Health roundup: Some documentaries to help you cope, feel better and relax

They might not typically be the reason you go to the multiplex on a Saturday night. But these upcoming documentaries serve as reminders to live healthier, take a breath, and to be good to ourselves and those around us.

Zen master

Benedict Cumberbatch lent his considerable vocal prowess to the narration of “Walk With Me,” which provides a peek into the life of Zen master Thich Nhát Hanh at his secluded Plum Village monastery outside France’s Bordeaux region.

The film, which had its Los Angeles premiere in early September, is directed by Marc J. Francis and Max Pugh. The scenery is sublime, the messages uplifting and just the act of watching it will make you want to slow down.

Info: The movie is currently being screened via Theatrical On Demand, which allows people to host a screening. There is one Nov. 7 in Calabasas. Information and tickets about the screening.

Thrive and survive

Irvine-based Pedram Shojai, founder of wellness site well.org and self-described “urban monk,” distills his fascination with conscious capitalism into “Prosperity” by setting out to discover “sustainable ways for us all to thrive.”

He follows the founder of a nutritional supplement brand as she tries to implement a fair trade deal for an indigenous tribe near Panama and talks to companies that believe in a “for benefit” model — such as Studio Movie Grill cinemas, which offer screenings specifically for special-needs children.

Info: “Prosperity” will be screened at the Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., in Beverly Hills until Oct. 5. Thereafter on DVD and online.

"Urban monk" and filmmaker Pedram Shojai explores ways to preserve the environment in his new film, "Prosperity."
“Urban monk” and filmmaker Pedram Shojai explores ways to preserve the environment in his new film, “Prosperity.” (Prosperity)

Survival stories

In “Heal,” medical experts and scientists join people who were afflicted with serious diseases to discuss the body’s innate ability to heal. Writer and director Kelly Noonan Gores said she felt compelled to make the film after following the work of the likes of Deepak Chopra, biologist Bruce Lipton and author Anita Moorjani, whose 2014 bestselling memoir “Dying to Be Me” documents her recovery from serious cancer.

“I was fascinated with how intelligent the human body is, how it’s designed to repair itself,” said Noonan Gores. “I wanted to sit down with these teachers and see what was truly possible. It feels like so many people are sick these days, and that they are ready to hear this information.”

Info: Oct. 20 at Laemmle’s Monica Film Center, 1332 2nd St., Santa Monica, and through hosted screenings. The film will be released on VOD platforms Dec. 5.

Deepak Chopra is one of many experts interviewed about the mind-body connection in an upcoming documentary "Heal."
Deepak Chopra is one of many experts interviewed about the mind-body connection in an upcoming documentary “Heal.” (Heal)

Help for young girls

A documentary looking at the self-esteem and anxiety issues faced by girls won’t be out till next year, but in the meantime, mini-episodes of “self(i.e.)” leading up to the feature have started streaming on YouTube. Sarah Dubbeldam, CEO of Darling Media, partnered with fashion brand Aerie by American Eagle to create the content after she realized that every girl she encountered — as young as 8 — held themselves to the impossible (and retouched) standards of beauty they see on social media.

“They’re aspiring to standards based on a deception, to something that’s not real,” said Dubbeldam, a former model. “There are studies that show anxiety has surpassed depression in women because of the pressures from social media. It’s a pervasive problem that needs to be fixed from the inside out.”

Between now and the end of the year, there will be 10 mini-episodes, which run a few minutes each.

Info: The videos are available on Darling’s YouTube channel.

Blogger Nike Ojekunle is among the personalities filmed talking about self-image and self-esteem in a new series of mini-episodes from Darling Media.
Blogger Nike Ojekunle is among the personalities filmed talking about self-image and self-esteem in a new series of mini-episodes from Darling Media. (Darling Media)

Health@latimes.com

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California's deadly hepatitis A outbreak could last years, official says

California’s outbreak of hepatitis A, already the nation’s second largest in the last 20 years, could continue for many months, even years, health officials said Thursday.

At least 569 people have been infected and 17 have died of the virus since November in San Diego, Santa Cruz and Los Angeles counties, where local outbreaks have been declared.

Dr. Monique Foster, a medical epidemiologist with the Division of Viral Hepatitis at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters Thursday that California’s outbreak could linger even with the right prevention efforts.

“It’s not unusual for them to last quite some time — usually over a year, one to two years,” Foster said.

