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  • One of the great ironies of lockdowns, border closures, and self-isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic is that medical students, as with so many other people in education, were forced online for their ongoing studies. Medical education, as with many other vocational areas of learning, requires its students to be very hands-on, at least for a fairly large part of the time. Research in the International Journal of Innovation in Education, has looked at medical education in Italy as it was affected by the pandemic.

    Benedetta Agnelli, Silvia Oldani, Valeriano Vinci, Mattia Loppini, Ferdinando Cananzi, Damiano Chiari, and Licia Montagna of the Humanitas University in Milan, and Fabrizio Consorti of the Sapienza University of Rome, discuss how practical activities were relocated online so that students could continue to learn the requisite methodological and cognitive skills associated with medicine. Among those skills are understanding patient history (anamnesis), clinical reasoning, procedural skills, case discussion, and such. They discuss their experience of Professionalising Activities in the form of e-learning and reveal the advantages and limitations so that others in medical education might learn from this experience.

    Professionalising Activities are a vital part of the practical training at Humanitas University and so the pandemic presented many major challenges to the educators there hoping to train their undergraduate medical students to be good doctors. Thankfully, innovative technology at this point in history made it possible, despite pandemic lockdowns, for medical students to continue their training online albeit with some limitations.

    The team suggests that given the situation of the crisis in which humanity found itself e-learning allowed training to be undertaken in such a way that students could improve reflection and self-learning aspects of their education in a way that traditional training did not necessarily facilitate.

    Agnelli, B., Oldani, S., Vinci, V., Loppini, M., Cananzi, F., Chiari, D., Montagna, L. and Consorti, F. (2022) 'Medical education in Covid-19 pandemic: e-learning based professionalising activities', Int. J. Innovation in Education, Vol. 7, Nos. 3/4, pp.193–208.
    DOI: 10.1504/IJIIE.2022.10049290

  • A study in the International Journal of Mobile Communications has investigated what personality traits and demographic factors are associated with use of one of the most well-known apps in China, the instant messaging, social media, and mobile payment app WeChat.

    WeChat was developed by Chinese multinational conglomerate Tencent and first released in 2011. It has more than a billion active monthly users and is often described as China's "app for everything". It has a lot of functionality, which is not uncommon among social media apps, allowing users to swap text messages, make phone calls, carry out video conferencing, broadcast messages to groups, reveal location information to other users, play video games, and share photographs and videos. Apps like WeChat are essentially an always-on digital multi-tool for many people.

    Hua Pang of the School of New Media and Communication at Tianjin University in Tianjin, China, has looked at whether it is possible to predict who might use WeChat based on standard personality traits such as extraversion, neuroticism, and openness to experience as well as their demographic characteristics. Data from a web-based survey of adults in China was subject to correlation analysis and multiple hierarchical regression analysis.

    The findings suggest that extraversion is most commonly associated with the likelihood of WeChat use in men and women, as one might expect, and this was especially true among young users. Men with neuroticism were also inclined to be heavy users, Pang found. Pang also found that older people who self-reported as being open to new experiences were also likely to be WeChat users. The work reaffirms the findings of other studies in this area and points to new avenues that might be explored to look at the subtleties of social media use as it relates to personality and demographics.

    Pang H. (2022) 'Exploring the effects of personality characteristics and demographic factors on WeChat involvement among adults', Int. J. Mobile Communications, Vol. 20, No. 5, pp.590–608.
    DOI: 10.1504/IJMC.2022.10039642

  • Electronic waste is an enormous, and growing, problem around the world, with unimaginable numbers of broken and obsolete devices and gadgets being fed into a waste stream that threatens to become a deluge. Not only is the problem one of waste and loss of rare and costly materials, but many of the materials, the metals in particular, represent an environmental threat if they enter ecosystems.

    Regulations at the national and international level attempt to address the problem of electronic waste with different degrees of success. Research published in the International Journal of Environmental Technology and Management, has looked at the problem from the perspective of Vietnam where it is estimated that more than ten million units of electronic waste are generated each year.

    The study looks at how Vietnam manages its electronic waste under regulations introduced in 2015 on the retrieval and treatment of discarded products and extended producer responsibility. Moreover, it considers how these policies fit into the 2020 law on environmental protection and how the pros and cons of these local regulations and laws might help guide policymakers in other developing nations that are also facing the growing problems of e-waste.

