The Drugs of Work-Performance Enhancement .

My morning writer’s ritual is as predictable as it is contemporary: Walk the dog. Down a cup of coffee. Eat my shredded wheat. And, twice a week—sometimes three times—I flip open my vial of Adderall, tip out one of the 15-milligram peach tabs, and break it in half. For a moment the bitterness burns my tongue, and then down it goes.

The Adderall addition to my routine started three years ago, after I happened upon 60 Minutes one evening and caught a segment titled “Boosting Brain Power.” It was an examination of the Adderall epidemic on college campuses nationwide, and I found myself quickly drawn into it.

By the end of the story, the conclusion was inescapable: Adderall makes everything easier to understand; it makes you more alert and focused. Some college students scarf them like M&Ms and think they’re more effective at cognitive enhancement than energy drinks and safer than a smoke or a beer. A Harvard professor admitted he regularly devoured Adderall to help make a book deadline.

Prior to watching, I had some close friends and relatives with ADHD whose doctors prescribed the amphetamine for completely legitimate reasons. I called them “closet users” since they all seemed ashamed of their diagnosis, not to mention their prescription. Why they felt this stigma I’m not entirely sure. According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, 4.4 percent of the adult U.S. population has ADHD, which if left untreated is associated with significant morbidity, divorce, employment, and substance abuse.

Like all prescription medications, Adderall has risks that are crucial to understand. Buried in the middle of that 60 Minutes segment was a too-short riff on amphetamine’s side effects, which include addiction, psychosis, and cardiovascular problems. I’ve read many of the horrific news stories about lives, especially young people’s lives, destroyed by this drug. Most notably, the tragic tale of Richard Fee, “an athletic, personable college class president and aspiring medical student,” as The New York Times reported earlier this year, who developed a full-fledged addiction, abetted by his doctors who routinely signed off on more meds. He was 24 when he hung himself at home.

Nonetheless, for untold healthy adults (those whom researchers refer to as “mentally competent”) the cognitive-enhancing drug has led to positive changes in their lives. Not surprisingly, the many Adderall “success” stories often go unnoticed in the current debate and climate. Explained one young woman, in her late 20s, on a public bulletin board: “[Adderall] makes me so happy I can be at a family function or out socializing and not get too distracted by other events/conversations around me. I can hear them, but am not taken in by them.”

And this testimonial from an anonymous poster: “Since being on Adderall, I have been insanely productive… I have paid all my outstanding bills and parking tickets (and even renewed my car’s registration before it was due). I’m not late for things anymore… I have not spent a single day lying around my house doing nothing in the past few months. I have a budget, and a scheduler that I actually use.”

The authors of a study published in the journal Nature argue in favor of moderate use: “Cognitive enhancement has more to offer individuals and society, and a proper societal response will involve making enhancements available while managing their risks.”

That spring when I watched the 60 Minutes broadcast I was on a deadline to finish a 400-plus-page book. After viewing the segment, I had a moment of insight. Jumping online, I took a few ADHD screening quizzes and was told I had “possible ADHD.” Such a diagnosis doesn’t place me among the 4.1 percent of U.S. adults with ADHD but it did lead me to promptly make an appointment with my primary care physician. When she asked me why I needed it, I replied just as the college kids had on 60 Minutes: “For focus.”

The first morning I swallowed the whole pill (as prescribed), and within 30 minutes thought I was going to have a stroke. My heart and head were pounding, and I felt as if I were, well, on speed. Which I was—Adderall is, after all, an aggregation of amphetamines. I cut the tabs in half after that and completed my book manuscript by the deadline, with about half my 60-day supply left.

Did it make me smarter? No. Did it make me a faster writer? Yes. Previously, when I’d sit down at my desk, I felt adrift at sea. It was as though my MacBook and research materials, piled high, swayed from left to right and then back again. It was dizzying; I just couldn’t get a grip.

