Why swearing is a sign of intelligence, helps manage pain and more – NewsIn.Asia


January 26 (CNN) – Polite society considers swearing to be a vulgar sign of low intelligence and education, for why would one rely on rude language when blessed with a rich vocabulary? That perception, as it turns out, is full of, uh … baloney. In fact, swearing may be a sign of verbal superiority, studies have shown and may provide other possible rewards as well.

“The advantages of swearing are many,” said Timothy Jay, professor emeritus of psychology at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, who has studied swearing for more than 40 years.”The benefits of swearing have just emerged in the last two decades, as a result of a lot of research on brain and emotion, along with much better technology to study brain anatomy,” Jay said.

1. Cursing may be a sign of intelligence

Well-educated people with plenty of words at their disposal, a 2015 study found, were better at coming up with curse words than those who were less verbally fluent.

Participants were asked to list as many words that start with F, A or S in one minute. Another minute was devoted to coming up with curse words that start with those three letters. The study found those who came up with the most F, A and S words also produced the most swear words.That’s a sign of intelligence “to the degree that language is correlated with intelligence,” said Jay, who authored the study.

“People that are good at language are good at generating a swearing vocabulary.”Swearing can also be associated with social intelligence, Jay added.”Having the strategies to know where and when it’s appropriate to swear, and when it’s not,” Jay said, “is a social cognitive skill like picking the right clothes for the right occasion. That’s a pretty sophisticated social tool.”

2. Swearing may be a sign of honesty

Science has also found a positive link between profanity and honesty. People who cursed lied less on an interpersonal level, and had higher levels of integrity overall, a series of three studies published in 2017 found.”When you’re honestly expressing your emotions with powerful words, then you’re going to come across as more honest,” said Jay, who was not involved in the studies.

While a higher rate of profanity use was associated with more honesty, the study authors cautioned that “the findings should not be interpreted to mean that the more a person uses profanity, the less likely he or she would engage in more serious unethical or immoral behaviors.”

3. Profanity improves pain tolerance

Want to push through that workout? Go ahead and drop an F-bomb.People on bikes who swore while pedaling against resistance had more power and strength than people who used “neutral” words, studies have shown.

Research also found that people who cursed while squeezing a hand vice were able to squeeze harder and longer.Spouting obscenities doesn’t just help your endurance: If you pinch your finger in the car door, you may well feel less pain if you say “sh*t” instead of “shoot.”People who cursed as they plunged their hand into icy water, another study found, felt less pain and were able to keep their hands in the water longer than those who said a neutral word.

“The headline message is that swearing helps you cope with pain,” said lead author and psychologist Richard Stephens, in a prior CNN interview. Stephens is a senior lecturer at Keele University in Staffordshire, England, where he leads the Psychobiology Research Laboratory.

Stephens said it works like this: Cussing produces a stress response that initiates the body’s ancient defensive reflex. A flush of adrenaline increases heart rate and breathing, prepping muscles for fight or flight. Simultaneously, there is another physiological reaction called an analgesic response, which makes the body more impervious to pain.

“That would make evolutionary sense because you’re going to be a better fighter and better runner if you’re not being slowed down by concerns about pain,” Stephens said.”So it seems like by swearing you’re triggering an emotional response in yourself, which triggers a mild stress response, which carries with it a stress-induced reduction in pain,” he added.

Careful, however, the next time you decide to extend your workout by swearing. Curse words lose their power over pain when they are used too much, research has also discovered.Some of us get more out of swearing than others. Take people who are more afraid of pain, called “catastrophizers.”

A catastrophizer, Stephens explained, is someone who might have a tiny wound and think, “Oh, this is life-threatening. I’m going to get gangrene, I’m going to die.””The research found men who were lower catastrophizers seemed to get a benefit from swearing, whereas men who are higher catastrophizers didn’t,” Stephens said. “Whereas with women, there wasn’t any difference.”

4. Cussing is a sign of creativity

Swearing appears to be centered in the right side of the brain, the part people often call the “creative brain.”

“We do know patients who have strokes on the right side tend to become less emotional, less able to understand and tell jokes, and they tend to just stop swearing even if they swore quite a lot before,” Emma Byrne, the author of “Swearing Is Good for You,” said.

Research on swearing dates back to Victorian times, when physicians discovered that patients who lost their ability to speak could still curse.”They swore incredibly fluently,” Byrne said. “Childhood reprimands, swear words and terms of endearment — words with strong emotional content learned early on tend to be preserved in the brain even when all the rest of our language is lost.”

5. Throwing expletives instead of punches

Why do we choose to swear? Perhaps because profanity provides an evolutionary advantage that can protect us from physical harm, Jay said.”A dog or a cat will scratch you, bite you when they’re scared or angry,” he said.

