and executive director of the Mindsight Institute, calls contingent communication. It happens, he told me, when “a signal sent gets a signal back.” That simple act, evoking a response from another mind, is a key feature of early childhood development and remains “deeply rewarding,” Siegel said, satisfying primordial instincts shaped by our evolution as a social species.

A 2012 study by two Boston University psychologists found that Facebook use is driven by two “primary needs”—the “need for self-presentation” and the “need to belong.” Broadcast and be acknowledged: that’s a ping. Each one affirms our existence as efficacious agents in the world and prompts a squirt of reinforcing hormones from the brain’s reward center. “That,” Siegel said, “is why people will respond to a text while driving a two-ton vehicle.”

There was a 48.4 percent increase in mobile screen time between 2012 and 2013 alone.   Photo: Grant Cornett
We online denizens come to need these regular low-level jolts and get antsy without them. That’s why I was tweeting in the bathroom. That’s why your friends around the table at the bar are all staring at their phones. Ordinary life has come to seem torpid and drab relative to the cascade of affirmations we find in contingent online communication.

When I cut myself off from the cycle, I went into withdrawal. Hot yoga was the first step in my recovery. I chose it somewhat at random, but it turned out to be just what the life coach ordered.

Though scientific research into the cognitive and emotional effects of hyperconnectivity remains nascent, there is no shortage of counsel available to the frazzled. The anxieties of modern digital life have created a burgeoning industry of websites, consultants, therapists, and “thought leaders” devoted to easing our always-on angst.

They tend to fall into two broad camps. The first preaches the gospel of “life hacking,” which amounts, as one upbeat blog put it, to “project-managing your life.” For the life hacker, productivity is the ur-goal. Distractions, inefficiencies, and bad habits are blockages to be flushed by performance-boosting tweaks. And so they offer better to-do lists and time schedulers, four-minute workouts and five-minute power naps, e-mail filters and syncers of various things with various other things. Modern digital life cannot be avoided, they say, but it can be managed and optimized.

I’ve attempted to adopt some life-hacking techniques over the years. I’ve certainly wasted countless hours reading about them. But they tend to require a level of stick-to-itiveness and self-discipline that I lack. How does one muster the wherewithal to implement and maintain all that stuff anyway?

Ah, here it is, on’s “29 Ways to Beat Procrastination Once and For All” list: “Become mindful.” Reminds me of that old joke about how an economist proposes to open a can: “First, assume a can opener.”

And then there’s the second camp, which approaches digital overload from a groovier, more spiritual angle. Here we are encouraged to “disconnect to reconnect,” according to the tagline of Digital Detox, a Bay Area organizer of device-free workshops and retreats. A flier for events the group cohosted in L.A. and San Francisco in March to celebrate a National Day of Unplugging promised an “analog zone” with friendship bracelets, face painting, nicknaming, typewriters, and smiles. Writer and critic Nathan Jurgenson has dubbed this crowd, which now includes such worthies as Arianna Huffington and Deepak Chopra, “the disconnectionists.”

Whether tech-based life-hacking tricks or smile-based wellness retreats, it’s all premised on mindfulness, that all-important but elusive quality about which so much ink has recently been spilled. So gripped has the professional class become that a Time cover story earlier this year declared “The Mindful Revolution.”

So how does one become mindful? The most common prescription is regular meditation, which research suggests has all sorts of surprising benefits: it improves mood and cognitive performance; it strengthens (literally puts more folds in) the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that coordinates conscious thought and self-regulation; and it enhances your ability to accurately assess your inner states. One recent Canadian study found that introspection “becomes more accurate with increasing meditation experience.”

For beginners, at least, meditation means sitting quietly, alone with your thoughts, for as long as you can stand it, which isn’t very long. A recent study published in Science found that many participants “preferred to administer electric shocks to themselves instead of being left alone with their thoughts,” which I have to say I completely get.

That, it became clear, was the real benefit of my sweaty yoga: it was a back-door route to meditation. Moving through the postures, I was forced to draw focus to my breath, again and again. My mind never emptied—I’ll probably need a few decades for that—but over the ensuing months I became more able to observe my thoughts, worries, and distractions as they arrived, acknowledge them, and let them go.

Oh, and I finally got my leg up.