That forecast has worried health officials across the state, even in regions where there haven’t yet been cases.

Many are beginning to offer vaccines to their homeless populations, which are considered most at risk. Doctors say that people with hepatitis A could travel and unknowingly infect people in a new community, creating more outbreaks.

Police officers try to help the homeless find services in San Diego, where poor sanitation has contributed to a hepatitis A outbreak.
Police officers try to help the homeless find services in San Diego, where poor sanitation has contributed to a hepatitis A outbreak. John Gastaldo / San Diego Union-Tribune

San Diego, Santa Cruz and L.A.

San Diego County declared a public health emergency in September because of its hepatitis A outbreak.

Since November, 481 people there have fallen ill, including 17 who died, according to Dr. Eric McDonald with the county’s health department. An additional 57 cases are under investigation, he said.

Hepatitis A outbreak

  • 481 cases in San Diego County
  • 70 cases in Santa Cruz County
  • 12 cases in L.A. County
  • 6 cases elsewhere in the state
  • Sources: County health departments, California public health departments

Hepatitis A is commonly transmitted through contaminated food. The only outbreak in the last 20 years bigger than California’s occurred in Pennsylvania in 2003, when more than 900 people were infected after eating contaminated green onions at a restaurant.

California’s outbreak, however, is spreading from person to person, mostly among the homeless community.

The virus is transmitted from feces to mouth, so unsanitary conditions make it more likely to spread. The city of San Diego has installed dozens of handwashing stations and begun cleaning streets with bleach-spiked water in recent weeks.

McDonald said county health workers have vaccinated 57,000 people in the county who are either homeless, drug users or people in close contact with either group.

“The general population — if you’re not in one of those specific risk groups — is at very low risk, and we’re not recommending vaccinations,” he said.

The outbreak has also made its way to Santa Cruz and L.A. counties, where 70 and 12 people have been diagnosed, respectively.

Officials from both counties say they’ve vaccinated thousands of homeless people and will continue to do so.

New cases linked to the outbreak might not appear for weeks, because it can take up to 50 days for an infected person to show symptoms, said Santa Cruz public health manager Jessica Randolph.

“I don’t think the worst is over,” Randolph said.

A man passes behind a sign warning of an upcoming street cleaning along 17th Street in San Diego.
A man passes behind a sign warning of an upcoming street cleaning along 17th Street in San Diego. Gregory Bull / Associated Press

Where next?

Tenderloin Health Services, a clinic in the San Francisco neighborhood known for its large homeless population, has been offering hepatitis A vaccines to its patients for weeks. The clinic recently held an event in which workers gave shots to 80 people in three hours, said Dr. Andrew Desruisseau, the clinic’s medical director.

“The cases in San Diego and the magnitude of the epidemic there certainly set off alarms in the Bay Area,” he said. So far, there have been 13 hepatitis A cases in San Francisco, but none associated with the outbreak.

Desruisseau said 90% of the clinic’s patients are homeless and many also have other liver problems or are drug users, making the disease especially dangerous.

Typically, only 1 out of every 100 people with hepatitis A dies from the disease, but it appears to have killed a higher rate of people in San Diego because of the population affected, experts say.

All 17 people who have died in the San Diego outbreak had underlying health conditions, including 16 who had liver problems such as hepatitis B or C, McDonald said.

Desruisseau said he was particularly concerned about conditions on the streets in San Francisco.

“With all of the housing crisis and gentrification in San Francisco, we’re seeing a much more condensed homeless population,” he said. “We have a lot of obstacles in keeping it a very sanitary place for our clients.”

Doctors and nurses in several California counties are beginning to offer vaccines to their homeless populations, as recommended by the state health department. Typically only children and people at high risk are vaccinated for hepatitis A.

In Orange County, which has had two hepatitis A cases linked to the outbreak, public health workers have given out 492 vaccines, mostly to homeless people, officials said. County nurses have also been visiting shelters and parks to vaccinate people.

Some officials, including in Riverside and Sacramento counties, also said they were reviewing their sanitation protocols for homeless encampments. An L.A. councilman recently called for more toilets in neighborhoods such as skid row and Venice in light of the local hepatitis cases.

Many have blamed San Diego’s outbreak on a lack of public bathrooms near homeless encampments.

