Archives November 2015

For Weight Loss Success, Research Suggests That We Need to Trust Our Gut

Weight loss conceptThe diet industry makes their millions each year every time a new diet or exercise program hits the stands. This is it!, they promise.

But what if there is no grand diet plan that works for everyone? According to new research, conducted at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, the art of weight loss may be far more personalized than we ever imagined.

Through their work, researchers Eran Elinav and Eran Segal have collected data that suggests that different individuals’ blood sugar levels react differently to certain foods.

For example, some of their subjects saw a higher rise in blood sugar levels after eating sushi than ice cream.

While this is good news for the 90% of households that indulge in the sweet, cold treat regularly, it is also grounds for confusion. How can that be? Ice cream, which counts cream and sugar among its main ingredients, is a notorious junk food that is synonymous with weight gain.

So how could it be? How can some people react to sushi differently than others?

The answer lies in gut bacteria. According to Elinav and Segal’s research, everyone’s body has different levels of gut bacteria and is, therefore, able to break down different kinds of foods differently.

For the study, researchers tracked the eating and digestion of 800 people over the course of a week. The participants tracked every morsel of food and liquid that went into their bodies, as well as activity levels, sleep, and bowel movements.

The participants’ blood sugar levels and stool samples were also taken into account, helping the researchers to adequately gauge the different effects the food had on each individual.

The data was then mapped out to see which foods affected the participants’ blood sugar the most.

They found that all participants responded differently. Instead of umbrella dieting solutions for the masses, the researchers suggest a more personalized eating plan for success.

“The huge differences that we found in the rise of blood sugar levels among different people who consumed identical meals highlights why personalized eating choices are more likely to help people stay healthy than universal dietary advice,” said Dr. Eran Elinav.

Behind the Scenes, Google Makes Major New Play for the Home Improvement Sector

building house on blueprints with worker - construction projectLast week, Google quietly made a major play for the home improvement sector, and it’s gone widely unnoticed so far. By using HomeAdvisor’s instant booking services, Google will soon allow its search users to schedule appointments with pre-approved home improvement companies in their area. And while a partnership between Google and HomeAdvisor might not seem particularly consequential in the grand scheme of things, Google has in fact planted another flag in a new corner of the digital world.

So why hasn’t the news generated more headlines? Firstly, HomeAdvisor and Google made the announcement on Friday, a time-tested technique for avoiding headlines. Not only that, but news of student protests at Yale and the University of Missouri, then brutal terrorist attacks in Paris have generated non-stop coverage in the days since the announcement.

Earlier this year, Google began testing a new feature — pre-screened home improvement search results for consumers in the San Francisco Bay Area. Before that, Amazon began testing a similar feature in dozens of cities around the country. And in early November, HomeAdvisor’s parent company IAC made a bid to acquire Angie’s List.

What’s next? Google will begin to roll out a “Book Now” feature, through either Google Maps or Google Places.

Home improvement is a profitable sector, especially now that the housing market has improved. Most homeowners will spend 1-4% of their home’s value on annual repairs and maintenance, which doesn’t even factor in the costs of lucrative renovation projects. Also this November, Home Depot announced that third quarter net sales were up 6.4% compared to 2013.

Chris Terrill, the CEO of HomeAdvisor, says the project will drive traffic to small businesses, using both Google’s massive index of the known digital world and HomeAdvisor’s national network of home improvement contractors.

All year tech writers have been closely watching the Google-Amazon competition for the home improvement sector, and Google appears to have just leaped ahead with the HomeAdvisor deal.

Google’s search results can drive huge amounts of business to small companies like plumbers, roofing contractors, and locksmiths, but whether consumers actually want a “Book Now” feature remains to be seen.

Telemundo Star Rafael Amaya Reportedly Recovering After a Serious Drug Overdose

Blurred doctors surgery corridorRafael Amaya, the star of Telemundo’s show “El Señor De Los Cielos” was rushed to a hospital in México City on Oct. 27 for a drug overdose.

According to reports from the Latin Post and Latin Times, Amaya was taken to Hospital Español at approximately 4 a.m. and was being treated for symptoms of tachycardia (i.e., a fast heart rate) and drug intoxication.

He was rushed to the intensive care unit in a restricted area of the hospital, but within a few hours he was recovering successfully from the treatments.

The 38-year-old actor, who plays drug lord Aurelio Casillas on the Spanish-language TV channel has reportedly been struggling to adjust to his widespread fame from “El Señor De Los Cielos.”