As my mind began to spin down, I discovered that calm was like a drug. It felt so good, so decadent, just to sit in the early afternoon with my feet propped on the windowsill, watching wind brush the trees in the front yard. I was hooked.

In December, I called psychology professor and researcher Larry D. Rosen, author of iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming Its Hold on Us. “I could put an EEG tap on your head and measure the activity while you’re sitting at your computer,” he said, “and then I could have you go take a walk. What I would likely see is your brain activity diminish rapidly.” What this suggests, he said, is that “technology is highly overloading our brains” and, conversely, that “certain things calm our brains.” Simple enough.

Rosen mentioned taking lots of short breaks, finding offline social groups, and, of course, meditation, but I kept coming back to walking. Just before I started my sabbatical, my wife bought me one of those wristband fitness trackers that count your steps. (The absurdity of wiring myself for a break from technology did not escape me.)
It comes with a built-in goal of 10,000 steps a day—about five miles. Running, you could do that in 40 minutes, but I loathe running with great fervor, so I walked. My dog Forest and I have since logged 1,400 miles on winding urban hikes through Seattle’s tucked-away paths, stairways, and parks. That’s 2,723,487 steps, but who’s counting?

My rambles have taken me through many miles of greenspace, which, as scientists are belatedly discovering, is a kind of wonder drug itself, with many of the same benefits as meditation. When I chatted with researcher and naturopathic physician Alan Logan, coauthor of 2012’s Your Brain on Nature, he described experiments in which cognitively fatigued subjects are taken on a walk, some through a concrete environment, some through urban greenspace. “You come back and you repeat the cognitive testing,” he said, “and whether it’s memory recall, target identification, or your attention overall, it’s consistently far better after having taken a nature walk.”

What’s going on? Nature provides what University of Michigan psychologist Stephen Kaplan has termed soft fascinations. (Dibs on the band name.) We are shaped by evolution to heed the ebb and flow of drifting clouds, rustling grass, and singing birds. Unlike voluntary or directed attention—the kind required by, say, a spreadsheet—“effortless attention” produces no fatigue. It’s the mental equivalent of floating on your back, and a rested mind is a more productive mind.

In his new book, The Distraction Addiction, technology scholar Alex Soojung-Kim Pang notes that the pace of walking encourages contemplation and reverie. While the conscious mind is wandering, the subconscious is chugging away, which is why moments of insight or creativity come so often during activities that allow daydreaming—taking a shower, weeding the garden. Thinkers from Rousseau to Thoreau to Nietzsche have sworn by walking. Charles Darwin found it so important, he had a specially designed trail constructed on his property.

Reliably, after about a half-hour of walking, ideas start bubbling up. During one longer jaunt onSeattle’s Interurban Trail, I found myself telling Forest all about the proper structure and casting of a hypothetical HBO series made from Lloyd Alexander’s 1960s fantasy novels, The Chronicles of Prydain. (Producers, call me!) After that, I started carrying a little voice recorder to capture stray thoughts.

Among Americans under the age of 50 who own a smartphone: 58 percent check them at least once an hour, 54 percent check them in bed, and 39 percent check them on the toilet.   Photo: Grant Cornett
By January, my days had settled into a rhythm. When I wasn’t walking or at yoga, I was doing yard work, reading novels, visiting with friends, fumbling away at a bass guitar, or enjoying time with the kids. Since I wasn’t working, they were no longer in after-school care, and in those hazy, unstructured afternoon hours before dinner we’d play catch or lie around the living room trading comic books. I spent hours at a time absorbed in a single activity. My mind felt quieter, less jumpy.

Still, going into my sabbatical I knew I needed at least one real blowout experience, my own private mindfulness retreat. So I convinced two old friends to rent a cabin with me near Utah’s Brighton Ski Resortfor an entire month, beginning in mid-January. One owned his own company, the other had recently been bought out of his, and both were feeling as midlife-y as I was.

It took a while for us to relax into just being, with nothing else to do. We snowboarded, played cards, cooked meals, and laughed at inside jokes. It doesn’t sound like much, but it has more weight in my memory than any number of online dramas.

