Monthly Archives: January 2015

Are Nikki Reed’s Diamond Eternity Rings a Sign of Engagement to Beau Ian Somerhalder?

A woman is in the jewelry store
Actors Nikki Reed and Ian Somerhalder have been together for over a year, but only recently did celebrity news site Hollywood Life learn that the couple have been engaged.

On Dec. 11, the couple walked the red carpet at Rihanna’s Diamond Ball, and photographs of Reed showed her wearing a diamond eternity band on her right ring finger. One month later at the In Style Golden Globes after party, Reed, 26, was still wearing the ring on the right, along with another diamond eternity band, as she posed with Somerhalder, 36.

Flash forward to Jan. 28, when Reed was seen out jogging in Atlanta, where Somerhalder’s show The Vampire Diaries films, with the ring on her left hand instead.

Eternity bands are a unique choice in engagement ring. Rather than having one center stone, the ring is surrounded by diamonds.

According to an expert jeweler who spoke to Us Weekly, the ring Somerhalder bought is a vintage one. “It’s not a typical engagement ring,” the anonymous tipster said, “but actually a wedding band you purchase for when you get married.

A source for Hollywood Life said that the weight of the new ring, if it amounts to 10 carats in stones with E-F color and VVS quality could be worth as much as $100,000 to $125,000.

The original ring has an estimated worth of $60,000 to $70,000, according to Hollywood Life‘s jeweler source.

Put together, that’s almost $200,000 worth of engagement and/or wedding ring!

But could the average person wondering how to pick an engagement ring take their cues from Reed and Somerhalder?

“We definitely notice a change in buying habits when a celebrity comes out with a new design or a new-shaped diamond that hasn’t seen that much popularity,” said Kristina Mahler, manager at Diamonds Direct. “One thing I always tell people is that you don’t have to spend the same amount of money as celebrities to get the same look; there’s always a way to create a similar look for less, such as using a different but similar in color gem.”

The couple may have chosen the ring on Jan. 4, when Hollywood Life reporters saw them looking at rings at New Stone Age in Los Angeles.

“They were absolutely adorable and you could tell they are very much in love,” the source said of the couple’s PDA.

“Nikki was pointing out items for Ian and vice versa. They looked at some engagement rings, including a 14K. gold diamond slice halo ring and an 18K. gold green halo diamond ring — both designed by Livin, and an 18K. large chocolate diamond ring by White Cloud.”

The site says that this may not be where the couple actually purchased their rings. Sources indicate that Somerhalder met with another Beverly Hills jeweler on Dec. 10.

Sources speculate that Reed and Somerhalder plan to marry in June.

New Home Sales Reach Highest Level in More Than Six Years

Clean exterior home during late spring season

Over the past few years, the American housing market has recovered from the housing bubble in fits and starts, surging in some areas while lying dormant in others. However, the Wall Street Journal recently revealed some encouraging news: in December 2014, new home sales rose to their highest level in more than six years, suggesting the industry could see some renewed momentum in the coming year.

On Tuesday, January 27, the Commerce Department announced that sales of newly built, single-family homes increased 11.6% from November to December, reaching a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 481,000. This was not only the best showing since June 2008, but also served as a pleasant surprise to many economists. Experts had predicted that sales would only reach 450,000.

Despite these positive numbers, however, it is too early to forecast economic improvement. The sales of new homes represent a mere one-tenth of the overall housing market, and monthly figures are frequently revised. October and November, for example, were recently updated by as much as 11,000. Because of these factors, December’s rates had a margin of error of 16.5 percentage points, making it wise to wait before predicting a new trend.

However, this has not prevented some people from trying to determine what exactly could be causing the increasing sales. The possible trend could be connected to traditional factors, such as lower mortgage rates and solid labor market activity. However, warmer weather across the continental U.S., increasing employment rates, lower gas prices and confident consumers are also believed to be supporting the sector.

Many U.S. builders say they are seeing the improving sales in action: on January 26, D.R. Horton Inc., one of the largest construction companies in the country, reported a 35% increase in sales contracts to 7,370 houses. Their sales pace this January has also accelerated thus far. However, other companies reported less dramatic successes: NVR Inc., parent company of Ryan Homes, registered a 3% gain, reaching 2,713 homes.