Although there hasn’t been any confirmation from those close to Amaya that his struggles on-set have been related to drug abuse, it’s easy to speculate that the two may be connected. It’s estimated that around 25 million people live with a substance abuse problem, and drug or alcohol abuse is often triggered by the stresses of celebrity fame.

Telemundo issued a statement shortly after Amaya’s hospitalization, saying that it wouldn’t “make comments on rumors about the personal life of our employees or actors,” but that the actor would continue filming the fourth season of “El Señor De Los Cielos” as soon as he is able.

“After being out last week, we are happy to know that Rafael is fine and took some well deserved vacation days after 11 months of filming non-stop,” the statement read. “The production of Season 4 of ‘El Señor De Los Cielos’ is almost done and will continue as it was originally [planned]. This series has been a hit and a big part of that is due to Rafael’s hard work and dedication. He is a great profession [sic] and a dear member of the Telemundo family.”

Two after his hospitalization, Amaya released his own statement via Twitter: “Regresando de la muerte” (which roughly translates to “Coming back from the dead.”)

Colorado Couple’s Roof Could Cost Thousands

Hail on the RoofA couple in Arvada, CO, is fighting against their insurance company over issues with their roof. The insurance company may force them from their new home just one month after they moved in.

Not long after moving into their dream home, Albert and Michele Arias were contacted by their insurance agent. Before they moved in, the home had passed an inspection, but their agent called to tell the couple that the roof had maintenance damage and would need to be replaced.

Most insurance companies do not cover issues in roofs that are caused by wear and tear or lack of maintenance. Indeed, because this particular damage had occurred over time, their insurance did refuse to cover the cost.

“It’s frustrating that this whole thing is happening,” Albert says.

The insurance company had contacted them just a few days after they moved in, asking if they would like to file a claim since a small hail storm had hit the area. They took the advice and filed the claim, but when their roof was inspected, the insurance adjuster found no hail damage and told them the roof did not in fact need to be replaced.

The couple then contacted the insurance agent to let them know about these developments. They were told that it did not matter, and that they were expected to make plans for a roof replacement by the end of the month or the company would drop their insurance coverage altogether.

“What is the reasoning by having us do that?” Michele asks. “I mean, yeah, there might be minor damage but we can fix that.”

Replacing their roof will cost about $10,000 by Albert’s estimate, and the couple simply does not have the money to take on such a project.

“It just feels like they put me in a spot where we either pay a lot of money or lose everything,” he said.

Their insurance company, Allstate, was contacted about the claim, but their spokesperson says they are unable to comment on any specific claims. They did, however, release a general statement to a Denver news station.

“Upon a new policy being issued, insurers regularly inspect and underwrite property to ensure that we are aware of any pre-existing conditions that may pose an immediate risk, whether they be worn roofs or general maintenance concerns,” the statement said. “In roofs for example, when there are shingles that are worn and/or damaged, we will ask that the customer replace those individual shingles as part of normal preventative maintenance to their home and to ward off as much risk in the future as possible.

“It’s standard across the industry that homes, and roofs in particular, are inspected at the point of new business,” the statement continued. “Keep in mind too, roofers and insurance inspectors assess roofs from a different perspective.”

Nonetheless, the couple is in the process of switching to another insurance company. They say they are afraid, though, that they will now be forced to replace their roof no matter what at this point.

“It’s hard,” said Michele, “this is a home that I wanted and I got it and I’m happy and it’s working out and then all of a sudden you’re going to destroy that for me. It’s not okay.”

Roofing is essential to any home or business for that matter, so when there are legitimate issues, they should, of course, be fixed right away. Several regions across the country have experienced severe weather, with damages far worse than the Arias couple has had to face. Last week, high winds tore the roof off of the Mount Peyton Hotel in Quebec, and Fort Worth saw considerable damage following a twister.

It is quite likely in the Arias case however, that they are not in the wrong. It is their hope that by switching to a new insurance company, they will not only avoid the replacement, but get more accurate coverage in the future.

Manhattan Socialite Claims Husband Stashed $25M Worth of Artwork Before Filing For Divorce

Blur or Defocus abstract image of the lobby of a modern art centDuring a divorce, it often requires a court of law to fairly allocate assets from a marriage. But for one Mahattan socialite, her Swiss businessman soon-to-be ex husband had different plans.

Maurice Amon recently filed for divorce against his wife, but before doing so, he made sure to hide their $25 million art collection, removing works by Basquiat and Warhol from the walls of their 5th Avenue residence — and tucking them away out of sight.

