After Two Deaths in 2014, Powdered Caffeine Is One of the Most Dangerous and Unregulated Drugs Available Online

hospital emergency entrance

Once upon a time, caffeine was just another ingredient in coffee, and being allowed to have a cup after dinner was a privilege and a bit of an adolescent milestone. But if recent news reports are any indication, America’s caffeine consumption isn’t just becoming popular with younger kids and teens — it’s turning into a trend that’s actually very, very dangerous.

Recent reports by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have noted that pure caffeine powder is becoming one of the top methods of caffeine consumption, and that this powder is dangerous enough to lead to death.

The FDA released a consumer warning in July 2014 warning about the dangers of caffeine powder, following the deaths of 18-year-old Logan Stiner in May and 24-year-old Wade Sweatt in June, both of whom consumed fatal amounts of caffeine powder.

In its powdered form, caffeine is incredibly potent, and can lead to a variety of side effects, which may even be fatal. The powder is fairly easy to buy online, and like many drugs sold on the web through “online pharmacies,” it isn’t approved — or even regulated — by the FDA. Nevertheless, as the Wall Street Journal notes, powdered caffeine is still legal, and is even sold on Amazon for about $10 per 8 oz. of powder.

As Robert Herriman explains in a Global Dispatch article, just one teaspoon of caffeine powder is equal to about 25 cups of coffee. Whereas an extra espresso shot or two might give someone the jitters and a pounding heartbeat, ingesting too much pure caffeine can produce heart palpitations, seizures, vomiting, diarrhea, disorientation, and possibly even death.

In light of this year’s fatalities, the FDA has renewed its efforts to educate the public about the dangers of this drug. At the beginning of December, a health advocacy group petitioned the FDA to ban sales of pure caffeine; just recently, the Director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety wrote a blog post on the agency’s website giving even greater insight into the dangers of the substance.

Even though these caffeine-related deaths occurred months ago, and even though it’s disconcerting to some that the FDA hasn’t moved faster on this issue, it’s certainly a good sign that the public is starting to listen to the FDA’s warnings.

Mobile Apps Make Holiday Shopping Easier Than Ever This Season

smartphone in hand with blank screen
It’s fair to say that many Americans practically live on their mobile devices. According to the Pew Internet Research Project, 67% of cellphone owners find themselves checking their phones even when it hasn’t rung or vibrated; 44% have slept with their phones beside their bed to make sure that they don’t miss any messages or updates; and 29% of cell owners describe their devices as “something they can’t imagine living without.” Combined with the fact that consumers spend about 60% of their Internet time on mobile devices in comparison to their desktop or laptops, it’s pretty clear that mobile is the dominant way people access the web nowadays.

With so many consumers tethered to their mobile devices, it’s only natural that many would turn to mobile technology to innovate their holiday shopping experiences. Several apps out there have not only been streamlining the holiday shopping experience, but also helping users earn money back.

“It’s a way to make life easier,” said Bryan Leach, the CEO and founder of mobile shopping app Ibotta. “In recent years you’ve really seen the rise of mobile influence in store sales. Look how often people check their phones. It’s a virtual daily habit. It’s addictive.”

The idea behind Ibotta is to attract mobile users back into physical stores, as opposed to relying exclusively on online deals. It offers consumers a cash-back deal when they make a purchase from the 200 different retail brands working with Ibotta, like Best Buy.

Ibotta is simple. Users unlock rebates on products by searching through various categories. Once all is said and done and the user has purchased the goods, he or she takes a picture of the receipt, and within 48 hours, Ibotta will deposit cash back into the user’s account.

In just two years, the app has helped its users earn more than $15 million back on rebates.

Of course, some consumers aren’t entirely sure what they want. They have no specific product in mind. Some of our loved ones can be pretty hard to shop for, after all. For these users, there’s Shopkick, which has already been downloaded six million times.

Shopick offers a feed of deals and products available in the user’s geographic region, providing info on certain goods that are trending and customizing finds based on the user’s past purchases. Essentially, it’s an in-the-know shopping companion. What’s more, Shopkick users accrue points called “kicks” that they then use to get free gift cards.

“It’s really changed the way I shop,” Scherri Umensetter, a Shopkick user of three years. So far, the app has earned Umensetter three $300 Coach gift cards. Now, she exclusively shops at stores that provide her with kicks.

Once the shopping is done, though, users still need a way to get their gifts to the intended recipients, who might be hundreds of miles away. This is where Slice comes in.

