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Sunday, January 31, 2010

How stem cells can save your life

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, Arthur C. Clarke once wrote. So it is with stem cells and their almost miraculous potential to save our lives. Stem cells are so tiny that it would take a million of them clustered together to form a pin head. Yet as their name denotes all other cells 'stem' from them.

They can divide and multiply rapidly into cells that give rise to the brain, the heart, the spine, the limbs, the muscles, the skin and everything else that constitutes the human body.

Once the body is fully grown they lie dormant in the marrow of your bones, in the cavities in your eye, under the nose, in your stomach and even in your skin waiting for the signal to transform into whichever tissue or organ that is needed. They are the body's hidden biological repair system - the super mechanics with a warehouse stacked with everything you need to make your body new again.

A decade ago, not many knew how to harness their almost magical capability to heal the body. Now researchers are unlocking the mysteries these nanosized cells store and are ushering in a revolution in the treatment of a range of debilitating diseases.

In Delhi, at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), a steady stream of patients comes in for treatment of dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart becomes weakened and enlarged. It cannot pump blood efficiently and one of its symptoms is a rapid pulse - twice the normal.

Till now, short of having a heart transplant, it was among the most difficult cardiac disorders to treat. But for such patients there is new hope with AIIMS setting up a cardiovascular stem cell group that has begun, probably for the first time in the world, clinical trials to see whether the stem cells extracted from the bone marrow of patients, known as adult stem cells, could improve the heart's performance. The results are encouraging but Balram Bhargava, professor of cardiology and a co-principal investigator, says: "It's not magic yet. Still, in a field that has little options for patients, this is a definite improvement."

Eye disorders

By 24, Abhishek Sharma, who was afflicted with allergic conjunctivitis, had lost his vision in both eyes. "I couldn't recognise a person if he sat in front of me." He couldn't find a job or a bride. He approached the L.V. Prasad Eye Institute and his vision was restored within weeks. Now he is a call centre executive, married and has two children. He says: "For me it's like a miracle."

Status in India - Corneal regenerative procedures using stem cells are the most promising in India. The L.V. Prasad Institute has treated over 700 cases with much success. The Drugs Controller has approved of such therapy for widespread use.

AIIMS is also conducting a major multi-centre trial to look at the role of stem cells in repairing tissue damaged during acute heart attacks. In many such cases, even bypass surgery doesn't seem to improve the functioning of the heart. Among the earliest beneficiaries of the wonders of such stem cell treatment is S. Kabilan, a former chief secretary of Assam.

Four years ago he suffered a heart attack and underwent bypass surgery at AIIMS. When he heard about the new stem cell treatment which could regenerate damaged tissue, he readily consented to having it done. Since then the functioning of his heart has been regularly monitored and the ejection fraction--the amount of blood pumped out of a ventricle with each heartbeat--has shown considerable improvement. Says Kabilan: "I feel fit as a fiddle and have never felt better in recent times."

In Hyderabad, inside an operation theatre at the L.V. Prasad Eye Institute, Dr Virender Sangwan, a surgeon, is in the process of implanting cornea tissue grown from stem cells into the left eye of a middle-aged factory worker who had accidentally burnt it, leaving him blind in that eye.

Harvesting stem cells from the limbus, the region where the cornea touches the white of the eye, Sangwan and his team of specialists are confident of restoring the worker's sight in a matter of weeks. That stems from the fact that in the past nine years they have treated over 700 such patients with remarkable success, possibly one of the largest such regenerative experiments anywhere in the world. Because of the work of the L.V. Prasad Eye Institute and others, the Drugs Controller of India has recently cleared Reliance Life Sciences to launch the first autologous limbal stem cell therapy--the first time stem cell therapy has been officially cleared for widespread use in India.

For once, Indian scientists are not lagging behind in a key area of cutting edge research and are rubbing shoulders with the best of the business which includes countries such as the UK, Australia, China, Italy and Korea. "India now has a global presence in both basic and clinical research in stem cells. We are in the big league now," says D. Balasubramanian, L.V. Prasad's director of research and till recently chairman of the apex government committee overseeing stem cells work in the country.