A couple of weeks into the trip, we were blessed with an enormous powder dump. In the lung-pinching crisp of the following morning, we were among the first on the chairlift. We headed straight for our favorite grove of trees and found them transformed, a crystalline, untracked landscape of white. I sailed into the open pines with no one else in sight, no sound but the soft shh-shh of fresh snow being pushed aside, no sense of effort or separation. And I thought, This is it. This is as far away as I will ever get.

Just a few weeks later, at the end of February, I wound up in a distressingly familiar position: standing at my computer, surrounded by empty chip bags and Trader Joe’s chocolate-covered-whatever boxes. It was almost two in the morning, and I’d just emerged, blinking and dazed, from an hour lost to some online rathole. (I think it was reading reviews of bass-guitar cables, despite already owning a perfectly good bass-guitar cable.) I felt that old sour stew of anxiety, guilt, and exhaustion.

For months, I’d been fiddling around with an outline for a near-future sci-fi novel. I had all kinds of ideas about how things might go if I were writing for fun rather than work, after months of meditative, screen-free activities.

Things did not go that way. Instead, I spent long hours attached to a screen, distracted and diffuse, producing little but feeling obligated to remain there until I coughed up enough to justify my miserable existence—in short, right back where I was before my break. I threw up my hands that night, actually slammed them on the keyboard and startled Forest from his sleep.

It wasn’t the challenge of creative writing that stymied me so much as the blasted computer. Every time I ventured back into its orbit, I confronted a minefield of deeply ingrained habits. My old routines—clear inbox of new e-mail, check RSS feeds, read TV-show recaps, update apps, check e-mail again—were under way before I knew it. The slightest cues triggered them, even the physical act of resting my hands on the keyboard.

My budding mindfulness was proving inadequate in the circumstance I most needed it. It was dispiriting, but it also raised a question: Just how mindful should you have to be to get anything done these days? Must every professional be bodhisattva?

One striking feature of the digital-self-help literature is that it treats distraction, overload, and frazzlement almost entirely as personal challenges. If you’re stressed out and unable to concentrate, you’re not enlightened enough. Meditate harder.

The problem with this approach is that it sidesteps what sociologists call political economy, the larger social and economic forces at work in our lives. As author, activist, and documentary filmmaker Astra Taylor argues in her rousing new book, The People’s Platform, discourse about online technologies almost always elides “the thorny issue of the larger social structures in which we and our technologies are embedded.”

Because most Web services are “free”—that is, supported by advertising—their very survival depends on distracting and bewitching their users. Silicon Valley software engineers design apps that way on purpose; they’re quite clever at it. Because America’s culture of professional overwork and exhaustion is unrestrained by workplace regulations or conventions governing e-mail, unceasing connectivity has become an unspoken job requirement. Because social groups coalesce and plan online, even brief screenless periods breed FOMO, the fear of missing out.

There’s only so much any individual can do in the face of these forces. Mindfulness may be a necessary form of self-care, even self-defense, but it is not a solution to digital unease any more than driving a Prius is a solution to climate change. Instead of just treating our anxieties exclusively as a symptom of poorly engineered minds in need of hacking, perhaps we also ought to see them as a collective challenge, to be addressed through social and political action. Hey, we could start a hashtag.

Still, to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, you go to work in the culture you have, not the culture you might want. One has to get on with things, and Internet David Roberts has to go back to work soon.

Like a shuttle nearing a planet’s gravitational field, I’m preparing for reentry. That means implementing survival strategies. Some I’ve been working on all year; others will go into effect only when I return to Grist.

Seventy-two percent of Americans check e-mail from home or while on vacation.   Photo: Grant Cornett
First, I’m holding on to the three most centering, mind-calming practices I developed during the break. There’s yoga, of course, which I can no longer imagine doing without. There’s walking. And there’s bass guitar, my delight in which is undiminished by lack of skill. (If I accomplished nothing else this year, at least I learned the Game of Thrones theme on bass.)

For at least one or two hours every workday, I’m going to use an app called Freedom to cut off my Internet connection entirely. That will be my time for deep focus.

Come hell or high water, I will take regular, scheduled breaks from screens: 15 minutes of nonscreen activity for every two hours at the computer. I’ll take a short walk, play with Forest, get coffee with a friend, or just sit and look out the window. (I’m telling you, it’s underrated.) That’s about an hour of mental recharging per eight-hour workday—not perfect, but a big improvement.