For me, Adderall was like putting my foot on the ground to stop the drunken whirlies. I had a connection. I had control. My metaphoric double vision snapped to mono and I could see and think as clearly as if I’d stepped out of a fog. I’d never had such concentration and it showed in the number of well-written pages I produced daily.

Which isn’t to say that I didn’t experience some side effects. Amphetamines suppress appetite, so I easily lost weight. While the medication did wonders in prompting me to write, it inexplicably interfered with my ability to speak, scrambling my thoughts before they’d come out of my mouth. (I learned never to take a dose if I were to be out in the world anytime in the next four to six hours, otherwise I either spoke too quickly or too garbled.)

From time to time, I witnessed the shadows of depression, which I’ve read that others on the drug sometimes succumb to. Fortunately, I had the wherewithal to know this was a chemically induced darkness—one that reminded me of the sharp mood swings associated with Decadron, a corticosteroid once prescribed to me for a subdural hematoma resulting from a head injury. After two weeks of usage with this steroid, I felt suicidal. My physician had not warned me of this side effect. But with Adderall, I had knowledge aplenty and knew that once I stopped it, my depression would quickly lift. I also know that not everyone has that kind of previous experience or perspective, which is when folks get into deep trouble.

I take other meds, too, which also have their known side effects. The Lexapro I consume daily for anxiety can decrease sex drive; the Lipitor for high cholesterol can cause muscle and liver problems; and the Niaspan, also for cholesterol, can bring flushing and double vision. I’ve read about these side effects, recognize them when they occur, and understand that with the promised benefits of these meds comes risk.

But it’s different when it comes to Adderall; the most notable distinction is the “Black Box” warning on all amphetamines:


Still, according to the National Institutes of Health: “Under medical supervision, stimulant medications are considered safe.” I’d add, as the Nature authors did, especially for “mentally competent adults.”

I know some will say I’m lacking in discipline or that I’m abusing. I don’t think that’s the case, a belief that is buttressed every time I approach my desk to see the swaying stacks of research materials or my laptop levitating. On Adderall I function better and get immediate relief from the chaos—not to mention meet my deadlines. Certainly, like anything and everything in life, it’s not for everybody and the risk for abuse is very real. But as an educated patient, who measures risks and benefits every time a doctor hands me a prescription, I feel confident I’m making an informed choice for myself. And on those mornings when my routine includes half a peach tab, I know it will be a good work day.

There may be other planets like ours.

We are not alone.

There are likely “tens of billions” of Earth-like planets in our Milky Way galaxy, according to a study released Monday by astronomers from the University of California-Berkeley and the University of Hawaii.

AP Many Earths

“Planets like our Earth are relatively common throughout the Milky Way galaxy,” said astronomer Andrew Howard of the University of Hawaii, who estimates the number at about 40 billion.

In fact, the nearest Earth-like planet may be “only” 12 light years away, which is roughly 72 trillion miles.

In all, about 8.8 billion stars in our galaxy have planets that are nearly the size of Earth and also have a surface temperature conducive to the development of life. But many more stars (those not similar to our sun) also have planets where life could form, which is where the 40 billion-planet figure comes from.

Like Goldilocks tasting the porridge, temperatures must be “just right” for life to develop: Planets must have a so-called “habitable zone” with “lukewarm temperatures, so that water would not be frozen into ice or vaporized into steam but instead remain a liquid, because liquid water is now understood to be the prerequisite for life,” said Geoffrey Marcy, a professor of astronomy at Berkeley.

The discovery was based on the most accurate statistical analysis yet of all the observations from the Kepler telescope, a space observatory launched in 2009 specifically designed to locate planets around other stars.

The research was based mainly on an exhaustive, three-year search of Kepler data undertaken by Erik Petigura, a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley.

“Now, for the first time, humanity has a measure of how common Earth-size planets are around sun-like stars,” Marcy added.

Howard says the new estimate of planets means there are 40 billion chances “for life to get started and to evolve.”