In Oakland, city workers, represented by SEIU Local 1021, sent a letter to City Hall last month saying they feared a hepatitis A outbreak in the region’s homeless community. So far, there haven’t been any cases in Oakland or the rest of Alameda County, but city safety steward Brian Clay said he believed the city has allowed unsanitary conditions in homeless encampments.

Oakland city officials did not respond to a request for comment.

“There’s syringes, there’s human feces, there are dead animals, rats alive, and dead rats … pee bottles, five-gallon buckets used as toilets,” Clay said. “We’re definitely concerned about this added threat of hepatitis A.”

soumya.karlamangla@latimes.com

Twitter: @skarlamangla

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UPDATES:

3:30 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details about the outbreak.

This article was originally published at 12:10 p.m.

Hacking your health at the new Bulletproof Labs in Santa Monica

The first thing Dave Asprey will tell you about his newly opened Bulletproof Labs in Santa Monica is that it’s not a gym. Rather, he says, it’s the world’s first “human upgrade” facility dedicated exclusively to biohacking, or tweaking your biology for better performance.

At first glance, the light-filled space adjacent to his Bulletproof Coffee café on Main Street certainly looks like a gym, with personal trainers standing by and gleaming equipment lined up.

But take a closer look, and that equipment is unlike anything you’re used to seeing in a health club, from the cockpit-style atmospheric cell trainer by the door to the rotating virtual float tank in the center of the room. These are the same machines that Asprey has in the $1-million performance lab at his house in Victoria, Canada.

“It has been a dream for several years to make this level of technology available for everyone,” said Asprey, the world’s most famous biohacker. “Part of the role Bulletproof plays in society is to make people aware of all the things they can do to tap into their full power — and it’s frustrating to me that this kind of amazing technology isn’t more widely available because it makes such a big difference.”

With this first lab, Asprey and his partners are learning how to scale these “stacks” of treatments for mind, body and cellular health for a larger audience of Paleoites, Bulletproof podcast listeners and butter coffee drinkers, with locations to follow in other cities.

Brain and body hacks

Some of the lab’s equipment might be familiar to elite athletes and hard-core fitness enthusiasts. There is the oxygen trainer, which uses a bike and an oxygen mask that alternates between 100% oxygen to low oxygen air to optimize cardiovascular function and performance. Or the cryotherapy chamber, in which three-minute stints in temperatures as low as minus 250 degrees Fahrenheit are meant to decrease inflammation, enhance recovery and boost the immune system.

Although Asprey may not want to call it a gym, many of the machines are designed to complement or expand on the gains its users have made at the gym, starting with the cheat machine, which delivers an adaptive resistance strength workout that eliminates the user’s ability to “cheat” or use momentum, said to deliver a week’s workout in 15 minutes.

There’s also a bone density trainer to support all that muscle, as well as “cold cardio,” a cooling and compression bike that is being tested by NASA for space flights to Mars.

Other treatments for cognition and mental performance include neurofeedback; a dry float tank that induces a rejuvenating, dreamlike state; light therapy; and heart rate training to manage stress response.

While they’re between treatments, members can have a vitamin IV infusion administered by a nurse at its in-house lab and clinic area.

“Most of the technologies are focused on recovery, immune system function, cellular health and cognitive performance, and other areas not available in the standard fitness concept,” Asprey says.

Pulling ahead of the research curve

If this all sounds a bit out there, it is.

Much of the research on this equipment is still in the early stages and therefore, like biohacking, it’s an experiment you’re performing on yourself in hopes of getting ahead of the research curve and feeling and performing better.

Because the treatments are unfamiliar to most people, staff members expect people to come in to try a few individual treatments before they commit to a membership, which ranges from $500 a month to around $1,500 per month depending on frequency of use. Each membership includes a battery of tests and an individualized treatment plan depending on performance goals.

It’s certainly not inexpensive, but Asprey’s team says if you come in once a week, it’s comparable to paying for a very high-end personal training session. And for many, he says, it will be the thing that helps them feel and look better, when traditional workouts and dietary changes are not enough.

“This,” he says, “is about getting the best biological return on the effort you put in, and that works for everyone.”

Health@latimes.com

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This is the secret to actor Sterling K. Brown’s Instagram-ready abs

Ask 41-year-old Sterling K. Brown, who just took the Emmy for lead actor in a drama for his role in “This Is Us,” how he developed his awesome abs and a spectacular devotion to lifelong fitness, and he’ll point to his relatives.

