Reddit provides cancer sufferer with early showing of Star Trek: Into Darkness

"The last thing he got to do that gave him pleasure was watch the new Star Trek movie."

I spend a lot of time here highlighting some of the worst corners of geek culture, so I thought it would be time to switch it up a bit.

Two weeks ago, Grady Hendrix, who goes by the name ideeeyut on Reddit, posted on r/startrek, about Daniel Craft, a friend of his who was dying of cancer. Dan's wife, Paige, described her husband's aggressive leukaemia, multiple surgeries and rounds of chemo, before a second unrelated cancer was found. The tumour in his liver was the last straw, and at 41, Dan had just weeks to live. And on top of everything else:

He was hospitalized and had to exchange our HOBBITT tickets (where the 10 min Star Trek preview was supposed to be shown) we were able to put him in a car and get over to the HOBBITT but NO PREVIEW????

We, his friends and family, the love of my life - WOULD LOVE him to be able to see the Star Trek movie but even the 10 minutes of the trailer would be AMAZING.

The post hit the front page of r/startrek, and a day or so later, according to a follow-up post from Hendrix:

Paige… got a voicemail from JJ Abrams and Damon Lindelof that was very nice and very straightforward: a producer for the movie would get in touch with them. The next day, one of the film's producers showed up at the door of their apartment with a DVD containing a very rough cut of Star Trek: Into Darkness in his hands. Paige had made popcorn, Dan had spent the previous day resting so he could sit through the movie, and after signing about 200 non-disclosure agreements they watched the film and had a blast.

Afterwards, Dan got back into bed, exhausted, and didn't get out again. Yesterday he was pretty non-responsive and Paige took him to the hospital for hospice care. Last night, at 10:15pm, with Paige and his brother in his room, Dan died. The last thing he got to do that gave him pleasure was watch the new Star Trek movie. And it's because of you.

Hendrix spoke to the Hollywood Reporter about his friend, with whom he had co-founded the New York Asian Film Festival in 2002:

Like the other directors of NYAFF, it was merely fulfilling a passion; Craft still had a day job: He worked in the data department for MTV until, due to his illness, he was no longer able to work. The film buff was also fluent in Mandarin, and even tried his hand at acting in a few Chinese television series. "He always played the evil white guy," Hendrix says. His biggest claim to fame might have been as an extra in Kill Bill Vol. 1, where Hendrix says Craft was "the bald white guy dancing on a dance floor."

"Dan would be rolling his eyes at being 'the inspirational cancer story,' but he's done a lot for movies over the years," Hendrix says. "It's nice that the movies finally did something for him."

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Brain training: exposing the myth behind cognitive-enhancement games

A new study indicates that any benefits gained from brain games may be down to the placebo effect.

If you’ve ever searched for a quick-fix to mental lethargy, it’s likely that you’ve browsed through your smartphone app store to take a look at the latest offerings of brain-training games.

I certainly have. These games have been designed to sharpen people’s mental acuity, while offering “scientifically proven” means for improving IQs; through a variety of mini-games and careful documentation of improvements to intelligence parameters, people would wield the tools needed to craft the desired, smarter minds that the apps promise.

And the market for them has showed no sign of slowing down. In the space of a few years, the demand for the apps has made the industry a billion-dollar one, with growth expected to continue. A couple of the most popular apps have included Lumosity, a web-based program boasting more than 50m users seeking to “improve memory, attention, flexibility, speed of processing and problem solving”, and mobile-based Peak, whose similar goals and striking visuals entice potential users.

Though the apps have had huge amounts of success, there is a new body of research emerging to suggest that the successes may not be as a result of the games themselves, but because of the placebo effect.

The placebo effect is a phenomenon in which a dummy treatment or process can cause significant changes in a person – simply because that person believes the placebo (posing as a real treatment) will help them. With medication, it can be the mere presentation of a sugar pill disguised as a medicine which can cause a patient to get better. And in the case of apps and games, it seems that anything which promises users cognitive benefit, is more likely to do so.

In a study entitled “Placebo effects in cognitive training” published on Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers found that participants who engaged in brain-training games for a single, one hour session showed improvements in IQ by up to ten points, but only if they believed the games would benefit them.

The group of cognitive scientists from George Mason University, Virginia, set up the experiment in a particular way to determine whether or not the placebo effect was involved.

50 participants were recruited, after two different posters asking people to sign up to a study were plastered around campus: one labelled “brain training & cognitive enhancement” and the other “email today & participate in a study”. The rewards for the former promised boosts in intelligence, while rewards for the latter granted study credits. Unknown to participants, however, was that both tests were the same, meaning any resulting changes to IQ were as a result of what participants were telling themselves about the tests.

The tests centred around the engagement of working memory and other factors to impact fluid intelligence – a type of intelligence which revolves around the application of logic and reason, independent of acquired knowledge. Those who chose to sign up to the “brain training & cognitive enhancement” study, aka the placebo study, were the ones to show remarkable gains in IQ after completing a post-brain games IQ test; gains of five to ten IQ points being made. Those who signed up for the control showed no signs of improvement.

Speaking to the Huffington Post, researcher and co-author of the study Cyrus Foroughi said: “Placebos are very pervasive and they have to be controlled for in a tremendous number of fields. This field is no different. So we put together the study to actually test whether expectation for a positive effect can lead to a positive outcome.”

Within the scientific community, frustration had already mounted as a result of the falsely promoted uses of brain games, particularly as tools to reverse age-related, cognitive-faltering illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease. Overstated claims through advertising were enough to encourage scientists to sign an open letter in 2014, condemning the inaccurately purported benefits of brain training games. Earlier this year, Lumosity was fined $2m by the Federal Trade Commission for deceiving consumers with “unfounded claims”.

The recent findings strengthen this position, as the effects of cognitive training games seem less to do with the content of the games themselves, and more to do with what users tell themselves will happen after a session of, brain-training puzzle bonanzas. That’s not to say the games themselves don’t offer some benefit – it’s just that further clarification is needed to understand what they exactly contribute to, with the placebo effect factored in.

While scientists expand on their research to pinpoint the real effects of brain games, it seems for now that the best options to keep our brains active are the ones we are most familiar with: learn a language, do some exercise, or maybe just read a book.