“The findings are robust, but you have to read the fine print to understand that the numbers are somewhat uncertain,” noted MIT astronomer Sara Seager, who was not part of the study. “Overall the result speaks to the growing findings that small planets are everywhere.”

“For the past couple of years there has been an emerging consensus that Earth-size planets are common, so in that sense, the result is not hugely surprising,” said astronomer David Kipping of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who was also not part of the study. “What is special about this work is the huge effort of the authors to develop a completely independent way of measuring this occurrence rate to that of the Kepler team.”

And going beyond our galaxy, Marcy reminds us that the Milky Way is just a typical galaxy within our universe, which contains hundreds of billions of galaxies, each of which has about the same number of sun-like stars as does our Milky Way.

“With tens of billions of Earth-like planets in each galaxy, our entire universe must contain billions of billions of Earth-like planets,” Marcy said,

The study was published online Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences using data from the Kepler telescope. The $591 million Kepler telescope is now crippled and nearing the end of its four-year mission.

Astronomers answer key question: How common are habitable planets?

UC Berkeley and University of Hawaii astronomers analyzed all four years of Kepler data in search of Earth-size planets in the habitable zones of sun-like stars, and then rigorously tested how many planets they may have missed. Based on this analysis, they estimate that 22 percent of stars like the sun have potentially habitable Earth-size planets, though not all may be rocky or have liquid water, a presumed prerequisite for life.

NASA’s Kepler spacecraft, now crippled and its four-year mission at an end, nevertheless provided enough data to complete its mission objective: to determine how many of the 100 billion stars in our galaxy have potentially habitable planets.

Based on a statistical analysis of all the Kepler observations, University of California, Berkeley, and University of Hawaii, Manoa, astronomers now estimate that one in five stars like the sun have about the size of Earth and a surface temperature conducive to .

“What this means is, when you look up at the thousands of stars in the night sky, the nearest sun-like star with an Earth-size planet in its habitable zone is probably only 12 light years away and can be seen with the naked eye. That is amazing,” said UC Berkeley graduate student Erik Petigura, who led the analysis of the Kepler data.

“It’s been nearly 20 years since the discovery of the first extrasolar planet around a normal star. Since then we have learned that most stars have planets of some size and that Earth-size planets are relatively common in close-in orbits that are too hot for life,” said Andrew Howard, a former UC Berkeley post-doctoral fellow who is now on the faculty of the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii. “With this result we’ve come home, in a sense, by showing that planets like our Earth are relatively common throughout the Milky Way galaxy.”

Petigura, Howard and Geoffrey Marcy, UC Berkeley professor of astronomy, will publish their analysis and findings online the week of Nov. 4 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Earth-size may not mean habitable

“For NASA, this number – that every fifth star has a planet somewhat like Earth – is really important, because successor missions to Kepler will try to take an actual picture of a planet, and the size of the telescope they have to build depends on how close the nearest Earth-size planets are,” Howard said. “An abundance of planets orbiting nearby stars simplifies such follow-up missions.”

The team cautioned that Earth-size planets in Earth-size orbits are not necessarily hospitable to life, even if they orbit in the habitable zone of a star where the temperature is not too hot and not too cold.

“Some may have thick atmospheres, making it so hot at the surface that DNA-like molecules would not survive. Others may have rocky surfaces that could harbor liquid water suitable for living organisms,” Marcy said. “We don’t know what range of planet types and their environments are suitable for life.”

Last week, however, Howard, Marcy and their colleagues provided hope that many such planets actually are rocky. They reported that one Earth-size planet discovered by Kepler – albeit, a planet with a likely temperature of 2,000 Kelvin, which is far too hot for life as we know it – is the same density as Earth and most likely composed of rock and iron, like Earth.

“This gives us some confidence that when we look out into the habitable zone, the planets Erik is describing may be Earth-size, rocky planets,” Howard said.