The aunt who paid him to do sit-ups, a dad who died way too early, and an older brother who challenged him to keep what he had. The father of two, who stars in the upcoming biopic “Marshall”— out Oct. 13 — and the 2018 movies “The Predator” and “Black Panther,” talked to us about those abs, how he bans bad food from his house, and his crazy-hard workouts.

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1. Your killer abs got a big buzz when you posted on Instagram earlier this year. How’d you get them?

I’ve had ‘em for a long time — since age 6. As a kid in St. Louis, I remember playing shirts versus skins at summer camp — and not wanting to be a skin because I didn’t like my body. So when my aunt bought us a sit-up board, it was an opportunity. She would always have competitions between us kids. She’d give 10 bucks to anyone who could do 100 sit-ups. For a 6-,7-, 8-year-old, that was a lotta money! So I once did 200 sit-ups without stopping — and got $20. From that point forward, I would watch music videos on MTV and try to do sit-ups for an entire song.

Actor Sterling K. Brown, and his wife, actress Ryan Michelle Bathe, light up the red carpet at the 68th Primetime Emmy Awards.
Actor Sterling K. Brown, and his wife, actress Ryan Michelle Bathe, light up the red carpet at the 68th Primetime Emmy Awards. Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times

2. So you’re not one of those actors who pigs out most of the time and then gets fit to play a certain role?

Right. I told my wife [actress Ryan Michelle Bathe], “You know, I’m thankful that most of these roles I get have very little to do with the way I’m built.” And she said, “Are you kidding me? I would love to get roles because people want to see my body.” So we have an inverse relationship to the way we see our fitness. But for me, it’s always been about being healthy.

I’ve seen the men in my family all start out young very fit and healthy and over time let themselves go. I always had it in the back of my mind: It’s easier to maintain it than to lose it and try to get it back. I was a good high school athlete, played football and basketball and always had a decent shape. I weighed 197 when I graduated and am 190-something right now. I just wanted to stay slim, stay fit and stay tough to show my family that there is another way of aging. That you can age without growing old — that you can maintain a sense of vivacity to your lifestyle. Age doesn’t have to keep you from being an active participant in life.

3. Did it work? Did you influence them to get healthier?

Maybe … to a small extent. The lifestyle in St. Louis, Mo., is not very active. Of my four siblings, my 54-year-old brother, a pharmaceutical salesman — former track star, martial artist, college football player — will hit the elliptical. He was built like an Adonis — not anymore — but he probably inspired me more than I did him.

He would always tease me. “By the time you hit 30, you won’t have those abs anymore. You’ll be going out to all these corporate dinners and you’ll see.” I said, “OK, we’ll see.” When I turned 30, I told him, “Hey, man, I still got ‘em.” Then he said, “Just wait until you turn 40.” So when I turned 40, I sent him a picture just to show him I still had ’em.

4. You’re over 40, an age when some people start slowing down. Have you changed anything?

I still do something nearly every day. I want to hold on to what the good Lord has blessed me with — that’s my motto. I haven’t slowed down — still love basketball, running, working out. But now, instead of banging in the paint, I’ve become more of a perimeter player to reduce body contact. It’s a big change. Until age 38, I played with reckless abandon, or “RA,” as we called it in high school; go all-out, with total disregard for your body, and it will take care of you. But at 38, I noticed: Driving the lane and playing outdoors on the pavement instead of playing indoors on the wood, my body would tell me: “Hey, Brown, why you doing this to me? Stop beating me up.” I’d go for a 7-8-mile run on the street, instead of the treadmill, and every time, my body would say, “Hey, Brown …”

So a good rule of thumb: Beware of the pavement. The recovery time on a more forgiving surface like wood or dirt is much less. There is no sense, with the busy schedule I have now, to go through the day hurt. A little sore, OK; hurt, no.

5. Do you do any fitness activities with your kids, or are they too young?

Actually, I’ll take my 6-year-old son out and we exercise together. I’ll push him just enough to where he wants to come back and do it again. We’ll go a park with a one-third-mile track. He likes running. I’ll say, “OK, big boy, I’m going to give you a 30-second head start. Then, Daddy’s going to go all out to try to catch you.” And he takes off. He’s fast. Sometimes I catch him, sometimes I don’t.