“Swearing allows us to express our emotions symbolically without doing it tooth and nail.”In other words, I can give somebody the finger or say f**k you across the street. I don’t have to get up into their face.”Cursing then becomes a remote form of aggression, Jay explained, offering the chance to quickly express feelings while hopefully avoiding repercussions.

“The purpose of swearing is to vent my emotion, and there’s an advantage in that it allows me to cope,” he said. “And then it communicates very readily to bystanders what my emotional state is. It has that advantage of emotional efficiency — it’s very quick and clear.”

A universal language

What makes the use of naughty words so powerful? The power of the taboo, of course. That reality is universally recognized: Just about every language in the world contains curse words.”It seems that as soon as you have a taboo word, and the emotional insight that the word is going to cause discomfort for other people, the rest seems to follow naturally,” Byrne said.It’s not just people who swear.

Even primates curse when given the chance.”Chimpanzees in the wild tend to use their excrement as a social signal, one that’s designed to keep people away,” Byrne said. Hand-raised chimps who were potty-trained learned sign language for “poo” so they could tell their handlers when they needed the toilet.

“And as soon as theylearned the poo sign they began using it like we do the word sh*t,” Byrne said. “Cursing is just a way of expressing your feelings that doesn’t involve throwing actual sh*t.

You just throw the idea of sh*t around.”Does that mean that we should curse whenever we feel like it, regardless of our environment or the feelings of others? Of course not. But at least you can cut yourself some slack the next time you inadvertently let an F-bomb slip. After all, you’re just being human.

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In bid to stay relevant, media company Money Compass ventures into e-learning, launches ECF


  • Media player launches e-learning app to students to start financial planning early
  • Ongoing ECF campaign to raise US$370k for further development, expansion

According to the Financial Education Network, 2 out of 3 Malaysians are ill equipped with sound financial knowledge. About 65% of Malaysians barely have savings for retirement as most of them have less than RM50,000 within their EPF (Employer Provident Fund) account.

As the founder and chief executive officer of Money Compass Media (M) Sdn Bhd, a financial education media, Amy Seok (pic, left) has been long aware of the grim situation.

In bid to stay relevant, media company Money Compass ventures into e-learning, launches ECF She launched Money Compass 20 years ago as a publication dedicated to educating Malaysians about financial planning. Starting off as a print publication, it also runs digital versions in Malay and Mandarin.

Aiming to make a bigger impact, in June 2019 she launched ULearnMONEY as the e-learning extension of Money Compass aimed at promoting financial literacy amongst students. But it was a decision grounded in survival as much as it was about trying to make a real impact for Amy who founded Money Compass in 2001.

“A couple of years ago, we realised it was not enough to be a media only. We compete with social media platforms which are quite interactive. Our readers, subscribers and supporters are attracted by many other channels as well,” says Amy. “We had to ask ourselves how we could offer a more effective communication channel with our audience.” Hence the move into launching an e-learning service.

While the available content for sale currently consist of books and video courses around financial literacy, Amy talks of adding a learning management system (LMS) in the future which will offer customers the ability to take spot quizzes after watching videos, track progress and issue reports for users and reward them.  

To date, ULearnMONEY has reached out to over 100,000 participants offline and 500,000 online, through webinars and other events. “ULearnMONEY is an initiative in elevating financial literacy for Malaysians in supporting the Government’s National Financial Literacy Strategy 2019-2023,” says Amy. Part of the strategy involves collaborating with the Financial Literacy Education Network, spearheaded by Bank Negara Malaysia and Securities Commission of Malaysia.

To raise funds for its growth, Amy has turned to Ata Plus and equity crowdfunding (ECF), seeking to raise US$370,000 (RM1.5 million) via its campaign. “For this whole month, we are on a mission to invite discerning individuals and institution fund managers to invest in our expansion plans.”

 

The financial literacy gap among tertiary students

While universities and other institutes of higher education are busy preparing students for lifelong careers, educating them about financial education often takes a backseat. With good spending and saving habits best cultivated early, ULearnMONEY aims to offer education on the topic at this crucial juncture.

For this, it has developed a programme called Financial Literacy 123. “We have 70 short-bite videos that are three minutes each covering 20 topics. These include how to set goals, inculcate saving habits, understanding bad debt, economic cycles, inflation and cryptocurrency.”

Having visited universities throughout Malaysia in 2018 and 2019, Amy has signed 40 Memorandums of Understanding (MoU), contracts and letters of interest over this period and gathered 2,000 learners on board. The ambitious plan is to capture half a million university students in the next two years.