Some 66% of divorces filed in the United States these days are by couples who have no children. This often makes it easier for the split to happen, as less has to be deducted when assets are divided. But in Tracey Hejailan-Amon and Maurice Amon’s case, it appears that Maurice’s game of art hide-and-seek is making the split just as difficult.

In response to Mr. Amon’s removal of the art, Tracey filed a suit, saying that most of the works taken were collected jointly throughout their marriage.

But in October, while she was abroad, Mr. Amon’s art consultants removed the collection, stashing them in a Queens storage facility.

“These illegal and unlawful removals of the works of art is and was a strategic predicate for the service of a divorce action by Amon,” Hejailan-Amon charged.

And since filing for divorce, Mr. Amon hasn’t wasted any time, as he plans to sell a Basquiat at an upcoming Christie’s auction.

While there’s no established prenuptial agreement, according to her suit, Hajailan-Amon believes that she has “substantial if not a 50/50 interest” in the works.

Amon, 64, and Hejailan-Amon, 47, married in Hong Kong in 2008 and have since lived in London, Paris, and Gstaad, Switzerland.

Contrary to Hejailan-Amon’s claims, one of the lawyers for Amon’s coproration told the New York Post that the pieces aren’t even marital property.

“Ms. Hejailan-Amon was fully aware of the artwork removal plans and her claims are without substance,” said attorney Peter Bronstein.

Lead Generators Circumventing Google’s Advertising Regulations to Prey on Vulnerable Web Users

Papers with graphs and digital marketing concept.There is a disturbing trend of false and misleading advertising on Google, and industry experts are urging for more outside regulation to prevent lead generators from preying on vulnerable consumers.

According to The Atlantic, lead generation companies online are increasingly collecting the sensitive information of web users, then compiling lists that are disseminated to scammers around the world.

Generally speaking, every single search that a person has ever made from their smartphone or computer is tracked and logged for future use by companies offering fraudulent services, such as low-interest payday loans.

This data is then sold to lead generators who provide consumer data to similar companies, which then results in an endless barrage of phone calls, e-mails, and letters from whichever person or company purchases the data.

These lead generators can sort data by age, race, gender, income level, and a host of other demographics. While Google doesn’t sell ad space to companies that provide sketchy financial services like payday loans, scammers are finding ways to circumvent these rules by posting links to third-party sites that lead users back to fraudulent pages.

Over 12 billion searches are conducted per month in the U.S., which means lead generators have no trouble aggregating relevant information to determine which terms will attract the most search queries. Experts say that this is a slippery slope, and allowing disreputable parties to access confidential information can potentially ruin a person’s life.

“I find the entire online ecosystem that is designed to track consumers and then to place them in boxes … too opaque and too under-regulated,” said Ed Mierzwinski, consumer-program director at the consumer-advocacy group U.S. PIRG.

“So I think the entire online marketing, and advertising, and lead-generation system is a consumer protection problem of both deception, and unfairness, and maybe abuse as well.”

The abuse Mierzwinski refers to can be found on a daily basis all over the world. According to the Oswego Patch, an Illinois couple is being ordered to pay $6.4 million back to victims of a payday scam in which they harassed people over the phone to collect supposed unpaid debts.

The couple operated under several different aliases, such as Payday Loan Recovery Group and Second Chance Financial, to coerce random people into paying debts that they had never even accrued, by threatening them with potential arrest and jail time.

In extreme cases, scammers skip the process of using consumer information to sell them products and services and simply steal their identity. Web users are urged to remain vigilant in who they give personal information to and avoid advertisements that promise “free money” or “zero interest.”

Studies Look at Doctors Who Dismiss Families Refusing Vaccines

Vaccine for ChildrenLast year, vaccines became a hot button issue with the Disneyland measles outbreak in the winter. After the outbreak occurred, more people began looking at vaccines, and this led to the question of whether or not there was a trend of doctors refusing to treat patients who refused vaccinations.

For pediatricians, the practice of “firing” a family for not allowing their child to get vaccinated is still controversial, but it has become more relevant over the last year and has now been addressed at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Annual Conference. Pediatricians will now be able to legally protect themselves after dismissing a family from their practice on the basis of the family refusing vaccines, even after the AAP discouraged the practice.

A recent study published in Pediatrics Today looked at the doctors who have ended their working relationships with families over vaccine refusal. The study asked 534 pediatricians and physicians and had about a 66% response rate.