According to its website, “Slice works seamlessly with your email inbox to find and store the e-receipts from the stuff you buy. We’ll track your package from shipment to delivery… and then go further. Are you eligible for a price adjustment on that shirt? Did the toy you bought last year just get recalled for safety issues? We keep an eye out for important information that you need to know about the things you buy and then make it incredibly easy to do something about it.”

The selling point behind Slice isn’t that it organizes the tracking and shipping of goods, but that it also guides users through a post-purchasing experience. For example, say that a product dropped in price after a user purchased it. Slice would then walk the user through the process of requesting a refund to get that better deal.

Holiday shopping can be a stressful experience, but mobile device users have been having an easier time of it thanks to apps like Ibotta, Shopkick, and Slice. If you still have some shopping to do during this crunch time, consider utilizing your smartphone. You might even get a gift card out of it.

Study Finds that Firefighters Might Be More Susceptible to Melanoma

Beauty woman
Skin cancer is an extremely common disorder, with over 3.5 million nonmelanoma skin cancers diagnosed in two million Americans annually. But while nonmelanoma cancers present their own risks, the most deadly form of skin cancer, melanoma, is far rarer. Unfortunately, a new study suggests that workers in a certain profession might be more susceptible to developing melanoma: firefighters, particularly those who work in Australia.Monash University in Melbourne, in conjunction with the Australasian Fire and Emergency Services Authorities Council (AFAC), recently conducted an analysis on the cancer rates and causes of death among Australian firefighters. Over the course of three years, the research team studied 232,781 firefighters, comparing their information to data from the general population.

While previous studies around the world have found that people who choose this career have elevated incidences of a variety of cancers, the report found that firefighters in Australia have an increased risk of developing both melanoma and prostate cancer. Moreover, firefighters who had worked in the field for over 20 years were especially prone to this higher risk level. Due to smaller population sizes, the researchers are awaiting further data on female firefighters and volunteers who have been exposed to multiple fires.

In response to their findings, the research team has recommended that people involved in this profession take advantage of early detection measures for both prostate and skin cancers, as well as limit their sun exposure to reduce their chances of developing melanoma. The researchers also pointed out that as a population, firefighters seem to be healthier than most Australians.

However, even those who may be susceptible to an increased risk of melanoma may soon have reason to celebrate: an Australian oncologist recently predicted that a cure for melanoma may be “in our sights.”

At a meeting of the Society for Melanoma Research International Congress in Zurich, Dr. Grant McArthur closed the conference by reporting that the research that had been presented had left him feeling “upbeat” about the chances of discovering a cure for a condition that is usually considered incurable.

McArthur, a consultant medical oncologist at the University of Melbourne and director of skin and melanoma services at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne, defended his claim by recapping the developments that have occurred in melanoma treatments since 1975. Beginning with chemotherapeutic dacarbazine and ending with interleukin-2, he explained that one year survival rates had increased from 33% to 46% as new treatments had been discovered. According to McArthur, 2014 had been an especially prodigious year for melanoma treatments due to a number of MEK and immune checkpoint inhibitors, which have increased one year survival rates to 80% in some cases. Because of this, he recommended that doctors begin focusing on long-term survival to further assist and potentially cure the disease.

“I think that we have cure in our sights for this disease, which has long been considered incurable,” he said.

For the sake of the millions of people around the world who have skin cancer, including a number of Australian firefighters, let’s hope he’s right.

Aston Martin Designs Unique Car For Latest 007 Film

Cars
There may be over 86,500 auto mechanic businesses in the U.S., but none will be so lucky as to work on the new Aston Martin DB10. The new British sports car was specifically designed for the latest installment in the James Bond series, with no other models being created for sale to the public.

Spectre, the title of the new Bond film that was recently announced, is the 24th film in the James Bond series, and marks a 50-year relationship with the British car manufacturer. It is the 12th time an Aston Martin has been featured in a James Bond film.

“To be partnering once again with EON Productions is great news for this company and for everyone around the world that loves to see Bond at the wheel of an Aston Martin,” said CEO of Aston Martin Dr. Andy Palmer, according to CNBC.

Only 10 models of the DB10 were created, all of which will be used for the filming of the movie. That means not even the highest bidders and biggest Bond enthusiasts will be able to get their hands on 007’s newest ride.