Afterwards, we might do wall jumps, pushups, squats. At some point, he’ll go, “Daddy, my legs don’t work anymore.” And I’ll say, “You can take a break while I keep going.” I try to expose him to fitness at an early age — not just to sports — but what it means to live a healthy lifestyle. That way, although he may not be able to play sports the rest of his life or have the facility for it, he can always take care of himself. That’s of tantamount importance

6. What’s your diet strategy?

I remember at 16 doing a 7-mile run and was so proud of myself that I came house and made myself a pitcher of Kool-Aid. Now that doesn’t even make sense.

I began to get away from the fast-food lifestyle when I became an actor in college and grad school. There was an emphasis on your body being your instrument, and I began to understand the car analogy of thinking of food as fuel you put in your engine. If you want to go long and go hard, you have to give it the best gas possible. Then, about 10 years ago, I read a book, “Healthy at 100” by John Robbins, which follows pockets of centenarians across the globe and what they have in common. The conclusion: The longest-living ate a plant-based diet with lean meat and whole grains. They didn’t do hard-core, beat-your-body-up exercise but had built-in activity in their lifestyle that keeps them supple and mobile. That book sort of flipped the switch in me, made me think about the legacy I’ll want to pass to my children.

One big thing: Water. I’ll drink almost a gallon a day — great for my skin. Another rule: Keep out the bad stuff. No white pastas, flour or sugar in my house. We’ll eat brown rice, not white. Pop-Tarts used to be a regular thing, but if I opened the box, I’d probably finish it all. Keeping it out of the house is the key

7. Your father died when you were 10. Did that play any role in your health consciousness?

Yes — a big one. My dad had [Type 2] diabetes, smoked, drank and passed from a heart attack. So I’ve never smoked a cigarette. I enjoy a cocktail every now and then but have no need to have a drink every day. I’m very careful with salt. We sweeten everything in our house with brown rice syrup, agave and honey, but no sugar. My kids have never seen a sugar-frosted flake. My son wouldn’t know what Cap’n Crunch was if he looked at it.

I’m not just looking good for the sake of looking good. I want to live a long, healthy life. The life expectancy of the African American male is the shortest of all groups in this country, and I don’t wish to be a statistic. I want to be around to see great-grandchildren — and be able to enjoy them.

The secret to Sterling K. Brown’s Instagram-ready abs

Actor Sterling K. Brown’s schedule can be hectic, and his workouts vary week to week. “No week is the same,” he said. “I do a lot of muscle-confusion body-weight stuff, where I keep it different so my body doesn’t get used to any one thing.” He said he aims to balance it all by working out most weekdays and “taking the weekend off to hang out with the family.” Here’s what a recent week of workouts looked like:

Monday: “I did the one workout I love, the ‘50-40-30-20-10-10.’ A friend of mine told me about it. It means 50 jumping jacks, 40 squats, 30 push-ups, 20 butt-ups [a core workout move], 10 burpees and 10 pull-ups. Do three sets in a row. I did it in 28 minutes, with 24 minutes my PR.”

Tuesday: “Played basketball, my workout without thinking about working out. 90 minutes of fun.”

Wednesday: “Ran 4 miles on a treadmill, incline of 2% lowering to 1% as I sped up.” Done in 34 minutes, burn 1,150 calories per hour, according to the dashboard. “My PR is just under 32 minutes.”

Friday: The 50-40-30-20-10-10 workout.

Thursday: On a plane, traveling, so no workout.

Sunday: “Ran 5 miles in 42 minutes, followed by some ab exercises from P90X.”

Sky Yoga: Try warrior pose 1,000 feet above Los Angeles

From San Diego to Ventura, downtown Los Angeles to Westwood, here are some noteworthy fitness events to get you moving:

It might be a bit of a drive to get there, but the intense workout on the other side will be worth it. With three different courses, the Life Time Tri San Diego on Oct. 15 is designed for all levels and takes place at South Shores Park on Mission Bay, site of the first modern triathlon in 1974.

Entrants can sign up for Super Sprint, which is a .24-mile swim, 6.35-mile bike ride and 1.65-mile run, or Sprint, which is about twice that distance. Haven’t been training for a triathlon? You can enter a Mixed Relay, which allows four competitors to finish the Super Sprint. The event was previously known as Esprit de She, and was for women only; it is now open to everyone. After, local dining spot Konito’s Cafe will provide breakfast burritos, and from Second Chance Beer Co. come well-deserved frosted libations.