I don’t plan to swear off social media. Unlike some disconnectionists, I don’t view online relationships as toxic or inauthentic. I benefit from them enormously. But I do want to keep that ping time corralled, so it doesn’t smear into everything else. That means turning off all push notifications and checking e-mail and social media only when I’ve decided to, not when they buzz at me. The ideal cycle, in my hopeful imagination, is a period of singular concentration, followed by a limited period of pinging, followed by a period of rest, exercise, or social interaction, away from screens. Four or five of those cycles add up to a productive day, with rhythm and variety.

When I’m writing, I want to write with full focus. When I’m pinging, I want to ping without angst or guilt. When I’m with my family, I want to be with my family, not half in my phone. It is the challenge of our age, in work and in life: to do one thing at a time, what one has consciously chosen to do and only that, and to do it with care and attention.

I hope I’m up to it. That any of us are.

Last summer, Huck decided he wanted to get serious about baseball. Since then we’ve worn patches on either side of the backyard, tossing the ball after school. He improved enough that he tried out in the fall and moved up to Little League a year early. Late in the season, his coaches discovered that he could pitch, and he went on to save a few post-season play-off nail-biters.

A couple of weeks ago, he and I were throwing again out back. That hesitant, clumsy kid from last summer is gone. Now he likes to tug his cap and spit in the dirt and make it look easy.

We’d settled in, and neither of us had spoken for a while. Sun dappled the grass, the air was scented with lilac, and the ball hit our gloves with reassuring thumps. I looked at Huck then, aglow in the late-afternoon light, and I felt an upwelling of sadness, so sudden and overwhelming my eyes blurred with tears. I saw with unforgiving clarity that the moment would pass; it was already passing, even as I contemplated it. Life slides by from the present to the past so fast it sometimes seems we barely get a glimpse, barely get to register anything before we’re gone. Yet death is coming for all of us. Even me. Even Huck.

And then, just as quickly, a sense of joy and profound relief. I hadn’t missed it. However ephemeral the moment was, I was there, in it, fully present for it. The breeze was cool on my skin, I had nowhere else to be, and Huck was winding up.

David Roberts (@drgrist) is back to writing about climate politics for

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Berkeley drafts cell phone health warnings - audio

Berkeley drafts cell phone health warnings - audio

By Ronnie Cohen 


Do you hold your cell phone against your ear? Your user manual probably warns against it.

Bret Bocook knew how to use a cell phone. So he didn’t bother to look at the instruction manual until five years ago – after he was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

“I consider myself a very informed person,” he said. “And I still was not aware of the fact that I was effectively smoking three or four packs of cigarettes a day when I was using my cell phone for 20 years, as far as cancer risk.”

Bocook spoke at a San Francisco news conference a year after he collapsed in the shower because a brain tumor the size of a baseball had stopped his heart.

This month, the 50-year-old Palo Alto lawyer and father of three young children was diagnosed with a second brain tumor.

He blames the cell phones that he pressed against his ear for hours a day for decades. And he believes the warnings buried in tiny type in printed user manuals and behind layers of menus on smart phones should be posted on stickers right on the devices, or at least on their packaging.

On Oct. 28, the Berkeley City Council will consider legislation that could make it the first U.S. city to require retailers to warn consumers that radiation from cell phones may be hazardous to their health.

Mounting evidence suggests that mobile phone use could increase the risk of brain tumors, breast cancer, and male infertility.

Bocook no longer holds his phone against his head. Instead, he texts, uses the speaker, and limits the amount of time he uses his mobile phone.

“These are all basic precautions that if I would have been told about over the last 20 years, I wouldn’t have found myself with a brain tumor and put my life in jeopardy,” he said.

Is it safe?
Cell phone user manuals advise a range of precautions. The iPhone 5 manual, for example, recommends talking hands-free and carrying the phone at least 10 millimeters – nearly half an inch – away from your body.

If your cell phone’s in your pocket, it’s too close, according to Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.

“There's a fairly consistent picture that cell phone exposure damages sperm,” Glantz says.

He details evidence of reproductive harm from cell phones in his textbook, Primer of Biostatistics.