In the past, the sporty cars featured in the film series have been put up for sale. The DB5, which Bond was seen driving around in “Thunderball,” “Casino Royale,” and “Sky Fall,” can currently be purchased for just over $700,000. The DBS featured in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” sold for $16,850 when the film came out. Today, it’s worth a whopping $115,000.

As a car company with a small marketing budget and low vehicle sales, Aston Martin’s long-standing relationship with the Bond film series has been a huge influence on the company’s success. Many Bond enthusiasts jumped at the opportunity of being able to purchase the same vehicles 007 drove in past films. While they won’t be able to do so this time around, Aston Martin is using the opportunity to showcase the direction they are headed in in the future.

Fans may not be able to buy the newest 007 car, but they can get a sneak peak of the new look of Aston Martin whenSpectre hits theaters on November 6, 2015.

Google Breaks Tradition and Rolls Out Penguin Updates During Holiday Season

'SEO' highlighted in green
At a time when 75% of internet users never scroll past the first page of search results, it’s no wonder that search engine optimizers hang onto Google’s every word. Adapting to the updates put forward by the search engine giant is one of the main ways that online marketers stay relevant.

The holiday season is usually a break for optimizers. After Google’s “Florida” update went live in Nov. 2003, the company generally refrained from updating ranking algorithms during the holidays.

But marketers who thought they could snooze through November and December this year are in for a rude awakening. Despite the fact that Google has claimed several times that it avoids holiday updates, search engine experts are reporting a flood of new updates to the Penguin algorithm.

Google Penguin disrupted SEO practices dramatically when it first hit the web in 2012. Until Google Penguin, techniques that were considered “black hat” in the SEO community, like spamming and link schemes, worked just as well as white hat techniques. Penguin was built to detect and penalize sites using techniques that don’t meet Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

When sites are penalized by Google Penguin, they have to wait until the filter runs again to have those penalties lifted, even if they clean up their spam problems overnight. Publishers who were penalized by Penguin 2 had to wait a year for their penalties to be lifted.

Now, Penguin is pushing through several more updates in the wake of Penguin 3.0, which went live in October. According to Search Engine Land, there have been at least three updates since 3.0, just in time for the Thanksgiving shopping weekend.

According to Google, these updates are part of the ongoing Penguin 3.0 rollout, but they still have experts concerned. Updates usually don’t take this long to launch, and they rarely cause such dramatic changes so late in the process. These signs usually indicate a new update, not the tail end of an old one.

So far, Google has confirmed Penguin 3.0, which impacts about 1% of queries, and Penguin 3.1, which Google considers part of 3.0. Publishers are still waiting for confirmation on what they’re calling Penguin 3.2, 3.3 and 3.4, which seem to have rolled out on Dec. 2, 5 and 6 respectively.

As Data Shows the 2014-2015 Flu Strain To Be Deadlier Than Expected, A Shocking Number of Americans Are Still Not Vaccinated

Flu allergy. Sick girl sneezing in tissue. Health

Flu season has been well under way in the U.S. for a couple months now, but according to recent reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this year’s flu strain is a little bit different — and a little more dangerous — than strains in previous years.

The flu tends to be a bit unpredictable from year to year, and because so many patients only have minor symptoms when they catch the virus, many instances of infection go unreported, thus making it difficult for researchers to know just how dangerous it is each year. In fact, experts note that anywhere from 5-20% of Americans could come down with the flu each year, meaning that anywhere between 3,000 and 49,000 Americans are infected annually.

Now that the 2014-2015 flu season is in full swing, researchers have been able to get a better idea of just how serious it will be. The Washington Post recently reported that this season’s flu strain has claimed five young victims already and has put an unusually large number of patients in the hospital.

The Post also notes that two particular anti-viral medicines in flu vaccines — oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza) — are expected to be particularly important in combating the flu this year.

But as CDC Director Thomas Frieden has noted, only about one in every six Americans has received a vaccine this year, and experts are more than a little worried about that statistic.

Certain groups of people are more likely to get the flu than others, including children, the elderly, and pregnant women. In past years when vaccines have been scarce, these groups were targeted first to receive vaccines. But now that plenty of vaccines are available, and they’re more affordable than ever before, medical experts are worried that Americans aren’t taking the flu seriously enough.

As USA Today reporter Liz Szabo notes, flu vaccines don’t necessarily prevent the flu, but they do give immune systems an extra boost, and they make the symptoms milder and shorter in the event a person does contract the virus.