Info: Event takes place Oct. 15. Registration starts at $85 until Oct. 14. trisandiego.com

Sky-high yoga

Yoga in the clouds takes place on alternate Mondays at Oue Skyspace LA, at the top of downtown's US Bank Tower
Yoga in the clouds takes place on alternate Mondays at Oue Skyspace LA, at the top of downtown’s US Bank Tower Oue Skyspace LA

There’s beachfront yoga, yoga in blazing temperatures, yoga on the dance floor. But ever tried warrior pose at 1,000 feet above Los Angeles?

OUE Skyspace, at the top of the US Bank Tower, has reprised its limited Sunset Yoga in the Sky series, led by an instructor from the neighboring Evoke Yoga. The hour-long class gives participants a 360-degree view over the city while headphones block out any sound except the instructor’s voice and soothing background music to calm any incipient acrophobia.

Info: 6 to 7:30 p.m. Oct. 16 and Nov. 6. Classes typically held on the first and third Mondays of each month. $35 per person, which includes a post-class ride on the heart-stopping Skyslide. oue-skyspace.com

Costume up, and run for Halloween

Put on a costume, lace up those running shoes and hit the pre-Halloween Los Angeles Cancer Challenge’s walk/run in Westwood. Now in its 20th year, the event this year will include a family-friendly wellness expo and live entertainment. The event is organized by the Hirshberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research; pancreatic cancer has the highest mortality rate among major cancers.

Some 3,000 participants are expected to gather at UCLA in Westwood for the event; they will also be able to enjoy a Fit Family Expo and a Halloween parade for the kids. This will also be the first year there will be a 15K run, in addition to the traditional 5K and 10K.

Info: 7 a.m. Oct. 29 on the UCLA campus’ Wilson Plaza, 120 Westwood Plaza.

Embracing ‘Natural Movement’

Natural movement is at the heart of a two-day weekend in Ventura, exploring concepts in the book, ‘Move Your DNA: Restore Your Health Through Natural Movement.’ Credit - Galina Denzel
Natural movement is at the heart of a two-day weekend in Ventura, exploring concepts in the book, ‘Move Your DNA: Restore Your Health Through Natural Movement.’ Credit – Galina Denzel Galina Denzel / Galina Denzel

The simple act of moving is given a closer look during a two-day weekend in Ventura in early November.

The Eat Move Live 52 event focuses on “natural movement”: Proponents encourage the rest of us to rethink how we move in the name of fitness, and encourages people to spend time barefoot or with minimal footwear, to be in nature more, and to take movement breaks during the day.

The weekend is led by Galina Denzel and Breena Maggio, who are restorative exercise and master movement teachers and builds on the work of natural movement specialist Katy Bowman and her book, “Move Your DNA: Restore Your Health Through Natural Movement.” The book is required reading before attending.

How Machine Learning Is Easing OER Pain Points

Analytics

How Machine Learning Is Easing OER Pain Points

Algorithms can help faculty discover and select open educational resources for a course, map the concepts covered in a particular text, generate assessment questions and more.

The basic definition of machine learning is that it allows a computer to learn and improve from experience without being explicitly programmed. One obvious example: the way a Netflix algorithm learns our TV-watching habits to make suggestions of other movies we might like. We come into contact with dozens of such machine-learning algorithms every day.

Algorithms are even starting to make an impact on university campuses, taking on time-consuming tasks to ease faculty and administrator workloads. For example, RiteClass’s predictive admissions platform uses machine learning to produce a “Prospective Student Fit Score by ingesting data about current students and alumni. The Fit Score will determine how similar (or different) a prospective student is to current students and alumni, according to the company, helping institutions make data-driven admissions decisions.

And in support of faculty members, several efforts are underway to use machine learning to analyze the contents of open educational resources (OER) for their fit in a particular course.

Algorithm-Assisted Content

California State University, Fresno has been urging its faculty members to seek out appropriate no- or low-cost course materials. The problem: Replacing costlier course material with appropriate OER content is time-consuming, said Bryan Berrett, director of the campus’s Center for Faculty Excellence. To ease the process of selecting material, CSU-Fresno has been piloting an analytics solution from Intellus Learning, which has indexed more than 45 million online learning resources and can make recommendations of matching OER content. “If I am teaching an English course and I have a standard textbook, I can type the ISBN number into Intellus,” explained Berrett. “Broken down by chapter, it will say here are all the OER resources that are available that match up with that content.” The faculty member can then upload the resources directly into the course learning management system.