In areas such as ocular, cardiovascular and neurological disorders, Stephen Minger, director of the Stem Cell Biology Laboratory at the Wolfson Centre for Age Related Diseases at King's College London, acknowledges that the research being done in India is "world class and has exciting possibilities".

Part of the reason is that the Union Government has been proactive in promoting stem cell research and clinical trials in India. The Department of Biotechnology (DBT) has launched over 100 projects at 18 premier institutes across the country to conduct not only basic research on stem cells but also test its efficacy in therapy. It has invested over Rs 300 crore, including setting up the first dedicated Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine (INSTEM) in Bangalore.

M.K. Bhan, the erudite DBT secretary, says: "What we have done is to build up the capacity, infrastructure and manpower to keep India at the forefront of the brilliant possibilities that will unfold in this decade.

Liver failure

She didn't have much of a honeymoon. Soon after being wed to B.S. Prasada Rao, a postal assistant, her liver started malfunctioning. She vomited frequently and lost weight over the years. Dispirited, she even advised her husband to remarry. Just two years back, doctors at the Lifeline Hospital, Chennai, gave her stem cell treatment and her recovery was astonishing. For the last two years there has been no complication and she is eating normally.

Status in India - Treatment of liver disorders using adult stem cells obtained from bone marrow is growing. The results are promising even in cases of cirrhosis of liver.

Traditionally, we would do science but could not translate it for clinical use. Now we have a more balanced approach so that you can have an effective hospital-based treatment as well. We would need industry though to make it a truly mass revolution."

Among the first movers from industry has been the Mumbai-based Reliance Life Sciences, a unit of Mukesh Ambani's empire. It has already set up a sophisticated cord blood repository for couples opting to store stem cells extracted from the umbilical cord soon after delivery. Reliance Life Sciences is now developing a wide range of research-led, stem cell therapies and tissue engineered products, with the objective "of bringing about an era of regenerative medicine", as K.V. Subramaniam, its President and CEO, puts it.

Subramaniam estimates that in just two years, about 164 million patients, or 16 per cent of India, suffering from diabetes, cardiovascular disorders, neurological disorders, burns and wounds, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis and liver disorders would benefit from stem cell therapies in India. But he cautions that it is still a long haul as the scalability of treatment remains an issue. Reliance is also one among the score of institutions in the world that has developed its own independent embryonic stem cell lines and is conducting research on them.

Fortunately for India, stem cell research here has not been derailed or devoid of funding over ethical issues concerning the use of embryonic stem cells as it had been in the US. Embryonic stem cells which are harvested within less than a week after fertilisation takes place in an ovum are among the most powerful cells with an ability to develop into any of the 200 types of cells or tissues needed by the body.

Former US President George Bush had stopped all government funding for embryonic stem cell research as he backed conservatives and religious groups who argued that you cannot destroy life in order to save it. Bush's veto has been overturned by Barack Obama who believed in the argument that these embryonic stem cells hardly constituted lives and in fact more lives were saved by research.

Meanwhile, India has developed over a dozen embryonic stem lines and is now using them to carry out basic research in key laboratories. But as in most countries of the world, the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR), in its guidelines for stem cell research formulated in 2007 has forbidden the use of embryonic cells for clinical treatment. Though with Shinya Yamanaka, the Japanese stem cell biologist, recently demonstrating that he could derive stem cells of the potency of embryonic ones from skin tissue, it has become a game changer.

Ethical debates over its use may soon be a thing of the past if his technique is perfected and it shows that no tumours develop. Karan Goel, organiser of the Stem Cell Global Foundation, estimates that the world market for stem cell therapy is projected to increase from an estimated $30 billion (Rs 1,44,000 crore) in 2009 to $96 billion (Rs 4,60,800 crore) by 2015.

At the same time, Indian couples are flocking in droves to cord blood banks to preserve stem cells that could be extracted from the umbilical cord when it is severed after delivery. The steep prices of between Rs 75,000 to Rs 1 lakh to preserve cord blood in cryogenic storage vaults for a period of 21 years hasn't discouraged takers and over a dozen such banks have been set up in all major metros.