It appears a steep goal considering the Covid-19 interruption to classroom learning at universities. However, Amy believes the government’s latest movement control order (MCO) is the perfect time for universities to introduce ULearnMONEY’s programme.

“Our platform is ready and we are now focusing on marketing. Initially, we didn’t go too hard as we were still in the midst of development. But the content is now ready,” says Amy, although she expects some delays in onboarding universities during this MCO period.

On top of the 70 bite-sized videos, ULearnMoney’s programne also offers 20 financial literacy tests, 20 financial behaviour tests and an online certificate upon completion. The website is also kept interactive with gamification features, forum discussions, private messaging and comment sections.

 

Equity Crowdfunding for Growth

Through the equity crowdfunding exercise that runs till 31 Jan, ULearnMONEY aims to raise RM1.5 million for marketing and events, technology and content development. And while there is a focus on university students, Amy believes there is also a market in the 15 million employed Malaysians and even among the estimated 300,000 financial services professionals in the country.

Raising the funding will kickstart plans to develop the LMS, more financial education content, build a network of independent financial content creators, as well as begin development of the Financial Tool Hub application.

Supported by the Ministry of Education and over 36 institutions of higher learning in Malaysia, content will be offered to university students as well as the general public to promote a mindset shift in financial management, and offer access to credible and trusted information from the coaches of ULearnMONEY.

While the platform is currently aimed at Malaysian users, Amy plans to expand into neighbouring countries in the future.

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Worldwide coronavirus cases hit 100 million, passing another grim milestone



The number of confirmed coronavirus cases around the world has surpassed 100 million, with an accelerated pace of infection, a tally by Johns Hopkins University showed on Tuesday.The figure has doubled in less than three months since reaching 50 million in early November. The death toll from Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, has already exceeded 2.1 million around the globe.While some countries are now in the midst of distributing coronavirus vaccines, it remains uncertain…

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Investors give $200m boost to Hong Kong travel startup Klook


HONG KONG — Travel booking platform Klook has raised $200 million in a new funding round, underscoring investor confidence in the ability of the tourism industry to eventually recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

The latest fundraising was led by new investor Aspex Management, a Hong Kong-based investment fund, with participation from existing backers SoftBank Vision Fund 1, Chinese private equity fund Boyu Capital and the China arms of U.S. groups Matrix Partners and Sequoia Capital.

“The travel industry has undoubtedly been hit hard by the pandemic, but Klook has shown resilience and adaptability despite the market headwinds,” said Hermes Li, chief investment officer and founder of Aspex, in a statement released by Klook. Li added that he remains confident about post-COVID demand for digital bookings and Klook’s ability to maintain a leading market position in travel experiences and services.

In some key markets, including Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan, bookings for local activities, staycations and car rentals are “reaching near pre-COVID levels,” Klook company said. Founded in 2014, the Hong Kong-based company has 28 offices worldwide, mainly in Asia.

“We have observed over the past year that consumers have a pent-up desire to explore and enjoy themselves, despite international travel being paused,” said Ethan Lin, co-founder and chief executive. “Instead, they are turning inwards — exploring new and unique experiences right in their backyard.”


Chief Operating Officer Eric Gnock Fah, left, with CEO Ethan Lin and Chief Technology Officer Bernie Xiong. (Courtesy Klook)

The latest financing round lifts Klook’s total funding to date to $720 million but the company declined to reveal the valuation basis of the new investments. Startup data service CB Insights valued the company at $1.35 billion before the latest infusion.

Klook said it “remains in strong financial health” and that it has not pared back its growth ambitions. The fresh funding will be used to accelerate development of software-based services to help travel experience providers with managing ticketing, distribution, inventory management and marketing.

“With this new funding, we have additional ammunition to accelerate our technology innovation and truly transform and empower this space for future growth,” said Eric Gnock Fah, Klook co-founder and chief operating officer, who added that the company already had more than 2,500 global clients for its “software as a service” offerings.

“We are confident that our industry is a resilient one,” said a spokesperson. “Recovery is certain, but it would boil down to a matter of when. There is good news on our horizon with the vaccine rollout across multiple countries. [But] so while we are optimistic, it is prudent for us to enter the year with some caution.”

Despite general pessimism over the tourism sector amid the pandemic, investors have given new backing to a number of travel startups. Taipei-based KKday, Klook’s major regional rival, closed a $75 million funding last September to fund development of a new booking management platform.



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Turning to the Pharmacopeia in Indian Colleges


By: Ruhi Soni

Bhavika Bhatia was in the last semester of design school three years ago when she first learned that drugs could help her be more productive. Struggling with a plethora of deadlines, including a backlog from the previous semester, the then-23-year-old studying in Pune, a small city in southern India, was barely inching towards the finish line of her college education. During this time, a friend of hers, who was also in a similar situation mentioned a tablet that could help them stay awake all night.