    Nguyen Trung Thang and Duong Thi Phuong Anh of the Institute of Strategy and Policy on Natural Resources and Environment (ISPONRE) in Ha Noi, Vietnam, and Sunil Herat of Griffith University, Nathan Campus in Queensland, Australia, point out that poor handling of electronic waste is a serious concern in terms of environmental health and human health.

    Many developing nations are yet to understand fully the implications and develop laws to allow them to cope. In Vietnam, e-waste has not yet been well defined and much of it still enters the general waste stream. Where it is more appropriately processed, recyclers often lack the understanding or the equipment to handle it properly and to safely extract and retrieve rare and toxic materials. Indeed, so-called craft villages set up to extract metals commonly burn old gadgets, generating huge amounts of toxic fumes and using the most rudimentary of methods to retrieve and recycle metals from those devices.

    The approach must change, policymakers and regulators need to take control of the electronic waste stream, educate those involved in disposal and recycling and encourage them to recognise the benefits and perhaps offer incentives so that safe and appropriate e-waste processing is more widely adopted. The team adds that the developed world needs both technical and financial assistance in this regard from the developed world to ensure its local electronic waste streams don't simply add to a global problem.

    Thang, N.T., Herat, S. and Anh, D.T.P. (2022) 'Current status of e-waste management in Vietnam', Int. J. Environmental Technology and Management, Vol. 25, No. 5, pp.388–405.
    DOI: 10.1504/IJETM.2022.10049448

  • Chaos theory can be used to encrypt, with computational efficiency, a colour image, according to work published in the International Journal of Ad Hoc and Ubiquitous Computing. The non-linear approach described performs far better than conventional encryption algorithms for such digital assets.

    Subhrajyoti Deb of the ICFAI University Tripura, Bubu Bhuyan of North-Eastern Hill University in Shillong, Nirmalya Kar of the National Institute of Technology in Agartala, K. Sudheer Reddy of Anurag University, in Hyderabad, India, explain how strong encryption is essential for a wide range of digital assets, not least colour images. Traditional encryption tools can treat a file that encodes for a colour image as if it were a text document but that approach is very inefficient given the different qualities of a displayed image when compared with a text document.

    As such, there is considerable waste in terms of time and computing resources when encrypting an image using encryption algorithms designed to encrypt text. Moreover, such an approach, not being optimized for an image also makes them susceptible to decryption by a third party because of the characteristics of the encrypted file, wherein it might contain excessive redundancy because of long strings with the same pixel values. Various researchers have suggested alternative approaches such as using chaos theory, cellular automata, or quantum theory, to make encryption of images more efficient and less prone to attack. Fundamentally, there is a need to randomize the pixels encoded by the image file in a reversible way that is efficient and next-to-impossible to breach without the encryption key.

    The team has used a modified version of the Grain-128 cipher to address the issues facing those who need to encrypt colour images. The result is an encrypted file that has a satisfactory key space, low correlation and high randomness. The encrypted image has the appearance of random, colour noise when displayed on a screen. Overall, the improvements over traditional text encryption approaches gives the team an efficient and essentially uncrackable encrypted file that cannot be breached using standard occlusion, rotation, and noise attacks.

    Deb, S., Bhuyan, B., Kar, N. and Reddy, K.S. (2022) 'Colour image encryption using an improved version of stream cipher and chaos', Int. J. Ad Hoc and Ubiquitous Computing, Vol. 41, No. 2, pp.118–133.
    DOI: 10.1504/IJAHUC.2022.10045645

  • Research in the International Journal of Bioinformatics Research and Applications has investigated the chemistry and behaviour of a useful natural product made by the Madagascar periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus Bunge). The work could expand the repertoire of a growing area of chemical science – biotransformation – wherein nature's molecular machinery is used to build and alter novel compounds in the laboratory.

    Many natural products, by definition chemical compounds made by living organisms, have physiological activity and have been isolated from their source and researched and developed into pharmaceutical products. Indeed, approximately two in every five prescription drugs have an origin in natural products. Commonly, however, the active chemical in a living organism is modified for a particular purpose or drug profile with different, more target activity in a disease, and fewer, or less harmful, side effects, for instance. In addition, modifying a natural product is often a prerequisite to making a new pharmaceutical sufficiently different that a successful patent application can be made and a drug brought to market profitably.