To make matters worse, the National Association of Realtors reported that sales of existing homes totaled 4.93 million in 2014, down 3.1% from the year before. As these sales account for around 90% of all purchases in the U.S., this detracts from the possibility of an overall ability. But it might indicate a purchasing shift: groundbreakings for single-family homes also rose last month to the highest level since March 2008, although they were still below historical standards.

Perhaps prospective homebuyers are beginning to dip their toes back into the housing market waters in the most affordable and effective way they can see. While the median price of a new home had increased from 275,500, reaching $298,1000 in December 2014, new homes have a number of cost-effective benefits, including 17% increased energy efficiency. Could these advantages be creating a new trend that will help heal the housing industry? Only time will tell.

New Fitness Wearable and App Combination May Be Able to Decrease Lower Back Pain

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Fitness apps with a wearable component are popular at the moment, most targeting general movement or weight loss. But the Valedo device, showcased at the Consumer Electronics Show held earlier this month in Las Vegas, NV, has a more specific goal: reducing lower back pain.

“There is a medical layer and a gaming layer,” Robert MacKenzie, products manager for Valedo, told the AFP news agency. “This is actually a medical product for exercise therapy.”

Back pain is a widespread and consistent concern in the United States, with about 31 million Americans suffering from lower back pain at any given time, according to the American Chiropractic Association. Lower back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide, and back pain in general is the leading cause of disability among Americans younger than 45.

Valedo, developed by Hocoma, works using two sensors that attach to the chest and lower back using medical tape. These sensors detect “micro movements” as the wearer plays interactive games on an iPhone or iPad and transmit data to the program, which then guides the users through exercises intended to increase movement in the spine and strengthen muscles deep in the back.

The product has only just been launched in the U.S., but has been available in Switzerland since July. MacKenzie said that according to results from users there, three 10- or 15-minute sessions per week for two weeks can result in a notable decrease in pain. The exercises used in the games, according to the company, were developed by physical therapists.

So far, it looks as if the app can appeal to people suffering from back pain of varying severities.

“The app looks like one of those casual games where you get 3 stars for beating a level, but behind the scenes there are 45 exercises to do divided by muscle group and orientation — you can do them laying [sic] down, sitting, and standing, which means you can take it easy to begin with if your pain is really bad,” TechCrunch commented in its Jan. 4 review of fitness-focuses wearables at CES.

For now, Valedo is compatible with the iPhone 5 and 6, the iPad 3 and later versions, and the iPad mini, and sells for $359. The company says versions will be released for Android and Windows devices later this year.

Activists Disrupt Inaugural Proceedings in Vermont Over Healthcare Grievances

Wooden gavel barrister, justice concept

As the newly re-elected Gov. Peter Shumlin gave his inaugural address Jan. 8, more than 100 activists protesting a lack of progression on universal healthcare and measures to protect the working poor packed the Vermont Statehouse, and police removed 29 demonstrators from the House chamber Thursday evening.

Shumlin decided in December to abandon Act 48, which was approved by the Legislature in 2011 and would have created a single payer system in Vermont by 2017. The move has been a deeply divisive one.

Proponents of a single payer system say that it would be more efficient for all medically necessary care to be paid for by the government, which would contract the actual work out to private organizations.

This would not be dissimilar from how some federal health services work now, but in an expanded form. The government is primarily able to maintain some standards of care because it can refuse to pay for services. For example, if a provider hires or contracts with a party on the Office of the Inspector General’s exclusion list, then the federal health programs (such as Medicare or Medicaid) will withhold payment.

The act’s supporters hoped that the Vermont legislation could create a model for other states to follow in implementing universal healthcare at the state level.

But those who oppose the system say it would cost too much and shift the burden from larger corporations who pay the bulk of insurance costs (for their employees) to taxpayers, and would serve relatively few Vermont residents who are currently uninsured.

Even supporters of a single payer system are distancing themselves from the protesters who disrupted proceedings last week.