“And I was like, I hit the jackpot!” she recalls. “It was like I’ve been looking for it all my life.”

That night, Bhatia and her friend took 200 mg of the pill — modafinil, a pharmaceutical drug also known by its brand name Modalert in India, or Provigil in the west. Normally, modafinil is prescribed to patients who have been diagnosed with sleep disorders, which make it difficult for them to stay awake. They are prescribed the drug in much lower doses. Bhavika and her friend took the medicine with no prescription or medical advice. She ended up staying awake, alert, and productive for about 30 hours.

Bhavika was part of a group of Indian students who go above and beyond the usual coffee and energy drinks that are typically a staple in student lives, taking a variety of substances that may help improve their brains and their grades. The substances are called by various names such as ‘nootropics’, ‘smart drugs’ or ‘cognitive enhancers’ and purport to help people with concentration, alertness, memory, and other brain functions. But these students might be gambling with their health and the law, given that the off-label use of these chemicals is poorly researched and illegal.

Data and information about drug use in Indian colleges are sparse, let alone specifically about nootropics use. For example, one study of 283 students across India showed that about 18 percent of them reported having tried drugs in college – but the study was only limited to medical and paramedical students.

Vinod Kumar, a consultant psychiatrist at MPower, a mental health clinic in India, tries to estimate its prevalence. In his practice of about two decades, he has encountered about a dozen students who have tried to trick him into prescribing them drugs like modafinil by faking symptoms of out-of-hand poor sleep. Anecdotally, he speculates that nootropics are much less prevalent in Indian campuses than marijuana (Marijuana use in Indian colleges is also poorly researched, but there is a strong ‘weed culture’ consisting of ganja, charas, bhang, and more).

There isn’t even consensus on what a nootropic is, considering it’s a category that might include certain allopathic drugs taken without prescription as well as certain Ayurvedic medicines, which are less stringently regulated than modern drugs.

Defining nootropics is a challenge that Shiv Issar had to grapple with. Issar, currently a 30-year-old doctoral student and lecturer in sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the United States, first dealt with this question when he was completing his Master’s degree thesis in India on the topic of nootropics used by medical students in his college.

“Some people see caffeine or nicotine as nootropics,” he explained. “It makes you question how does one even define a nootropic? Is the definition more ‘socially constructed’ than pharmaceutical?”

Kumar agrees. “It’s a notion more than anything, a loose term,” he says. That being said, “we haven’t found anything proven to be safe and efficacious so far.”

Legally speaking, modafinil is a Schedule H drug in India – it cannot be sold without a prescription. Schedule H drugs are only one level lower than Schedule X drugs, whose sale requires pharmacists to have even more certifications before they can stock it and sell it. However, that doesn’t stop students from walking up to their nearest local pharmacists and buying a strip of 10 100 mg modafinil tablets for INR120 (US$1.63), no questions asked.

This ease of access is a symptom of a problem that plagues much of Indian regulation, including medical regulation – rules are easy to define but hard to implement. “Most of the pharmacies here are corner shop pharmacies run by non-pharmacists,” Kumar said. “They are mostly concerned with meeting sales targets and paying rent, and the government doesn’t give a rat’s ass.”

The lack of information and regulatory advice are some reasons why students taking these pills find accurate, up-to-date information not in Indian government documents or scientific journals, but on online forums such as Reddit. A quick scroll through such anecdotal sources throws up some names more than others among Indian users. While modafinil appears to be the most popular drug of choice, other options include armodafinil (a milder version of modafinil), a class of drugs called racetams and their variants (which gives students a bit of a mental ‘pick-me-up’) and ashwagandha, a centuries-old Ayurvedic medicine (whose effects are supposedly more long-term than the other options and may help students relax).

Issar himself used modafinil when he was completing his thesis in 2018, partly to immerse himself first-hand in the very topic he was writing about, and partly to break into a tight-lipped community of drug users. He learned more about the types of students who would resort to these drugs.

“Mostly, they wanted to get ahead. They were burned out by the system, the long hours in classes, by long hospital rounds,” he said.

“I’ve bought it three or four times but they [the pharmacists] didn’t seem to care,” said Kovida Mehra, a 21-year-old fresh graduate in communications, who first used modafinil when she was a 17-year-old studying for the final exams of her high school.

However, Mehra had other issues with modafinil – it didn’t work on her. She tried it in isolation, and after combining it with coffee and tea. “My friends who took way lesser doses than me were able to pull two nights in a row with intense focus. For me, I had pretty much no change except a little bit of appetite suppression.”