Heart Diseases

S. Kabilan, a senior bureaucrat and former chief secretary of Assam, had a bypass surgery at AIIMS, Delhi, four years ago. He was advised stem cell therapy to repair his damaged heart. Within six months of treatment, the amount of blood pumped out of his ventricles with each heartbeat showed considerable improvement. Four years later his heart is in good condition and Kabilan says, "I feel fit as a fiddle."

Status in India - India is among the leaders in the world in the treatment of heart disorders using stem cells. AIIMS itself has treated over 100 cases of both acute heart attacks and cardiomyopathy with some success. Multi-clinical trials are now in five institutes to validate the efficacy of stem cell treatment for heart diseases.

In Gurgaon last week, a couple frantically registered with Cryobanks International for extracting cells of the wife's second pregnancy. Their first child, a boy, was suffering from leukemia and they came to know that cord blood stem cells could be used for treating even the siblings and parents of the baby. Cryobanks CEO Chaitanya Nerikar says that since it was set up three years ago, it has expanded to 75 collection centres and now has over 10,000 samples stored in its vaults. The unit is run almost like a nuclear research facility with tight security and protocols.

The growing popularity of cord blood banks is partly because of the encouraging results coming out from a host of clinical research being done in hospitals across the country. At the Lifeline Multispeciality Hospital in Chennai, Latif Ahmed, a truck driver, is showing all the signs of an astonishing recovery after being diagnosed for cirrhosis of the liver caused possibly by overuse of alcohol. He could barely eat his favourite non-vegetarian food, his blood pressure had dropped and there was internal bleeding.

Normally, the only cure would be an expensive liver transplant. About nine months ago, doctors treated his liver with stem cells extracted from his bone marrow. Within a month, his liver showed signs of recovering and last week it was almost back to normal. Ahmed says, "I am back to eating mutton biryani without any discomfort."

Apart from liver complications, Lifeline has treated over 280 patients having severe spinal injuries, including paralysis, with stem cells. Almost one out of four showed significant motor and sensory improvement. There have been controversies over whether Lifeline has been ethical in its methods of treatment and claims of success. But J. S. Rajkumar, its chairman, dismisses all such criticism saying, "It's easy to rubbish our work but our data speaks for itself. People can always say why, but I say why not. It's not a panacea but stem cells are a great alternative. It is already bringing down the costs of treatment."

Controversies have always dogged stem cell treatment ever since it began in earnest a decade ago. In Moscow, beauty salons began offering it as a cure for wrinkles, hair loss and dry skin but many of the patients reportedly ended up with tumours. In South Korea, a leading researcher was exposed for fraudulently claiming he had developed a human stem line through nuclear transfer. In India, P. Venugopal, a former AIIMS director, walked the ethical edge when he rammed through stem cell treatment for cardiac disorders when he was head of the institution.

Since then, as Geeta Jotwani of ICMR points out, the DBT along with the ICMR have tightened controls and issued stringent guidelines for both research on stem cells and clinical trials. Balasubramanian says, "The problem is that it is more unethical than illegal, so you do have fly-by-night operators which patients have to be careful about." Bhan is for a legislation to be passed but prefers to wait for a year because, "so rapid are the changes in stem cell research that the law may become outdated even before it is passed."

There is a clear need to tone down the hype about the benefits of stem cell therapy till solid basic research validates its efficacy. Jyotsna Dhawan, dean of the newly formed INSTEM, says, "We should not have stem cells hyped up as being a magic bullet. There is need for a lot more basic research to understand the mechanism that affects the degenerative and regenerative process. We need to understand how these cells are set aside and retained as a reserve population and remain neither divided nor differentiated till the appropriate time. Also, how they go about repairing tissue." There are still huge gaps in the understanding of how the stem cells actually go about doing their work and how they will behave in the body.

Spinal injuries

While returning from Corbett National Park two years ago, Piyush Sharma had a car ram his motorbike leaving him with an injured spinal cord. He was paralysed from waist down and doctors implanted a steel plate in his back. Stem cell treatment at a private hospital in Rudrapur, Uttarakhand, six months ago, made him capable of moving his lower limbs partially and regain bladder control. He says, "It has given me new hope."