“When I'm teaching, I tell my students a cell phone isn't good enough to use as contraception, but if you want to have kids, I wouldn't leave it turned on in my pocket,” he says.

Women should think about where they carry their phones too, according to Bay Area breast surgeon Dr. Lisa Bailey.

Speaking at an Environmental Health Trust program in San Francisco in April, Bailey said she had seen “some very unusual breast cancers,” in women who carried their cell phones in their bras, including two breast cancer cases in 21-year-old women, which she called “a highly unusual age for women to develop breast cancer.”

Concerns about the possible health dangers of cell phones prompted Berkeley City Council members to call for warning labels on cell phones. Councilman Kriss Worthington says the proposal is quite simple.

“This is consumer information that people can get if they work hard to find it,” he said. “So why not make it easy for them to find it?”

The cell phone industry claims there is no need for warning labels, and an industry group is poised to file a lawsuit.

When San Francisco passed cell phone warning legislation a few years ago, CTIA – The Wireless Association sued. The group alleged that the ordinance violated its free-speech rights. The city lost a round in court, and fearing a prolonged legal battle, revoked the law.

Do customers care?
At a Sprint store on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley, concern about cell phone radiation seems to be the last thing on the minds of customers like Calvin Womble, a marketing consultant from El Cerrito.

He says he doesn’t know much about the issue.

“I have read that cell phones, because of the frequencies, can cause brain damage and other things,” he says. “I don't know because I haven't read any data about it that shows conclusively this has happened.”

Cell phones emit radio frequency, RF, energy. That’s radiation. If Berkeley enacts the proposed law, warnings about the possible dangers of RF emissions could confront customers when they shop at retail outlets.

A CTIA spokeswoman declined to comment on Berkeley’s proposal. But the association did send a letter to the mayor and the city attorney.

It says, “Leading national and international health and safety organizations have concluded that there are no known health risks associated with the use of wireless devices.”

But in 2011, a World Health Organization panel of 31 scientists from 14 countries classified wireless phones as “possibly carcinogenic.”

Joel Moskowitz directs the Center for Family and Community Health at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health. An examination of the overall body of the scientific literature, he said, shows no association between cell phone radiation and brain cancer.

“But, if you partition the studies based on the quality of the research or the funding source,” he told the Berkeley City Council, “you see distinctly different patterns.

“There is clear evidence of increased tumor risk – brain tumor risk, parotid gland tumor risk – particularly for people who have used cell phones for 10 or more years, especially on the side of the head on which they use the cell phone.”

The Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, adopted current cell phone radiation standards in 1996. At that time, an estimated 44 million American adults owned a cell phone.

Today, there are 327 million cell phone subscriptions in the U.S. – more than one for every man, woman and child.

Now the FCC is reassessing safe radiation exposure limits. Those pushing for precautionary warnings don’t expect much, however.

President Obama appointed Tom Wheeler chairman of the FCC last year. Before that, Wheeler spent 12 years as president and CEO of the Wireless Association, the same group that sued San Francisco and appears ready to sue Berkeley.

Back at the Sprint store, sales representative Krizia Daniels predicts her customers would disregard warning signs.

“I think it's a good idea, but at the same time, people are just going to ignore the warning labels,” she says. “At the end of the day, it's a phone, and they want the newest and bestest phone, no matter what the cost is.”

“So it's like, okay, I know that cell phones cause radiation and cancer and that you die, but I want this new phone now. So what?”

For tips on smart cell phone use, see the Environmental Working Group’s tips on smart cell phone use.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Quebec energy board cuts fees for smart-meter opt-out