Instead, her productivity got much better after she was diagnosed with ADHD in October this year and prescribed inspiral – a common Indian counterpart to Adderall and Ritalin in the West. There was an immediate improvement even at low doses. She is less easily distracted when working now and reacts less impulsively to difficult situations.

“It makes me slow down,” she said.”So I can think a little better while working, or catch myself before I react to something in a way I’ll regret.”

ADHD medicines taken with or without prescription seem to be the most popular nootropic of choice among Western students. In India, however, ADHD medication like Mehra’s inspiral often fall under Schedule X drugs – those which are monitored much more stringently than Schedule H drugs like modafinil. Pharmacies selling Schedule X drugs cannot jump through the bureaucratic loopholes and apathetic regulation that is associated with Schedule H drugs.

Mehra’s monthly ritual for getting her ADHD pills involves going to one of the only two government-run pharmacies in India, who take her prescription after providing her the required pills. This pharmacy also cross-checks her name, address and past purchases. Such steps are a far cry from most day-to-day purchases at other pharmacies, where one keeps their prescription, and their personal details and past purchases are never investigated.

In other words, Mehra finds it more difficult and time-consuming to get her hands on prescribed ADHD pills than unprescribed modafinil ones. Interestingly, she wasn’t. Interestingly, She was not the only interviewee who had a run-in with nootropics and was also diagnosed with mental health issues. Bhatia was also diagnosed with ADHD this year.

“When I look back at it, the signs have been there all my life,” she said. After all, her inability to focus on tasks is what drew her to modafinil in college in the first place. “I was never dependent on modafinil. I was addicted to that feeling that, for the first time in my life, I could actually work without being distracted all the time.”

“If someone comes into my clinic trying to dupe me into giving them a [modafinil] prescription, I try to learn more about their mental health. More often than not, I end up discovering they have ADHD or anxiety or such things. They are more productive and healthier if they get the right help for those underlying issues instead.”

His caution is not without good reason – modafinil taken without medical supervision can have its drawbacks. It gave Bhatia the ability to work with intense concentration for long periods of time. But if she didn’t have her work lined up before taking the pill, she could end up intensely focusing on trivial tasks instead.

She had other challenges with modafinil too. During finals week during her college years, she had been taking modafinil repeatedly. During this time, “it’s like my body was asleep but my mind was awake.”

She recounts the last exam of her college career. “I revised for it. I went to the exam hall, got the paper, and completely blanked out. My eyes were open, but my mind was just shut,” she recounts. “The questions were straightforward, but I stared at that paper like I was expected to write high-level theoretical formulas. I knew right there that I was failing it.”

On the other hand, Arushi Tandon, a 24-year-old assistant manager for Ashoka University’s entrepreneurship department, turned to a nootropic to improve her mental state after her prescribed pills couldn’t. She had been prescribed a concoction of psychiatric medicines to manage her mental health. She was a type-A personality since childhood and had burned herself out on academic work so much that her immune system had given up and she had developed lupus in college. She could not continue taking her psychiatric medicines as they caused her lupus symptoms to flare up.

“And that’s when I turned to homeopathic and Ayurvedic medicines, including ashwagandha and brahmi,” she says, referring to two medicines that are frequently taken by nootropics users and praised on online forums. While she hadn’t taken these medicines specifically to seek out their cognitive boost, she felt the improvement anyway.

“It was a slow and gradual process, like over a couple of months,” she says. “But when it kicked in, I felt the most relaxed and in control of my work than I had since high school, since I started taking antidepressants and stuff.”

Bhatia sums it up best. She was diagnosed with ADHD after she moved out of India. Once abroad, she had more awareness and access to psychological resources. “Had I known I had ADHD all along, I could have saved so many situations throughout my life. I might not have turned to modafinil in the first place.”

Looking at her, it is easy to wonder how many other students might be like her, students who turned to poorly understood and illegal ‘smart drugs’ when what they really needed was psychological support.

Ruhi Soni lives in Bangalore, India. She is a recent graduate in journalism at Hong Kong University’s Journalism and Media Studies Center, which made the article available to Asia Sentinel. She also studied biology and is pursuing science journalism. She can be reached through Twitter at @rookarmeremanko.

This article is among the stories we choose to make widely available. If you wish to get the full Asia Sentinel experience and access more exclusive content, please do subscribe to us.



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Shinzo Abe, SP Balasubramaniam, Paswan among Padma award winners


This year the President has approved 119 Padma awards. The list comprises seven Padma Vibhushan, 10 Padma Bhushan and 102 Padma Shri Awards

New Delhi: Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, singer S.P. Balasubramaniam (posthumously), sculptor Sudarshan Sahoo and archaeologist B.B. Lal are among this year’s seven recipients of the Padma Vibhushan, the country’s second-highest civilian award, the government announced on Monday while releasing the list of winners of the Padma Awards.