“We regret and do not condone that our representatives … were targets of disrespectful behavior during the inaugural proceedings,” Deb Richter of Vermont Health Care for All wrote in a letter to the Rutland Herald Jan. 13. “Our organization remains committed to working in a respectful, positive way with our elected leaders and citizen representatives.”

Public figures, too, have called on politicians and taxpayers alike to be willing to move forward with a new plan instead of clinging to Act 48. “The handwriting about the likely fate of the single payer plan has been on the wall for quite some time,” former Democratic senator Peter W. Galbraith wrote for VTDigger Jan. 12. “Instead of recriminations over what didn’t happen, let’s look to what can still be accomplished.”

Hong Kong Air Quality Reaches Worst Levels Yet, Forcing Residents Indoors

Anonymous crowd of people walking on city street
Air pollution in Hong Kong has reached its highest level yet, according to the city’s government. The pollution index at more than half of Hong Kong’s monitoring stations reached a level 10+ — the most serious measurement on the scale.

The 10+ recordings were found in the city’s main business and entertainment districts of Central Hong Kong, Mong Kok and Causeway Bay. Other stations recorded either the highest or second-highest levels of pollution severity.

The air pollutants included nitrogen dioxide, which is found in higher concentrations at street level due to the light wind. In general, China’s air pollution problems tend to get worse in the winter.

The main causes of the smog throughout the country’s urban areas are vehicles, ships and power stations. The effects of this poor air quality on China’s population include higher healthcare costs per capita and more days spent inside; residents likely also experience many sleepless nights due to the pollution, which could lead to greater fatigue throughout the day in some of the world’s busiest cities.

Readings of 10+ are accompanied by warnings from the government for the public to stay indoors and reduce their time outside to a minimum, especially in areas with the most vehicle traffic.

The news comes just as new data indicates that the air pollution in China’s capital, Beijing, may be slowly improving. The U.S. State Department found that 21% of Beijing’s days in 2014 met the U.S. standard for healthy air, up from 17% in 2013.

However, the figures still place most days in the unhealthy air category, with the worst air quality occurring in February.

Data from the State Dept. also shows that air quality tends to improve from April to September, when Beijing and the rest of the country have less need for heat sources derived from fossil fuels.

Officials in Hong Kong are trying to tackle the problem of air pollution by introducing low-emission zones to improve air quality. Hong Kong legislators also approved a measure in January 2014 to offer HK $11.4 billion in subsidies to replace old diesel vehicles and add or upgrade catalytic devices in buses and taxis.

Upon Entering Prison, Real Housewife Teresa Giudice Surrenders Her Freedom — And Hair Extensions

Teresa-Joe-Giudice-court

The fever pitch of celebrity culture in the age of social media has had dramatic, far-reaching effects on our society as a whole. One of the many repercussions of pop culture’s diffusion into everyday life? The rise of hair extensions as a way for women to get the same long, full-bodied tresses of the stars.

But as celebrity culture gives, so does it take away. For notorious “Real Housewives of New Jersey” star Teresa Giudice, the start of her 15-month prison sentence at Connecticut’s Danbury Correctional Facility was met with both the surrender of her freedom and the surrender of her hair extensions.

According to The Gloss.com, hair extensions aren’t permitted in prison, no matter how famous the prisoner. Giudice, who was convicted on charges of bankruptcy fraud and tax evasion, among other things, may eventually have access to haircuts and color — but only if she displays good behavior.

“Teresa has worn clip-in hair extensions for years, because her hair has been thinning, especially around her hairline,” a source told InTouch magazine. “The clip-in hair extensions allow her to make her hair look fuller, and it’s not that expensive.”

Giudice shouldn’t worry too much, however. There’s a good chance she won’t be serving her full sentence, anyway. Giudice’s release date has been set for February 2016 — two months less than her original sentence’s terms. The release date might inch back even more, as Giudice’s attorney, James L. Leonard Jr., has said he hopes to get his client home “sometime before Christmas.”