Quebec energy board cuts fees for smart-meter opt-out

Hydro-Québec ordered to reduce opt-out fee by $33 

CBC News Posted: Sep 24, 2014 2:04 PM ET Last Updated: Sep 24, 2014 2:04 PM ET

Quebec's energy board found Hydro-Québec's fees charged to consumers who opt for 'non-communicating' meters are too high.
Quebec's energy board found Hydro-Québec's fees charged to consumers who opt for 'non-communicating' meters are too high.
Quebec’s energy board is forcing Hydro-Québec to slash the proposed fees charged to homeowners who opt to have the utility install a non-transmitting, manually read meter instead of a smart meter. 
Hydro-Québec's initial fee charged to those who wanted it to install a “non-communicating meter,” or one without a radio frequency, in place of a smart meter was $98.
In May, it lowered those fees to $48, in addition to an $8-a-month charge tacked on to power bills.
Several groups, including the consumer advocacy organization Union des Consommateurs, asked the provincial energy board to investigate.
In a ruling released today, the Régie de l'énergie found that even the reduced fees were too high and ordered Hydro-Québec to cut them by nearly 60 per cent.
Energy Minister Pierre Arcand said he was happy with the ruling, calling it a victory for consumers.
“We don’t need to penalize the consumer who use those kinds of meters,” he said.
Hydro-Québec would not comment on the ruling.
Energy analyst Marc-Olivier Moisan-Plante said Hydro-Québec likely set the fees higher than necessary in an effort to deter customers from refusing to have smart meters installed.
The ruling also includes a provision for customers who already opted out under the old fee structure. Hydro-Québec will have to refund them the difference, plus interest.
Hydro-Québec plans to replace 3.75 million analog meters across the province by 2018, for a total cost of close to a billion dollars. 
Smart meter opt out fees
Initial feeReduced fee (May 2014)Energy board fixed fee
Opt out fee before 30 day deadline$98$48$15
Opt out fee after 30 day deadline$137$85$85
Reading fee on monthly bill$17$8$5

The Biology Of Altruism: Good Deeds May Be Rooted In The Brain

The Biology Of Altruism: Good Deeds May Be Rooted In The Brain

September 22, 2014 3:32 AM ET

3 min 36 sec

Rob Donnelly for NPR

Rob Donnelly for NPR

Four years ago, Angela Stimpson agreed to donate a kidney to a complete stranger.
"The only thing I knew about my recipient was that she was a female and she lived in Bakersfield, Calif.," Stimpson says.

It was a true act of altruism — Stimpson risked pain and suffering to help another. So why did she do it? It involved major surgery, her donation was anonymous and she wasn't paid.

"At that time in my life, I was 42 years old. I was single, I had no children," Stimpson says. "I loved my life, but I would often question what my purpose is."

Angela Stimpson smiles before surgery to donate a kidney on Sept. 22, 2010, at Weill-Cornell Hospital in New York.

Angela Stimpson smiles before surgery to donate a kidney on Sept. 22, 2010, at Weill-Cornell Hospital in New York.

Courtesy of Angela Stimpson

When she read about the desperate need for kidneys, Stimpson, a graphic artist who lives in Albany, N.Y., says she found her purpose. She now blogs about her experience and encourages others to become donors.

People like Stimpson are "extraordinary altruists," according to Abigail Marsh. She's an associate professor of psychology at Georgetown University and one of the country's leading researchers into altruism.

Marsh herself was the beneficiary of extraordinary altruism when she was 20. She got into a freak highway accident and ended up stalled in the fast lane facing oncoming traffic. A man dodged traffic to come to her aid and help get her car started. He saved her life, she says, then disappeared before she could ask his name.

Marsh wanted to know more about this type of extraordinary altruism, so she decided to study the brains of people who had donated a kidney to a stranger. Of the 39 people who took part in the study, 19 of them, including Angela Stimpson, were kidney donors.

Marsh took structural images to measure the size of different parts of their brains and then asked the participants to run through a series of computer tests while their brains were being scanned using functional MRI. In one test, they were asked to look at pictures of different facial expressions, including happiness, fear, anger, sadness and surprise.

Most of the tests didn't find any differences between the brains of the altruistic donors and the people who had not been donors. Except, Marsh says, for a significant difference in a part of the brain called the amygdala, an almond-shaped cluster of nerves that is important in processing emotion.

The amygdala was significantly larger in the altruists compared to those who had never donated an organ. Additionally, the amygdala in the altruists was extremely sensitive to the pictures of people displaying fear or distress.

These findings are the polar opposite to research Marsh conducted on a group of psychopaths. Using the same tests as with the altruists, Marsh found that psychopaths have significantly smaller, less active amygdalas. More evidence that the amygdala may be the brain's emotional compass, super-sensitive in altruists and blunted in psychopaths, who seem unresponsive to someone else's distress or fear.