Status in India - Treatment of spinal injuries using stem cell therapy has been encouraging if not spectacular. In Chennai, a study of 280-odd patients found 23 per cent registering improvement.

BLOOD DISORDERS

Harshil was diagnosed with thalassemia major at birth, a rare blood disorder where its ability to produce haemoglobin is defective. His parents, Ravin Nanda, a paan shop owner in Ahmedabad, and Trupti, were devastated. Stem cell treatment at the Gujarat Cancer Research Institute by Dr Sandip Shah was a success, making Harshil the second such patient to be successfully treated and showing a ray of hope to such patients in India.

Status in India - Treatment of disorders like thalassemia and cancers of the blood is only now gaining a foothold in India. While experts say the potential is good, it is far from being realised.

Doctors don't want to be putting a stem cell into the brain and discovering that it was a bone! Moreover as Sujata Mohanty, head of AIIMS Stem Cells Facility, points out, "There is a huge difference between what we achieve in the lab and its efficacy with patients. Each patient has his or her own recovery pattern and would need different cell dosages.

So we still have plenty to understand about the processes." Getting stem cells to grow a tooth or as a cure for baldness is still a long way. Yet as Balasubramian says, "Stem cells are both exciting and promising, and the future would only see an increase in this therapy." Therein lies the hope.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

TOP 10 THINGS TO REDUCE GLOBAL WARMING



Burning fossil fuels such as natural gas, coal, oil and gasoline raises the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and carbon dioxide is a major contributor to the green house effect and global warming.
You can help to reduce the demand for fossil fuels, which in turn reduces global warming, by using energy more wisely. Here are 10 simple actions you can take to help reduce global warming.

1. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Do your part to reduce waste by choosing reusable products instead of disposables. Buying products with minimal packaging (including the economy size when that makes sense for you) will help to reduce waste. And whenever you can, recycle paper, plastic, newspaper, glass and aluminum cans. If there isn't a recycling program your workplace, school, or in your community, ask about starting one. By recycling half of your household waste, you can save 2,400 pounds of carbon dioxide annually.

2. Use Less Heat and Air Conditioning

Adding insulation to your walls and attic, and installing weather stripping or caulking around doors and windows can lower your heating costs more than 25 percent, by reducing the amount of energy you need to heat and cool your home.
Turn down the heat while you’re sleeping at night or away during the day, and keep temperatures moderate at all times. Setting your thermostat just 2 degrees lower in winter and higher in summer could save about 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide each year.

3. change A Light Blub

Wherever practical, replace regular light bulbs with compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs. Replacing just one 60-watt incandescent light bulb with a CFL will save you $30 over the life of the bulb. CFLs also last 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs, use two-thirds less energy, and give off 70 percent less heat.
If every U.S. family replaced one regular light bulb with a CFL, it would eliminate 90 billion pounds of greenhouse gases, the same as taking 7.5 million cars off the road.

4. Drive Less And Drive Smart

Less driving means fewer emissions. Besides saving gasoline, walking and biking are great forms of exercise. Explore your community’s mass transit system, and check out options for carpooling to work or school.
When you do drive, make sure your car is running efficiently. For example, keeping your tires properly inflated can improve your gas mileage by more than 3 percent. Every gallon of gas you save not only helps your budget, it also keeps 20 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

5. Buy Energy-Efficient Products

When it's time to buy a new car, choose one that offers good gas mileage. Home appliances now come in a range of energy-efficient models, and compact florescent bulbs are designed to provide more natural-looking light while using far less energy than standard light bulbs.
Avoid products that come with excess packaging, especially molded plastic and other packaging that can't be recycled. If you reduce your household garbage by 10 percent, you can save 1,200 pounds of carbon dioxide annually.

6. Use Less Hot Water

Set your water heater at 120 degrees to save energy, and wrap it in an insulating blanket if it is more than 5 years old. Buy low-flow showerheads to save hot water and about 350 pounds of carbon dioxide yearly. Wash your clothes in warm or cold water to reduce your use of hot water and the energy required to produce it. That change alone can save at least 500 pounds of carbon dioxide annually in most households. Use the energy-saving settings on your dish washer and let the dishes air-dry.