Transiting planets

NASA launched the Kepler space telescope in 2009 to look for planets that cross in front of, or transit, their stars, which causes a slight diminution – about one hundredth of one percent – in the star’s brightness. From among the 150,000 stars photographed every 30 minutes for four years, NASA’s Kepler team reported more than 3,000 planet candidates. Many of these are much larger than Earth – ranging from large planets with thick atmospheres, like Neptune, to gas giants like Jupiter – or in orbits so close to their stars that they are roasted.

To sort them out, Petigura and his colleagues are using the Keck Telescopes in Hawaii to obtain spectra of as many stars as possible. This will help them determine each star’s true brightness and calculate the diameter of each transiting planet, with an emphasis on Earth-diameter planets.

Astronomers use the term “habitable zone” to indicate an orbit not too far from the star such that water freezes, and not too close such that water vaporizes. Habitable zones are orbital areas where the heat from the star creates lukewarm temperatures at which liquid water can exist, and water is the presumed prerequisite for life. Credit: Petigura/UC Berkeley, Howard/UH-Manoa, Marcy/UC Berkeley

Independently, Petigura, Howard and Marcy focused on the 42,000 stars that are like the sun or slightly cooler and smaller, and found 603 candidate planets orbiting them. Only 10 of these were Earth-size, that is, one to two times the diameter of Earth and orbiting their star at a distance where they are heated to lukewarm temperatures suitable for life. The team’s definition of habitable is that a planet receives between four times and one-quarter the amount of light that Earth receives from the sun.

A census of extrasolar planets

What distinguishes the team’s analysis from previous analyses of Kepler data is that they subjected Petigura’s planet-finding algorithms to a battery of tests in order to measure how many habitable zone, Earth-size planets they missed. Petigura actually introduced fake planets into the Kepler data in order to determine which ones his software could detect and which it couldn’t.

“What we’re doing is taking a census of , but we can’t knock on every door. Only after injecting these fake planets and measuring how many we actually found, could we really pin down the number of real planets that we missed,” Petigura said.

Analysis of four years of precision measurements from Kepler shows that 22±8% of Sun-like stars may have Earth-sized planets in the habitable zone. Credit: Erik A. Petigura.

Accounting for missed planets, as well as the fact that only a small fraction of planets are oriented so that they cross in front of their host star as seen from Earth, allowed them to estimate that 22 percent of all sun-like stars in the galaxy have Earth-size planets in their .

“The primary goal of the Kepler mission was to answer the question, When you look up in the night sky, what fraction of the stars that you see have Earth-size planets at lukewarm temperatures so that water would not be frozen into ice or vaporized into steam, but remain a liquid, because liquid water is now understood to be the prerequisite for life,” Marcy said. “Until now, no one knew exactly how common potentially were around Sun-like stars in the galaxy.”

All of the potentially habitable planets found in their survey are around K stars, which are cooler and slightly smaller than the sun, Petigura said. But the team’s analysis shows that the result for K stars can be extrapolated to G stars like the sun. Had Kepler survived for an extended mission, it would have obtained enough data to directly detect a handful of Earth-size planets in the habitable zones of G-type stars.

“If the stars in the Kepler field are representative of stars in the solar neighborhood, … then the nearest (Earth-size) planet is expected to orbit a star that is less than 12 light-years from Earth and can be seen by the unaided eye,” the researchers wrote in their paper. “Future instrumentation to image and take spectra of these Earths need only observe a few dozen nearby stars to detect a sample of Earth-size planets residing in the habitable zones of their host stars.”

In January, the team reported a similar analysis of Kepler d

Quantum ‘sealed envelope’ system enables ‘perfectly secure’ information storage.

A breakthrough in quantum cryptography demonstrates that information can be encrypted and then decrypted with complete security using the combined power of quantum theory and relativity – allowing the sender to dictate the unveiling of coded information without any possibility of intrusion or manipulation.

Scientists sent encrypted data between pairs of sites in Geneva and Singapore, kept “perfectly secure” for fifteen milliseconds – putting into practice what cryptographers call a ‘bit ‘ protocol, based on theoretical work by study co-author Dr Adrian Kent, from Cambridge’s Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics.