Perhaps, however, so much uncertainty regarding the effectiveness of vaccines is enough to convince people outside of the extra-vulnerable age groups that they can fight the virus well enough on their own. Unfortunately, researchers will probably only be able to answer this question for certain after this flu season has ended — and if this year’s strain is as dangerous as predicted, that might be too late for too many Americans.

Why Falling Oil Prices Won’t Reverse Our Move Toward Clean, Renewable Energy

Silhouette of offshore jack up rig at sea during sunset

Since June, global oil prices have fallen an incredible 40%.

Much of this can be attributed to the U.S. oil industry, which has ramped up crude oil production since 2008 and poured an extra four million barrels into the global oil supplyBloomberg reported in a December 3 article. In addition, OPEC has largely decided to not cut production, meaning the world now has much more oil on hand than it actually needs.

Another reason for this decline in global demand is the worldwide push toward cleaner, greener energy. According toBloomberg, green energy will receive nearly 60% of the predicted $5 trillion that will be invested in building new power plants throughout the next 10 years. Major economic powers like the U.S., China and the European Union are all pushing for more austere restrictions on greenhouse gases to help stimulate the shift toward renewable energy sources like solar and wind power.

But while lower oil prices could spell trouble for oil companies and countries whose economies largely depend upon oil drilling, it’s good news for homeowners when the price of oil and natural gas determines how much they’ll pay to heat their homes this winter. That’s because heating and cooling make up more than 50% of the average home’s energy costs.

In fact, the New Yorker reports that these falling prices could put $75 billion dollars back into Americans’ wallets and even add 0.4 points to the U.S. GDP in 2015. This seemingly small GDP growth would be the first time the U.S. economy has grown by more than 3% since 2005.

All these facts don’t even take into account the fact that gas prices will be cheaper, as well. For the average American, the fall in crude oil prices around the world is something to be very happy about.

It’s great news for the environment, as well — with energy developers headed toward the $250 billion mark for this year’s spending on wind, solar, geothermal power and more, the increasingly rapid adoption of green energy should help slow down climate change and reduce the amount of pollution entering ecosystems everywhere.

Energy Efficient Building Occupants Don’t Understand High-Performance Features, According to New Study

View on the interior in skyscraper
Energy efficiency and sustainability may be the new buzzwords when it comes to environmentally friendly building construction, but a new study reveals that energy efficient lighting and windows don’t matter if building occupants don’t understand how those features work.

The study’s author, Julia Day, was a graduate student in interior design when she first encountered issues with building sustainability. Her interest in the subject began when she walked into an office designed for energy-saving daylighting techniques only to see the blinds closed and numerous lights turned on.

Worse, Day discovered that the controls for the blinds and lights were hidden high up on walls or down underneath desks, and not many of the workers knew how to properly use these devices.

From there, Day embarked on her study of effective training in using the features in high-performance buildings, which consist of over one-third of new commercial building constructions in the U.S.

Perhaps most encouraging is that Day discovered that those who had proper training in their building’s energy-saving features reported being the most satisfied with their work environments.

Day, who is now an assistant professor at Kansas State University, worked with WSU School of Design and Construction professor David Gunderson to examine more than 50 high-performance buildings across the United States. Day gathered data on the buildings’ architectural and engineering plans, and interviewed and surveyed the occupants of those buildings.

In many cases, Day found that workers in office buildings received an email or a quick overview of energy features in their buildings during a meeting, but they didn’t actually understand the best practices for those features.

Windows, for example, are often upgraded to provide daylight, ventilation and heat in the winter, but they can also account for at least 10% to 25% of a heating bill if they are outdated. As a result, many commercial and residential property owners upgrade their single pane windows to energy efficient models, especially as utility costs increase all around the country.

Day looked at energy efficiency for the windows of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified buildings in her study. These spaces, certified as high-performance in energy efficiency by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program and/or the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED initiative, have increased from 5.6% in 2005 to 39.3% by the end of 2013, according to CBRE Research.

One building certified LEED gold by the Green Building Certification Institute had lights throughout to indicate the best times of day to open and close windows for natural ventilation. But out of the 15 people Day interviewed, all thought that the lights were part of the fire alarm system.

“There’s a gap,” she said of green building occupants’ knowledge, “and people do not really understand these buildings.”

Day found that the most successful of these green buildings had workers who were involved in the act of conservation by receiving adequate training on their buildings’ features.

After concluding her study, Day said she has plans to develop an energy lab to develop occupant training programs for these high-performance buildings.