Intellus says it can also index the millions of learning objects in use at an institution and provide real-time analytics on student usage.

A similar homegrown effort at Penn State University has branched out into new directions, said Kyle Bowen, director of education technology services. PSU’s BBookX takes a human-assisted computing approach to enable creation of open source textbooks. The technology uses algorithms to explore OER repositories and return relevant resources that can be combined, remixed and re-used to support learning goals. As instructors and students add materials to a book, BBookX learns and further refines the recommended material.

Bowen explained that the work was inspired to some degree by more nefarious uses of machine learning. Looking at examples of researchers using algorithms to generate fake research papers begged the question: If you can do something like that to create fake research papers, could you use it to create real ones or real content? “What better problem to try to solve than looking at open content?” he said. “How could we simplify or expedite the process of generating a textbook or a textbook replacement?”

In the process of training machines to search for appropriate content, the PSU researchers discovered that algorithms often surface content the faculty member may not have known about. Even if you are an expert in a topic area, there are still elements of the field you may not be as familiar with, and the algorithm is not biased by knowledge you already have.

IT Spending to Top $3.65 Trillion in 2018

IT Spending to Top $3.65 Trillion in 2018

Global spending on information technology will reach $3.658 trillion in 2018, according to a new report from Gartner, up 4.3 percent over this year’s projected $3.508 trillion.

Communications services will lead IT spending, accounting for $1.387 trillion this year, a 0.9 percent increase over 2016, to $1.417 trillion in 2018 for growth of 2.2 percent.

The second largest spending category, IT services, is projected to account for $931 billion in 2017, a year-over-year growth of 4 percent, and $980 billion next year, representing 5.3 percent growth.

Spending on devices will improve for the first time in two years, up 5.3 percent from last year to this for a 2017 total of $664 billion. Devices are the only category forecast to see a slowdown in growth from 2017 to 2018, growing at 5 percent to reach $697 billion next year.

“Increased average selling prices for premium phones in mature markets, partially due to the introduction of the iPhone 8 and 10, along with an underlying demand for PCs from businesses replacing their machines with Windows 10 PCs is driving the growth in this segment,” according to Gartner.

The fourth largest category, enterprise software, will see the fastest growth rate across both years, improving 8.5 percent from 2016 to 2017 for a total spend of $354 billion and continuing to grow at 9.4 percent to reach $387 billion in 2018.

Spending on data center systems, on the other hand, will remain relatively flat, improving 1.7 percent this year to account for $173 billion in sales and 1.8 percent next year for total sales of $176 billion.

About the Author

Joshua Bolkan is contributing editor for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe. He can be reached at jbolkan@gmail.com.

Bulgaria’s Arms Exports Reach Record High in 2016

Photo: Evan Burr/Flickr

Bulgaria’s arms exports reached unprecedented volumes in 2016, with the total value of the deals surpassing one billion euros, the annual report by the state commission for export control shows.

The state approved 595 export licences worth nearly 1.3 billion euros, from which deals worth 1.015 billion euros were realised.

This represented a major increase from 2015, when Bulgaria exported arms to the value of 642.5 million euros.

The report reveals that the steady growth of Bulgarian arms exports to the Middle East in recent years continued in 2016.

A total of 52.8 per cent of all the deals over the year were realised with countries from the Middle East region.

The total value of the shipments to the Middle East reached 536 million euros, while Bulgarian exports to the country’s NATO and EU partners amounted to fewer than 200 million euros.

The main recipient of arms and ammunitions, originating or transferred from Bulgaria was Iraq, with exports for 259.2 million euros, followed by Saudi Arabia, to which Bulgaria shipped weapons worth 238.9 million euros.

Traditionally, the country exports predominantly ammunitions and explosives, such as bombs, rockets and missiles.

In 2016, these groups of defence products formed the largest part of the arms deals approved by Bulgaria, with a value of more than 767 million euros.

With the escalation of conflicts in the Middle East and Ukraine, Bulgaria’s arms sector, which was long suffering from a decline, has undergone a renaissance.

A recent investigation by BIRN and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, OCCRP, revealed that since 2012, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Serbia and Romania agreed exports of weapons and ammunition worth at least 1.2 billion euros to four countries supporting Syria’s armed opposition.