7. Use the "Off" Switch

Save electricity and reduce global warming by turning off lights when you leave a room, and using only as much light as you need. And remember to turn off your television, video player, stereo and computer when you're not using them.
It's also a good idea to turn off the water when you're not using it. While brushing your teeth, shampooing the dog or washing your car, turn off the water until you actually need it for rinsing. You'll reduce your water bill and help to conserve a vital resource.

8. Plant a Tree

If you have the means to plant a tree, start digging. During photosynthesis, trees and other plants absorb carbon dioxide and give off oxygen. They are an integral part of the natural atmospheric exchange cycle here on Earth, but there are too few of them to fully counter the increases in carbon dioxide caused by automobile traffic, manufacturing and other human activities. A single tree will absorb approximately one ton of carbon dioxide during its lifetime.

9. Get a Report Card from Utility company


Many utility companies provide free home energy audits to help consumers identify areas in their homes that may not be energy efficient. In addition, many utility companies offer rebate programs to help pay for the cost of energy-efficient upgrades.

10. Encourage Others to Conserve

Share information about recycling and energy conservation with your friends, neighbors and co-workers, and take opportunities to encourage public officials to establish programs and policies that are good for the environment.
These 10 steps will take you a long way toward reducing your energy use and your monthly budget. And less energy use means less dependence on the fossil fuels that create greenhouse gases and contribute to global warming.

Monday, January 25, 2010

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Cyber Threats to Watch Out for in 2010

By Dilbag Koundal



Security is a huge part of the job for most IT administrators. We’re always striving to protect our organizations from the latest barrage of viruses, worms, and other malware. With 2009 over, what types of threats could we face in the year ahead? The recent 2010 Threat Predictions report from McAfee pegs a few different areas to watch out for in 2010.

Social networks will be one key breeding ground for cyber attacks, says McAfee. As sites like Twitter and Facebook (News - Alert) continue to grow in popularity, especially among the business crowd, cyber crooks will increasingly employ their usual bag of tricks to try to ensnare users.
A site like Facebook can be especially vulnerable as many people will implicitly and unthinkingly trust any "invitation" from their friends. But as McAfee points out, that next invite to play a cool game or run an interesting application from a Facebook friend could be a fake app created by a cybercriminal designed to infect your PC. We've already seen such malware attacking Facebook, such as the infamous Koobface worm that first reared its ugly head about a year ago.
Personally, I've just about stopped playing games, filling out quizzes, and running most applications in Facebook. I've never been comfortable with the way a Facebook app needs to gain access to your personal information in order to run. That's always seemed like an open vulnerability that could easily allow the wrong people to learn too much about you. Now McAfee's reminder that these apps are also a way to spread malware is something IT admins and Facebook users should keep in mind.
Another area to watch out for is the use of URL shorteners, popular on social networking and bookmarking sites. Services like bit.ly and tinyurl.com shorten URL strings so they can fit in smaller spaces, such as the 140-character limit imposed by Twitter. But you can't preview a shortened URL, so you don't know where it's going to take you until the page pops up. This makes it easy for cyber crooks to point these URLs to pages that could deliver malware.
Microsoft apps have traditionally been a popular target for malware writers. But that "honor" may switch over to Adobe this year. As Adobe Reader and Flash have become more prevalent, they've also become more of a target for cybercriminals. Adobe Reader in particular has been hit by security holes over the past year, forcing Adobe to take a more active role in keep its app properly patched.
Other threats that McAfee sees in its crystal ball for 2010:
Banking trojans designed to grab your financial account information may become more advanced. Already in 2009, they showed off the ability to sneak past some of the protections currently used by banks. McAfee warns that this year they may be able to silently interrupt transactions and even make withdrawals without being detected.
E-mail attachments will also continue to grow as a primary means of spreading malware. McAfee believes that these attachments could even target specific audiences, such as corporations, journalists - not good news on my end - and individuals.
Botnets, which are responsible for carrying out cyberattacks, will also increasingly use peer-to-peer networking to hop from one computer to another without a central base of operations. Such a strategy will make it more difficult for security professionals to track them down.
So how do you prepare yourself for the potential threats that lie ahead? Well, naturally since McAfee wrote the report, the company would like you to buy its own security software to protect your users. And McAfee does offer software with certain capabilities, such as the ability to scan shortened URLs. The company also recently struck a deal with Facebook to provide Facebook users with a free six-month subscription to its security software.
But any good security suite or application would be your first line of defense in protecting you and your users from the coming threats. It goes without saying that choosing and using the right software and keeping it updated is critical, no matter what security software you deploy. Also, make sure that you keep your organization's PCs updated with the latest patches from Microsoft to protect the operating system, office suite, and browser.
But beyond the right software, user education is vital. Make sure your users are aware of the latest threats and realize that their actions can have consequences. They need to think twice before opening a file attachment or downloading an application that could expose them and your business to malware. Though 2010 may bring its own share of cyber threats like any other year, protecting your organization and your users is the best role you can play.