“With stricter energy codes, the expectations are that buildings will be more energy efficient and sustainable,” Day commented. “But we have to get out of the mindset where we are not actively engaged in our environments.”

Navy to Host New Solar Energy Storage Project

Pannelli solari illuminati dai raggi del sole

Score one for renewable energy, particularly solar energy, as the U.S. Navy’s Mobile Utilities Support Equipment facility in Port Hueneme, CA, has announced it will be hosting a new cutting edge microgrid project.

This project aims to create a solar powered microgrid that will enable a system to operate in “island” mode, working off of only its own solar energy. This island mode is critical for security and resiliency.

The system uses vanadium flow batteries for solar energy storage, but how do these flow batteries actually work? Imergy Power Systems, the brains behind the flow batteries, explain that flow batteries generate a charge through the interaction of two liquids flowing next to each other.

Flow batteries have a huge advantage when it comes to lifecycle durability, and have have a strong safety and scalability advantage, because the liquids are stored in separate tanks.

The biggest challenges of this system have been compressing the energy density of the system into a useful size, and finding a cost-effective way to get the liquids close enough to interact, without contaminating each other.

The solution is valadium, a silvery transition metal that lends itself to this application, because it can exist in more than one state, which helps to cut down on cross-contamination. Unfortunately, there are no functioning valadium mines in the U.S., but Imergy is working to make that system more manageable.

The Navy has long proven to be ahead of the crowd when it comes to keeping its finger on the pulse of energy trends, whether its been wind power, coal, oil, or nuclear energy. It is the most progressive branch of the armed service when it comes to renewable energy.

With solar energy increasing in popularity, it’s no wonder the Navy has hopped on the solar bandwagon. Solar energy use has surged at about 20% a year over the past 15 years, and shows no signs of stopping, as the price of solar panels continues to drop.

Imergy is contributing an energy system it’s calling ESP30, which contains three vanadium flow batteries, to the Navy’s project. It has a capacity of up to 50 kilowatts and stores up to 200 kilowatt-hours.

ESP30 also delivers a cost of less than $300 per kilowatt-hour, and Imergy is confident it will meet the Energy Department’s energy storage goal of $220 per kilowatt-hour within about two years.

Three-Hour Frolic Ends Badly for LA Zoo’s Runaway Bighorn Sheep

Big Horn SheepUnfortunately, it’s fairly common to see news stories involving fatal injuries stemming from car accidents, usually claiming the lives of bicyclists or pedestrians, where the driver responsible for the crash tried to flee the scene. As many as 11% of all car crashes are compounded by hit-and-run offenses, in fact.

It’s also fairly common to see stories of zoo animals that manage to escape from their enclosures and suffer injuries because no one outside of a zoo in the U.S. expects to see African safari animals.

Rarely do the two stories intersect — but that’s exactly where this story is going.

This past Saturday, November 22, the Los Angeles Zoo at Griffith Park dealt with the loss of what the NY Post calls a “fugitive bighorn sheep.” The sheep reportedly escaped from the zoo around 1:20 PM, probably by jumping over a fence, zoo spokeswoman April Spurlock explains, and it spent about three hours “running free in the hills [and] enjoying its freedom in the great wide-open” while zoo staff frantically searched the area.

Unfortunately, the sheep then wandered onto a residential street about two miles from the zoo and was hit by a car. The driver, likely more than a little surprised to see a bighorn sheep on the loose in LA, did not stop after hitting the animal. Nevertheless, bystanders have confirmed that there was indeed a “car-on-sheep collision.”

The animal didn’t die immediately, officials state, but after veterinarians responded to the crash and tranquilized the sheep, it appeared that the crash injuries were too much for the sheep to overcome.

Zoo officials are still investigating how exactly the sheep escaped from its enclosure, and an official necropsy has been ordered to determine that the car crash was definitely the cause of death.

It appears that there were some direct person-and-sheep encounters before the animal managed to escape the zoo entirely, but perhaps the silver lining in this situation is that no human injuries resulted from that.

Still, it will be interesting to see if the LA Zoo will decide to pursue legal action against the driver responsible for the sheep’s death — it’s unlikely that the driver would be charged for the crash itself, but the zoo certainly could argue that the driver broke the law by fleeing the scene.

Furthermore, it’s unknown if the zoo will try to replace the sheep, or if the remaining four bighorn sheep will be left to entertain visitors while mourning the loss of their fifth comrade.