The bulk of the deals, totalling 829 million euros, were made with Saudi Arabia.

“Over the past years the production and realization of defence products have scored record growth, reaching an annual turnover of over a billion leva in 2016,” Economy Minister Emil Karanikolov noted in a report to the government published on August 25.

The minister has proposed setting up a new consultative council to the government which would coordinate and develop the work of all of Bulgaria’s arms traders and producers.

The country’s largest state arms producer, VMZ-Sopot, saw its profits rise by a third in the first half of 2017 compared to the same period last year.

Kintex, a state-owned arms trader, tripled its net sales over the same period from fewer than 50 million leva (25.5 million euros) to 152.3 million leva (77.8 million euros).

CIO Roles in Flux

 

IT Trends

CIO Roles in Flux

Nearly all, 95 percent, of chief information officers expect their positions to be changed or remixed owing to digitalization, according to a new report from technology market research firm Gartner. The two largest changes, according to respondents, will be to become change leaders and to assume increased and broader responsibilities.

“The CIO’s role must grow and develop as digital business spreads, and disruptive technologies, including intelligent machines and advanced analytics, reach the masses,” said Andy Rowsell-Jones, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, in a prepared statement. “While delivery is still a part of the job, much greater emphasis is being placed on attaining a far broader set of business objectives.”

The report is based on a survey of 3,160 CIOs from 98 different countries and every major sector. Respondents represent organizations comprising $13 trillion in revenue or public sector budgets and $277 billion in combined IT spending. Respondents were divided into top, typical and trailing digitalization performers.

Other key findings of the report include:

  • A majority of respondents said that technology trends, particularly cybersecurity and artificial intelligence, will significantly change how they do their jobs in the near term;
  • 95 percent told researchers they expect cybersecurity threats to increase and affect their organization;
  • The most problematic technologies to deploy, according to respondents, are, in order: AI, digital security and the Internet-of-Things;
  • The most commonly cited reason those technologies are difficult to implement is that they require new skills that are often hard to find;
  • 35 percent of respondents said they have already deployed some piece related to digital security, and another 36 percent said they’re planning to;
  • Growth was the highest priority for CIOs, cited by 26 percent of those surveyed;
  • 84 percent of top CIOs told researchers they have some responsibility for business outside of traditional IT, with the most common being innovation and transformation;
  • Top CIO responses indicated that the ideal split is 56 percent business outcomes and 44 percent IT delivery;
  • CIOs are spending more time on the executive elements of their jobs than three years ago;
  • The more mature an organization’s digital business is, the more likely the CIO reports to the CEO;
  • Business intelligence and analytics was named the top differentiating technology, and top CIOs were more likely to name it as such than other CIOs surveyed;
  • 79 percent of respondents said that digital business is making their organization better prepared for change; and
  • 71 percent of top CIOs reported having a separate team specifically to help scale digitalization efforts.

“The effects of digitalization are profound. The impact on the job of CIO and on the IT organization itself should not be underestimated,” said Rowsell-Jones in a prepared statement. “In this new world, CIO success is not based on what they build, but the services that they integrate. The IT organization will move from manufacturer to buyer, and the CIO will become an expert orchestrator of services. The real finding though is that this is happening now, today. CIOs must start scaling their digital business and changing their own jobs with it now.”

About the Author

Joshua Bolkan is contributing editor for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe. He can be reached at jbolkan@gmail.com.

Serbia’s Economic Slowdown Alarms Experts

Analysis
25 Sep 172017-09-27 08:47:36

Serbia’s economic growth has slowed down this year, statistics show – and independent experts dispute official claims that this is mainly due to recent bad weather.

Milos Damnjanovic

BIRN

Belgrade

President Vucic has lately devoted far more attention to raising public sector salaries than to economic reform, claims the author. Photo: Beta

Latest data published by the Serbian Statistical Office last week showed that economic growth in the country in the second quarter of 2017 was a modest 1.3 per cent of GDP.

This meant the economy slowed down for a second consecutive quarter. Figures for the first quarter, published in June, showed economic growth at 1.2 per cent of GDP, which was less than half the 2.5-per-cent growth achieved in the final quarter of 2016.

The drip feed of disappointing economic data has seen officials and economic analysts close to them scrambling to justify Serbia’s anaemic economic performance.

Most blamed the summer’s record heat wave, codenamed “Lucifer”, which brought a heavy drought that decimated agriculture across the region.