Friday, January 8, 2010

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Saturday, January 2, 2010

The 101 most useful websites


 There are tens of millions of sites to visit on the internet. Not forgetting Telegraph.co.uk, here are the ones you actually need. 




The internet - like the world - is a massive and often confusing place
Read the whole list in Seven in this Sunday's Sunday Telegraph
NEWS AND COMMENT | Full list of the best news and comment websites
Related Articles

· The 101 most useful websites

· Best websites: organizing your life

· YouTube videos: the best channels

· Best websites: Education

· Best websites: Travel

· Best websites: News and Comment

1. The Daily Beast (thedailybeast.com) is a busy bluffer’s dream. This news and opinion website features a daily Cheat Sheet with summaries of must reads from all over.
2. Slate (slate.com) has news, politics, arts, business and science with a host of high-profile contributors.
3. Salon (salon.com) has a glossy dollop of lifestyle and two busy comment boards atop its core of news and culture.
EDUCATION | Full list of the best education websites
1. Make magazine’s videos and podcasts (blog.makezine.com/podcast) have dozens of weekend projects, some macho, some crafty, for the DIY-minded.
2. The Orwell Diaries (orwelldiaries.wordpress.com) publish George Orwell’s domestic and political diaries as a blog, exactly 70 years after they were originally written.
3. Everything on iTunes (apple.com/itunes) is free, amazing given that it offers recordings of lectures from some of the world’s most venerable institutions (Yale, Moma, Oxford, Tate).
CULTURE | Full list of the best the web has to offer for the arts
1. The Stage (thestage.co.uk) has all the latest theatre news and reviews – and the most comprehensive coverage of bickering among critics.
2. Io9 (io9.com) is a science fiction entertainment blog written from a female point of view. Sci-fi geeks leave the best comments.
3. Metacritic (metacritic.com) is an easy-to-navigate database of the combined wisdom of the leading (US) critics of music, television, film and games.
TRAVEL | Full list of the best and most useful travel websites
1. Tripadvisor (tripadvisor.co.uk) boasts more than 11 million members, clubbing together to rate and review hotels, B&Bs, restaurants and more throughout the world.
2. Travelsupermarket (travelsupermarket.com) covers everything from late package deals to insurance; one of the best price comparison sites.
3. Tripit (tripit.com) lets you use details from multiple travel sites to create one master itinerary, then furnish it with maps, weather reports and activities.
HOME | Full list of the most useful websites to make your house a home
1. Bob’s Books (bobbooks.co.uk) lets you turn video footage into a flick-book, design your own calendar and transform frumpy photo albums into glossy coffee-table books.
2. The House Directory (thehousedirectory.com) searches more than 3,500 companies to source the best furnishings for your home.
3. On Etsy (etsy.com) anyone can buy and sell vintage and handmade goods; quality varies (see regretsy.com for some of the less desirable items) but worth a scour.
FOOD AND DRINK | Full list of the best online sources for food and drink inspiration
1. Epicurious (epicurious.com) has a vast range of recipes, primers on baking bread and making pies, and an iPhone app to create shopping lists from recipes.
2. Supercook (supercook.com) is a recipe site with a clever twist: you enter the ingredients you have at home and the search engine finds recipes from food sites to use what you’ve got.
3. Jamie Oliver, Delia Smith and Nigella Lawson are all generous with recipes on their sites (jamieoliver.com, deliaonline.com, nigella.com); Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall puts the emphasis on seasonal produce on his (rivercottage.net).