Of the responses they received, the study found that 83% of doctors say at least one family in their practice has denied vaccines each month, and 63% say that 1% to 4% refused any vaccinations. One in five of those surveyed also said that a total of 5% of parents are now refusing any vaccinations.

When asked how those numbers compare to previous years, 11% of the doctors reported that the number of parents refusing has gone up, while most agreed it stayed the same. About 23% of the respondents said their number has actually decreased.

The study also highlighted that the rate at which pediatricians turned away families was higher in states like California, where there are stricter vaccination laws. In fact, as many as twice the amount of doctors said they had no one refusing in a typical month, bar those who have a philosophical exemption for school vaccinations.

In addition, the rate at which doctors dismissed families was four times higher in states that don’t have philosophical exemption laws. In states that do have those laws in place, only 9% of doctors dismissed families based on vaccination refusal.

So what do these pediatricians have in common when they dismiss families? They are most likely to live in the South, where there are stricter vaccination laws; they also live in states that do not have philosophical exemptions, and they likely have a private practice.

The study found that private practices were five times more likely to dismiss a family for refusing vaccines compared to practices in HMO, university or public settings.

Back in the midst of the Disneyland outbreaks, Forbes touched on this subject, asking doctors their opinion and how they would be choosing their policy.

“I think the AAP’s policy statement asking me not to ‘eject’ vaccine-refusing parents from my practice is valid when your practice area has good vaccination rates — that is, at or above herd immunity levels — and you aren’t having vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks,” said Chris Hickie, a Tucson-based pediatrician.

However, Hickie also acknowledged that vaccines are essential in keeping other patients, especially infants, safe. Research shows that vaccines are responsible for preventing more than 2.5 million deaths per year globally.

“I think it becomes a dangerous policy to patients when you live in a practice area where you do not have herd immunity levels of vaccination because then the odds become much greater that a child will come into your office with a vaccine-preventable disease like pertussis, measles or chickenpox and expose a vulnerable patient too young to be vaccinated or with a medical reason for a weakened immune system that either won’t respond to vaccines or cannot receive vaccines,” Hickie added.

Many do acknowledge that there simply is not enough research for informed decisions on this practice. No studies have been done to see how areas where doctors are dismissing families are faring in preventable diseases.

Is Google Dropping the Curtain on Transparency?

searchEven though there is currently an uproar in the demand for transparency and a reduction in censorship on the internet, Google has begun to remove links that other entities deem to lead to infringing content. According to The Asahi Shimbun, the Tokyo District Court recently issued an unusual temporary injunction for Google Inc. to delete search results on a dentist’s previous arrest as a result of illegal medical treatment practice.

This is the first instance of a court issuing an order to delete Google’s search results on criminal records relevant to an individual’s profession.

The dentist in question was arrested more than five years ago on suspicion of instructing an unqualified employee to administer medical treatment. The dentist was later convicted and charged with a fine.

The case revolves around searches of the dentist’s name bringing up webpages that contain articles pertaining to his arrest rather than his services. He claims that these results have hindered his chances of rehabilitation.

The court stated that they believe internet results should be deleted after a specified period of time, even if they contain information of interest to patients. In May, the Tokyo District Court accepted the claim and issued an injunction without stating their reasons, along with the dentist himself filing a lawsuit against Google with the court.

However, Google feels that these claims may not have legitimate reasoning behind them.
“We think people should have the right to know the professional history of medical staff that treat them,” a representative of Google Japan Inc. said.

Although it would appear that Google believes in transparency along with their user base, who conduct the majority of the 12 billion internet searches per month just in the United States, copyright holders have proven to be Google’s Achilles heal when it comes to censorship.

In a report by, copyright holders have issued take down notices and asked the search engine to remove more than one billion allegedly infringing links related to pirated content. This case is at the center of an ongoing debate over how Google should deal with pirate sites.

In 2008, the search engine only received a few dozen take down notices throughout the entire year. Currently, Google processes about two million notices per day, leading to half of all notices out of an estimated 420 million being issued just during the first few months of 2015.

“We receive notices for a tiny fraction of everything we host and index, which nonetheless amounts to millions of copyright removal requests per week that are processed, on average, in under six hours,” stated Google.

It was determined that since Google’s initial publication, they have been asked to remove more than 1,007,766,482 links to allegedly infringing sites. The search engine has stated that they have taken measures to help copyright holders.

Even though the company rejects broader actions such as removing entire domain names, saying that it would lead to unnecessary censorship, they have factored existing notices into their search algorithm to down rank frequently targeted sites. The number of reported pages will likely only continue to increase.