In the meantime, Giudice will have no choice but to keep paying the ultimate price for committing bankruptcy fraud and a slew of other financial crimes — living behind bars without her beloved hair extensions. Let’s hope her fellow inmates are more sympathetic to the plight of rich women than the characters on the hit Netflix show Orange is the New Black.

New Study Shows High Testosterone Can Treat Prostate Cancer

Hispanic Businessman - Headshot Portrait
Researchers from the University of Washington and Johns Hopkin University have found evidence which suggests hormone replacement therapy can reduce cancer cell growth for patients with prostate cancer.

Dr. Michael Schweizer of the University of Washington School of Medicine led a team of medical researchers in a trial which focused on hormone therapy for prostate cancer patients. Traditionally, prostate cancer has been treated by “chemical castration therapy,” which is the process of deliberately reducing testosterone levels in the body. Also known as “androgen deprivation therapy,” chemical castration involves injecting antiandrogens into the body, in order to both halt testosterone production and block hormonal receptors. Because prostate cancer cells rely on hormones for growth, reducing testosterone can inhibit the growth of tumors.

However, chemical castration is not always effective against prostate cancer and often comes with debilitating side effects such as nausea, loss of libido, and hair loss. Prostate cancer cells can develop a resistance to antiandrogens and adapt to low testosterone levels. When this happens, the condition becomes known as castration-resistant prostate cancer (CRPC), and is usually fatal, even with treatment.

The medical team, fully aware of this issue, decided to use an approach known as “bipolar androgen therapy.” Rather than giving the patients exclusively antiandrogens and other hormone blockers, the researches would also administer high levels of testosterone about every month. The treatment would create severe but temporary testosterone imbalances.

The results were promising. Of the 16 patients that participated in the trial, seven showed signs of reduced cancer growth and 10 responded positively to androgen deprivation therapy after the testosterone injections ended. Furthermore, four men saw their tumors shrink by half and one patient’s cancer disappeared altogether. It should be noted, however, that three of the patients have died since the study commenced in 2010.

The results impressed the researchers. Some have expressed optimism that this experimental treatment can effectively fight prostate cancer.

“The results were unexpectedly promising,” said Dr. Samuel Denmeade of Johns Hopkins University, “and we’ll need a lot more study. But this cycling on and off of testosterone could become a part of the treatment.”

In addition to injecting patients with synthetic hormones, it is also possible to increase testosterone growth by naturally increasing “free testosterone.” Free testosterone is the testosterone in the blood that is available to bind to receptors in the brain, muscle, and other organs of the body. Some testosterone in the body is naturally blocked. By injecting medication that can unblock these testosterone molecules, the body can naturally increase its testosterone levels.

One Out of Five Hysterectomies in U.S. May Have Been Unnecessary

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As many as one in five women who have received hysterectomies in the United States may not have needed the surgery, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Each year, over 400,000 American women receive a hysterectomy. The procedure, which removes the uterus, is used to treat or prevent certain types of cancer, and is one of the most common surgeries used to treat uterine fibroids. Though it can be life-changing and/or life-saving, it obviously destroys a woman’s fertility, which means, as the study suggests, that doctors needlessly obliterate at least 80,000 women’s chances of having children each year.

The study also suggests that despite the significant decrease in the number of hysterectomies being performed each year — a decline of 36% between 2002 and 2010 — many physicians are still reluctant to use less-drastic alternatives to treat benign uterine conditions.

“This study provides evidence that alternatives to hysterectomy are underutilized in women undergoing hysterectomy for abnormal uterine bleeding, uterine fibroids, endometriosis, or pelvic pain,” said senior author Daniel M. Morgan, M.D., associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the U-M Medical School.

Currently, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends several alternatives to the hysterectomy, such as endometrial ablation, hormonal management, and operative hysteroscopy. Yet, the study found that almost 40% of women didn’t receive documentation detailing alternative treatments prior to their hysterectomy.

“There are a lot of alternative options out there that can be used instead of doing a hysterectomy,” lead author Lauren Corona told MinnPost.com. “So, for me, these findings were really surprising.”

Corona also urged women to get a second opinion if a doctor suggests a hysterectomy, adding that “physicians need to try and calm their patients’ fears and let them know that hysterectomy isn’t necessarily the best option.”