Former Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, former principal secretary to PM Nripendra Misra, former Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan (posthumous), former Assam CM Tarun Gogoi (posthumous), Gujarat CM Keshubhai Patel (posthumous) and religious leader Kalbe Sadiq (posthumous) are among this year’s 10 recipients of the Padma Bhushan, the third-highest civilian award.

 

Archaeologist B.B. Lal had floated the “pillar base theory” at the disputed Babri Masjid site, claiming that they had identifications similar to those found in Hindu temples.

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan has also been given Padma Vibhushan. He first shot to limelight when he gave a clarion call to Muslims to relinquish claims over the disputed Babri Masjid site, one the first community leaders to do so.

Former governor of Goa, Mridula Sinha, has been awarded the Padma Shri posthumously.

The 1971 Bangladesh war veteran Lt Col Quazi Sajjad Ali Zahid and Bangladeshi artist Sanjida Khatun have been awarded the Padma Shri. Other Padma Shri awardees include P. Anitha for sports, Rajni Bector for trade and industry, Peter Brook from the United Kingdom for art, Nicholas Kazanas from Greece for literature and education.

 

This year the President has approved 119 Padma awards. The list comprises seven Padma Vibhushan, 10 Padma Bhushan and 102 Padma Shri Awards. Of these awardees, 29 are women and 10 foreigners/NRI/PIO/OCI. There are 16 posthumous awardees and one transgender awardee.

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Better Products By Design | Asian Scientist Magazine


AsianScientist (Jan. 25, 2021) – Long before the zero-waste movement gained popularity, retailers had already begun focusing on various ways to minimise consumer waste, from providing incentives for returning packaging to adopting innovative designs like paper packaging that can be eaten or re-purposed.

As the threat of climate change intensifies, consumers are increasingly choosing to purchase products from companies that commit to better sustainability practices. One such company is Coca-Cola, which hopes to redesign their packaging to reduce waste. They are embracing the wisdom of the crowd as one of four companies crowdsourcing for solutions to their challenge statements through the inaugural Design Think-Tank Challenge, an open innovation call ending on 31 January 2021.

In their challenge statement, Coca-Cola calls for unique packaging ideas that will transform how they get products to consumers. Typical plastic bottles can take up to 450 years to decompose, posing a serious threat to our environment. To play their part in protecting the planet, Coca-Cola aims to achieve their goal of 100 percent recyclable packaging by 2025.

Organized by the DesignSingapore Council and IPI, the Design Think-Tank Challenge connects industry players with innovative design consultancies who provide solutions to their problems in new, effective and exciting ways. Firms that are shortlisted can look to gain fruitful partnerships through the co-development of innovative ideas and products.

Coca-Cola joins Procter & Gamble (P&G), Johnson & Johnson (J&J) and Danone in sharing problem statements ranging from the need for sustainable packaging to fresh ideas for new environmentally-friendly products. All six challenge statements are available online for potential participants.

Total commitment to zero-waste

As manufacturers of a wide range of personal health, personal care, beauty and baby products, P&G has been a household name for generations. Nonetheless, the company has been quick to adapt to changing market demands, recognizing the importance of sustainable business practices and launching a set of goals to reduce their environmental footprint in 2010. Looking ahead to 2030, P&G has launched initiatives like a Pampers diaper waste collection pilot in Amsterdam, increasing the recycled content in its Ariel liquid detergent, and sourcing all their wood pulp from responsibly managed forests.

P&G has also set its sights on zero-waste haircare solutions across liquid, cream, solid or gel products. With the ultimate goal for no trash to be sent to landfills, incinerators or the ocean, the company is seeking renewably sourced materials, sustainable business models, and biodegradable product and packaging design. Not forgetting the customer experience, the proposed solution should still maintain high quality beauty products that P&G customers have come to expect.

Reimagining packaging for re-using and re-purposing

Instead of completely eliminating waste, global food and beverage company, Danone, is looking for ways to re-use existing packaging, particularly in Southeast Asia and India where 4,000 tons of packaging waste are produced annually. Currently, infant milk formula—one of the company’s leading products—is sold in disposable pouches for food safety reasons. Hence, Danone is hoping to move to a circular model where packaging is re-used or re-purposed, instead of being discarded.

As sustainable packaging could potentially account for up to 30 percent of product cost compared to its current seven to 11 percent, the company is looking for creative design solutions that incorporate quality materials that protect the milk powder for at least 18 months, while minimizing the disposal of used packaging.