Researchers describe it as the first step towards impregnable information networks controlled by “the combined power of Einstein’s relativity and ” which might one day, for example, revolutionise financial trading and other markets across the world.

‘Bit commitment’ is a mathematical version of a securely sealed envelope. Data are delivered from party A to party B in a locked state that cannot be changed once sent and can only be revealed when party A provides the key – with security guaranteed, even if either of the parties tries to cheat.

The technique could one day be used for everything from global financial trading to secure voting and even long-distance gambling, although researchers point out that this is the “very first step into new territory”.

This is a significant breakthrough in the world of ‘quantum cryptography’ – one that was once believed to be impossible. The results are published in the journal Physical Review Letters.

“This is the first time perfectly secure bit commitment – relying on the laws of and nothing else – has been demonstrated,” said Adrian Kent.

“It is immensely satisfying to see these theoretical ideas at last made practical thanks to the ingenuity of all the theorists and experimenters in this collaboration.”

Any signal between Geneva and Singapore takes at least fifteen milliseconds – with a millisecond equal to a thousandth of a second. This blink-of-an-eye is long enough with current technology to allow data to be handed over encrypted at both sites, and later decrypted – with security “unconditionally guaranteed” by the laws of physics, say the team.

The researchers have exploited two different areas of physics: Einstein’s special relativity – which interprets uniform motion between two objects moving at relative speeds – combined with the power of quantum theory, the new physics of the subatomic world that Einstein famously dismissed as “spooky”.

Completely secure ‘bit commitment’ using quantum theory alone is known to be impossible, say researchers, and the “extra control” provided by relativity is crucial.

Professor Gilles Brassard FRS of the Universit’e de Montr’eal, one of the co-inventors of quantum cryptography who was not involved in this study, spoke of the “vision” he had fifteen years ago – when trying to combine quantum ‘bit commitment’ with relativity to “save” the theory – in which Einstein and early quantum physicist Niels Bohr “rise from their graves and shake hands at last”:

“Alas, my idea at the time was flawed. I am so thrilled to see this dream finally come true, not only in theory but also as a beautiful experiment!” he said.

Bit commitment is a building block – what researchers call a “primitive” – that can be put together in lots of ways to achieve increasingly complex tasks, they say. “I see this as the first step towards a global network of information controlled by the combined power of and quantum theory,” Kent said.

One possible future use of relativistic could be global stock markets and other trading networks. It might be a way of leveling the technological ‘arms race’ in which traders acquire and exploit information as fast as possible, the team suggest, although they stress at such an early stage these suggestions are speculative.

The new study builds on previous experiments that, while successful, had to assume limitations in the technology of one or both parties – and consequently not entirely “safe or satisfactory” says Kent, “since you never really know what technology is out there”.

No magic bullet for keeping off the pounds.


At his heaviest in June 2009, Matthew Shack weighed 500 pounds. He decided he was going to lose weight by tracking his calorie intake every day. At hisTORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Matthew and Amy Shack have lost a combined 425 pounds
  • Amy Shack had gastric bypass surgery, and she closely monitors her diet
  • Matthew Shack struggles to keep the pounds off but has a plan in place

Do you have a weight-loss success story to share? Tell us how you did it, and you could be featured on

(CNN) — Stories about weight loss usually have a beginning, middle and end. How did these people gain so much weight? What made them decide to change? And how much do they weigh now?

But in real life, weight loss isn’t that linear.

Matthew Shack has struggled with his weight since college when a knee injury ended his promising football career. The 35-year-old from Oxnard, California, has lost more than 100 pounds several times, only to gain it back.

“My being overweight is just — I don’t know why it’s happened to me,” Shack says. “I don’t know why I (continue to) overeat.”

After dropping out of college to join the work force, Shack ate out three meals a day, seven days a week. By his 20th birthday, the 6-foot-3 computer consultant weighed 400 pounds. He decided he wanted a girlfriend and knew it would be difficult to find one at his current size. So he started working out several hours a day.