Census Bureau May Stop Tracking Marriage and Divorce Rates: What Does That Mean for Americans?

Beautiful wedding couple

The United States Census Bureau has proposed a radical change that could alter the way Americans think about marriage and divorce.

The organization, which collects population and socioeconomic data across the country, has suggested putting an end to tracking marriage and divorce rates on their American Community Survey.

Experts, however, have said this would be unwise of the Census Bureau, who called the marriage and divorce data “low benefit and low cost.”

Brad Wilcox, director of The Home Economics Project at the American Enterprise Institute, said that studying marriage and divorce rates gives the country a broader picture of the American family.

“What happens in the family doesn’t stay in the family,” Wilcox said. “It reverberates and ripples across the entire society in economic, social and cultural ways that are important to track.”

Other experts say that the implications of not tracking the divorce rate go beyond social research and could affect economic policies, like those pertaining to Social Security.

Data about marriage and divorce helps the Social Security Administration determine how many people will be divorced or married when they go to collect benefits.

But these numbers are already difficult enough to track without the Census Bureau pulling the questions from their surveys.

Although current estimates state that one divorce happens on an average of every 36 seconds in the U.S., current data from the Pew Research Center shows that many states either don’t report, or underreport, their divorce statistics.

Add in the fact that January sees a big boom in divorces every year after the end of the holiday season — something that most people wouldn’t know without such valuable data.

Without the data from the Census Bureau, many people would only have tabloid news to go by to get an idea of the bigger picture of divorces in the U.S. — and the lifestyles of the rich and famous don’t portray the reality for many Americans. For instance, Sue Ann Arnall, the now-former wife of oil tycoon Harold Hamm, received a nearly $975 million settlement in her divorce. While that might sound exorbitant to most Americans, it’s a relatively paltry sum when compared to Hamm’s $18 billion fortune.

Steven Ruggles, president of the Population Association of America, said that not studying the divorce rate would have meant missing the recent discovery of high divorce rates among baby boomers. It also lets average Americans know about how their Social Security funds and other assets are affected.

When the Census Bureau allowed the public to comment on the proposed change, they received hundreds of comments, including a letter on the subject from Ruggles.

New Technology for Old Machinery — How Forklifts Are Being Adapted for the 21st Century

Worker on forklift
For decades, the forklifts responsible for lifting and transporting materials in warehouses everywhere have run on technology that is both harmful to people and the environment — and anything but energy-efficient.

That’s finally starting to change, thanks to the help of innovators like Lester Erlston, who has applied new technologies to the tried-and-true forklift in order to boost these trucks’ efficiency and range.

According to a December 20 Upstart Business Journal article, Erlston, CEO and founder of KersTech Vehicle Systems, has been developing a dual hydraulic-electric motor that can be used in machinery like garbage trucks, city buses and especially forklifts — vehicles that all make frequent stops. This motor harnesses the braking power from these frequent stops and regenerates this power for continued use.

Currently, the typical electric-powered forklift engine used by about 60% of warehouses around the world has an average run time of just five hours. KersTech’s “TwinTorq” motor has the potential to bring this run time up to eight hours, the length of an average workday and a 35% to 40% increase. The hydraulic-electric motor concept also has a greater torque, meaning the gasoline- and propane-powered forklifts that are needed to move heavy items up ramps would no longer be necessary, the Upstart Business Journal reports.

However, the safety of these new motors for the personnel who operate forklifts on an everyday basis is still unclear. Currently, about one in four transport-related accidents in the workplace involve the use of a forklift, making these trucks some of the most dangerous pieces of equipment in any workplace.

The prototypes for KersTech’s hydraulic-electric motors are currently being put together, with trial runs with forklifts to be made this fall. If the trials are successful, the combined motor will be installed in a three-ton Hyster forklift for a real-world application and test run.

With one of the biggest forklift companies in the world on board, KersTech’s hydraulic-electric motor has the potential to become one of the most widespread ways to power a forklift. And because it boasts greater run time and torque range, there will be few reasons not to make the switch to this new technology.