Monitoring health at home

Apart from ensuring that their infants are well-fed, parents are also deeply concerned whether their babies get enough sleep—and with good reason. Poor sleep in babies does not just deprive their parents of rest, it could also lead to health issues and impaired development in the child. Despite the recognised importance of sleep, 50 percent of infants in Asia are reported to have sleep quality issues.

J&J, a leader in medical devices, pharmaceutical and consumer goods, wants to make a difference. Hoping to bridge the gap between home solutions and advanced medical care, one of the problem statements that J&J hopes to address is in looking for a simple and easy-to-use diagnostics solution that will allow parents to monitor babies’ sleep quality and glean actionable insights. It is also important that the solutions are affordable, accurate and reliable.

If you have a creative solution to any of these problems, head over to https://design.innovation-challenge.sg/ to find out more and submit your proposals by 31 January 2021, 12.00pm (GMT +8).
Please note that this challenge is not meant to be a free design consultancy service. DesignSingapore Council does not support free pitching and this has been shared with the participating companies. Interested consultancies are advised to share their points of view or a brief description of an ongoing innovation project that could address a specific design challenge. If the company is keen, it will directly arrange with the designer or consultancy to further discuss how they can work together and formalize a partnership.

Asian Scientist Magazine is a media partner of Intellectual Property Intermediary (IPI) Singapore.

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Copyright: IPI Singapore. Read the original article here.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.


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Parler website temporarily resuscitated in Russia


  • Parler was booted from AWS after its alleged use to incite insurrection at the US capitol
  • The site has set up shop with a Russian hosting and cybersecurity company
  • But the government of Russia has laws that compel tech companies to comply with its requests, including surveillance

Cloud services are increasingly dominated by fewer, bigger companies that can provide the web infrastructure and cybersecurity services social media services require. 

Just recently, this was made apparent when AWS booted the right-wing-leaning social media site Parler, after its alleged facilitative role in insighting violence and insurrection at the Capitol earlier in January.

Parler’s CEO John Matze in a legal filing said Parler did not have “the technical and security expertise to host the Parler environment on its own,” adding, “Nor is it feasible for Parler to do so.” 

He said the computers and other equipment needed to host Parler’s site would cost more than US$6 million and take weeks to arrive. “Simply put, it would not be possible for Parler itself to acquire the necessary servers and related security infrastructure in a commercially reasonable time frame,” he said.

As Parler went offline last week, the platform said it tried to register with six potential providers, all of which failed. Parler’s COO Jeffrey Wernick told The New York Times that the social network would prefer US-based providers and is working to find them. The platform registered its domain through Seattle-based Epik, a company that has supported other websites that tech companies have rejected, including Gab, another social network popular in right-wing circles.

While Parler has been shunned by the US tech industry’s biggest names, it purports to have more than 12 million users, Reuters report claimed, making the platform too big for most small hosts. 

Russia – rescuer or opportunist?

With domestic options sparse, Parler is looking overseas. And Russian-owned web security service, DDoS-Guard agreed to host Parler for a mere bare-bones web presence. So far, that amounts to a message under the heading “Technical Difficulties” that says it plans to resolve its challenges and welcome visitors back soon.

Russia has passed laws that compel tech companies to comply with government requests. The surveillance system, known as the System for Operative Investigative Activities, “basically allows the Russian government to intercept any data on Russian territory and provide that data to the F.S.B.,” Russia’s domestic intelligence agency, said Alina Polyakova, head of the Center for European Policy Analysis, a foreign policy think tank in Washington.

Parler could expose its users to Russian surveillance if the site someday does relaunch in full with DDoS-Guard. By embracing DDoS-Guard, even as a quick-fix solution, Parler joins a growing list of far-right sites like 8kun and the Daily Stormer that US infrastructure companies have knocked offline, only to see companies in countries with limited internet freedom — like DDoS-Guard — enable their reemergence. 

According to Bloomberg, a spokeswoman for DDoS-Guard said the company was not hosting Parler and declined to comment on what services it was providing to the social media app. It confirmed it did store customer data as part of its offering.

In another separate report, DDoS-Guard told WIRED it is only providing defense against denial-of-service attacks, not hosting Parler’s site. But even that level of support requires access to all the traffic that flows through Parler so that it can “scrub” out malicious traffic aimed at overwhelming the site.



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Taiwan Tightens COVID-19 Regulations Amid String of Hospital Infections – The Diplomat


China Power | Society | East Asia

Taiwan is working to contain a domestic outbreak and maintain its remarkable success in containing the coronavirus.

People wearing face masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus go through gates of a metro in Taipei, Taiwan, Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020.