In six months, he lost 100 pounds.

A short time later he met Amy. While the two were dating, Shack caught mononucleosis, or mono. For months, he slept 12 to 18 hours a day and slowly regained the weight he had lost.

Amy didn’t care. She had started gaining weight in middle school and never stopped. When she met Shack in 2000, she carried 180 pounds on her 5-foot-1 frame.

The couple married after three years together. When she got pregnant with their first son, Sidney, Amy weighed 220 pounds. When she delivered their second son, James, two years later, she weighed more than 300.

“We were eating out, and having fun, and we just kept on getting bigger and bigger,” Amy remembers.

Medical emergency motivates couple to lose 538 pounds

The Shacks really wanted a girl to complete their family, but Amy had trouble getting pregnant again. After undergoing infertility treatment without success, they decided to become foster parents.

The interview process was brutal. “You guys are so large, what are you going to do when you die?” Amy recalls the agency asking. “Who’s going to take care of the children when you pass on?”

It was something neither had considered.

On June 22, 2009, the Shacks celebrated their sixth anniversary at Outback Steakhouse. While they chowed down on Aussie cheese fries, several rounds of bread and butter, salad, French onion soup, an 18-ounce prime rib, baked potatoes with the works and dessert, the couple realized they had to make a change.

“We knew we were heading down a path we weren’t going to be able to come back from,” Shack says.

Amy decided that she would undergo gastric bypass surgery. Never a foodie like Shack, she figured the surgery would be the simplest way to cut back on her portion sizes.

Shack made an appointment at his doctor’s office to weigh in because his home scale wouldn’t go past 350 pounds. He figured he would top out at 400 pounds — 450 max. When the doctor’s scale hit 500, he was floored.

Shack decided to use the app LoseIt! to track his calories. He created a spreadsheet and figured out how much he needed to eat every day to reach his goal weight of 235 pounds in 14 months.

“At the end of the day, losing weight is really just a big math equation — calories in, calories out,” he says.

Amy had her surgery the following month. “The next day, it felt like a truck hit me,” she says. But she pushed through the pain, altered her diet to eat small amounts every couple of hours, and lost 100 pounds in five months.

Two months later, Amy found out she was pregnant. It was a girl.

She lost another 40 pounds during pregnancy, which worried her obstetrician. But a healthy Samantha Shack was born on November 1, 2010.

TV reporter: Lose weight or lose my job

Shack saw quick results as well. He restricted his calories to 1,400 a day and lost his first 100 pounds in a few months. By September 2010 he had lost 265 pounds and had reached his goal weight. LoseIt! called him its biggest loser ever.

That should have been the end of Shack’s story. But while losing weight is hard, keeping it off often can be even harder.

Shack stopped counting his calories and tried to stick to a healthy diet without constantly monitoring it. He barely noticed when the pounds started to creep back on.

“Since my frame is so large, I don’t gain weight in my stomach, I gain it head to toe,” he explains.

Over the next two years he reached 300 pounds, then 340.

He and Amy became foster parents, and a new influx of kids reminded Shack why he had lost weight in the first place. In April 2012, he decided he wanted to do a “century” bike ride of 100 miles. Between April and November 2012, he lost 100 pounds in training.

After the bike race he regained some, then dropped some. He recently started gaining again when he lost his job. But he’s aware of his pattern — and has a plan to tackle the extra pounds.

“I haven’t been able to find my magic bullet,” he said. “There’s usually some motivation point that makes me want to lose weight. Once I hit that goal, I kind of lose my motivation.”

Amy has maintained her goal weight of 160 pounds for more than three years. She finished a half marathon in January. She stays active — “when you have six kids, they are your activity” — and continues to monitor what she eats closely. She knows people have gained back their weight even after gastric bypass surgery.

“I’m going to battle my weight for the rest of my life,” she says.

No one’s weight loss story really has an end.

The goal of a healthy lifestyle is to avoid ending the tale too soon.