GREEN | Full list of the best websites to help you live and buy green
1. Recycle Now (recyclenow.com) lets you find out about recycling in your area, offers tips on home composting and suggests ways to become greener.
2. What Do They Know (whatdotheyknow.com) is an online platform for individuals to query local government bodies and to put in freedom of information requests.
3. The Hunger Site (thehungersite.com) is an easy way to give to charity. Click on the site and its sponsors will then donate some money to one of several good causes, such as cancer research, literacy, hunger.
FAMILY AND KIDS | Full list of the best websites for parenting and family life
1. Mumsnet (mumsnet.com) is a tip-swapping, advice-proffering, review-writing, experience-sharing hub of parental activity.
2. You can search for your ancestors and build a family tree on Genes Reunited (genesreunited.co.uk), Britain’s most popular family history site.
3. If you’re searching for ancestors abroad, Family Search (familysearch.org), a free resource of international genealogy records, is a great place to start.
FUN | Full list of the most amusing sites on the internet
1. If you’ve ever lived with a food hoarder or neat freak you’ll appreciate the strained tones of the messages on Passive-Aggressive Notes (passiveaggressivenotes.com).
2. Smartkit (smart-kit.com) is home to all sorts of puzzles (jigsaw puzzles, sudoku, cryptograms) to help you train your brain.
3. Letters of Note (lettersofnote.com) is a stylish site with scans of letters, telegrams, faxes and memos: Einstein encouraging Roosevelt to pursue atomic research, the Museum of Modern Art turning down a gift from Andy Warhol in 1956.
1. If you’ve ever lived with a food hoarder or neat freak you’ll appreciate the strained tones of the messages on Passive-Aggressive Notes (passiveaggressivenotes.com).
2. Smartkit (smart-kit.com) is home to all sorts of puzzles (jigsaw puzzles, sudoku, cryptograms) to help you train your brain.
3. Letters of Note (lettersofnote.com) is a stylish site with scans of letters, telegrams, faxes and memos: Einstein encouraging Roosevelt to pursue atomic research, the Museum of Modern Art turning down a gift from Andy Warhol in 1956.
VIDEO | Full list of best archive footage and videosharing websites
1. Vimeo (vimeo.com) is a video-sharing site with playful, arty, HD content, supported by a friendly community of users, Kanye West, Lykke Li and Moby among them.
2. BBC iPlayer (bbc.co.uk/iplayer/) and 4 on Demand (channel4.com/programmes/4od) are still the big beasts for (legal) online television watching.
3. Visit the Viral video chart (viralvideochart.unrulymedia.com) to see the making of an internet sensation, be it a panda sneezing or Susan Boyle.
YOUTUBE CHANNELS | Full list of the best channels on YouTube
1. Chow’s channel (youtube.com/user/chow ) offers practical guidance for gourmands from cooking perfect rice to cleaning a rack of lamb with string.
2. Berkeley’s channel (youtube.com/user/ucberkeley) is packed with superb lectures. Among the most popular are Professor Marian Diamond’s on integrative biology: she looks like a Golden Girl but knows how to dissect brains.
3. At Cambridge (youtube.com/user/CambridgeUniversity) you can see David Starkey hold forth on Henry VIII or William Hague on William Pitt.
LIFE MANAGEMENT | Full list of the best websites to help you organise your life
1. Doodle (doodle.com) is a nifty tool that allows groups of busy friends to propose, vote on and schedule dates and times for meet ups. Sorted.
2. At drop.io (drop.io) you can upload pretty much anything – pictures, documents, audio/video – and share them with anyone, who can comment and collaborate within seconds.
3. Got a spare gig ticket? Want one? Seatwave (seatwave.com), an online marketplace, lets fans buy and sell event tickets safely and easily.

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