Credit: AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying

Taiwan has reported 12 total cases of COVID-19 linked to a cluster of infections at a northern hospital, leading the country to stiffen some regulations to prevent further community spread.

Health Minister Chen Shih-chung announced two new domestically transmitted cases on January 22, both linked to the cluster infection at Taoyuan General Hospital.

Taiwan went over eight months without a locally transmitted case of COVID-19 before a pilot for Taiwan’s EVA Air infected a Taiwanese woman in December. It has reported 12 cases in the hospital cluster since January 12.

On January 19, Taiwan’s government canceled celebrations for the Taiwan Lantern Festival, held annually to celebrate the Lunar New Year. The presidential office has also canceled its Lunar New Year reception, while some city governments have canceled their own lantern festival events.

The Taiwan Railway Administration said it would stop leasing main halls in the country’s train station. It also installed partitions in food court areas and positioned tables further apart.

Taoyuan Mayor Cheng Wen-tsang said on January 21 that Taoyuan General Hospital had completed a mass evacuation of patients so that hospital buildings could be disinfected by a team of government workers and members of the army’s “chemical warfare” group.

Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Center said the next day that all discharged or transferred patients listed as high risk from the hospital must go into quarantine.

The hospital cluster has jolted Taiwan, especially as some of the infections occurred outside the hospital when workers infected their family members.

The country has largely existed in a COVID-free bubble due to a speedy, efficient, and transparent early response, which has led to a high level of trust between government and the population.

The new cluster showed signs of testing this trust. Chen, the health minister, did not initially reveal the location of the cluster, leading to days of speculation among citizens and the media.

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) spokesman Liu Kang-yen on Thursday ripped the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) for “political maneuvering” after KMT magistrates warned against unnecessary travel to Taoyuan, the location of the hospital cluster.

Taoyuan, which is home to around 2.2 million people along with the nation’s primary international airport, has become enveloped in fear of the virus, even as the total case count remains low. “Chemical warfare” army troops have been seen disinfecting the city on a regular basis throughout the week.

KMT spokesperson Chen Wei-chieh said the magistrates were only speaking on behalf of public health and noted Taiwan’s defense ministry has asked military service people to avoid visiting Taoyuan.

Taiwan has reported a total of 881 cases of COVID-19 and seven deaths as of January 22. Only 93 of those cases have been classified as community infections, most of which occurred before April 12, 2020.

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Serum Institute of India: Blaze at facility of world’s biggest vaccine maker kills 5 people


The blaze at the Serum Institute of India (SII) in the western city of Pune was brought under control on Thursday though the cause is still under investigation, according to Murlidhar Mohol, the city’s mayor.

Four people were rescued from the six-floor building but five others died, Mohol said. They are believed to have been construction workers as the building was still under construction at the time of the fire.

Videos and images showed black smoke billowing out of the building at the company’s complex. Fifteen units of the municipal corporation and fire department worked to douse the fire, Mohol said.

Preliminary investigations suggest that “during the building’s construction, some welding work could have led to the fire,” he added.

Pune’s fire brigade chief Prashant Ranpise said Friday that the fire started on the second floor. As firefighters worked to put out the flames, the blaze reigned in another spot. The second fire was extinguished at 4:15 p.m. local time by 50 firefighters and personnel. Ranpise said they are still investigating the cause of the fire.

“We have learnt that there has unfortunately been some loss of life at the incident. We are deeply saddened and offer our deepest condolences to the family members of the departed,” SII CEO Adar Poonawalla tweeted Thursday.

SII, the world’s biggest vaccine maker, is in partnership with Oxford University and AstraZeneca to produce the Covishield vaccine. In December, the company said it was producing 50 to 60 million doses of Covishield per month, with production to be scaled up to 100 million doses in January or February.

A family business started by Poonawalla’s father 50 years ago to bring cheaper vaccines to the masses, the Serum Institute of India is aiming to produce hundreds of millions of coronavirus vaccines for not only India, but also other developing countries.

In a tweet, Poonawalla said that despite a “few floors being destroyed,” production of the Covishield vaccine would not be affected.

“I would like to reassure all governments and the public that there would be no loss of COVISHIELD production due to multiple production buildings that I had kept in reserve to deal with such contingencies,” he said.

Cyrus S. Poonawalla, SII’s chairman and managing director, said in a statement that the fire broke out at a facility that was under constriction in the Special Economic Zone at Manjri. He said it was an “extremely sorrowful day” and the company would offer INR 2.5 million ($34,000) to each of the victims’ families.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted his condolences Thursday: “Anguished by the loss of lives due to an unfortunate fire … In this sad hour, my thoughts are with the families of those who lost their lives. I pray that those injured recover at the earliest.”



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