    In the last few decades, chemists have found ways to use enzymes to modify natural products and in turn, they have found ways to modify enzymes to make them work differently and allow them to process natural products and other molecules in different ways to generate unprecedented molecular diversity. Any one of these huge numbers of new molecules could have physiological activity that might be useful in treating particular diseases and disorders.

    Piotr Szymczyk; Grażyna Szymańska; Małgorzata Majewska; Izabela Weremczuk-Jeżyna; Michał Kołodziejczyk; Kamila Czarnecka; Paweł Szymański, and Ewa Kochan of the Medical University of Lódz, in Lódz, Poland, have investigated part of nature's molecular machinery, an enzyme known as C. roseus strictosidine ß-D-glucosidase. Enzymes are proteins that act on small molecules, their substrates, and convert that substrate into another molecule used by the living organism. The team reports the structure of this enzyme from the periwinkle with a focus on the pocket in its molecular structure that binds to the substrate, the enzyme's active site.

    The team built a computer model of the periwinkle enzyme using Discovery Studio 4.1 software and a template for the enzyme based on another known enzyme from a ß-glucosidase found in rice, which they modified to match the known details for the periwinkle enzyme. They could then use a second computer program – an algorithm called CDOCKER – to see how different chemical substrates would interact with the active site of the model periwinkle enzyme. They tested the natural substrate a molecule known as strictosidine and a second chemical D-glucono 1,5-lactone. This latter molecule is known to bind to the enzyme and inhibit its activity. The docking process in which substrate is put into the active site, like a key into a lock, then allowed the team to refine the structure of the periwinkle enzyme to make the fine details of the model closer to those seen in nature. To do this molecular dynamics software was used.

    Ultimately, the work extends what was previously known about the periwinkle enzyme and could allow scientists to modify it in such a way to act on other substrates. Before that though, given that the natural product strictosidine itself is a useful starting material for a wide range of different molecules, the work opens up new avenues for working with this natural product.

    Szymczyk, P., Szymanska, G., Majewska, M., Weremczuk-Jezyna, I., Kolodziejczyk, M., Czarnecka, K., Szymanski, P. and Kochan, E. (2022) 'Homology modelling and docking studies of strictosidine ß-D-glucosidase from Madagascar periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus Bunge)', Int. J. Bioinformatics Research and Applications, Vol. 18, No. 3, pp.234–269.
    DOI: 10.1504/IJBRA.2022.10033607

  • Fear, driven partly by media misinformation, is an important emotion in the context of crises. It can lead to bad, or, at best, suboptimal, decisions, especially in the midst of a global pandemic, according to work published in the International Journal of Business and Systems Research.

    José Chavaglia Neto of the Beta L Consulting Group in São Paulo, António Bento Caleiro of the Universidade de Evora, in Evora, Brazil, José António Filipe of the Iscte – Instituto Universitário de Lisboa, Manuel Pacheco Coelho of the University of Lisbon, Portugal, and Gholamreza Askari of Semnan University in Semnan, Iran, have looked at how fear emerged in Brazil during the still-ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. A pandemic that led to serious health problems and death and economic devastation irrespective of how fearful anyone felt when the virus emerged and in the ensuing months following the World Health Organisation's announcements regarding the pandemic.

    During the early stages of the crises many people were overwhelmed with information, much of it conflicting, by nature of the very novelty of the causative agent, the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, and its effects. As the days and weeks and months went by, disinformation was thrown into the mix and conspiracy theories emerged. A clear picture of how events were truly unfolding was difficult to unravel. This was especially true in terms of the information shared in totalitarian regimes and spreading from there and even more so once we had pharmaceutical interventions and different vaccine responses to COVID-19.

    The picture was even muddier given social isolation, lockdowns, quarantining and the closure of international borders all of which was done with the aim of reducing the rate of spread of the disease, the morbidity associated with it, and the mortality rates and so-called "excess" deaths. Nothing is yet particularly clear for many people even more than two years since the declaration of the pandemic, and many people lived in fear from the start and many still do.

    Neto, J.C., Caleiro, A.B., Filipe, J.A., Coelho, M.P. and Askari, G. (2022) 'How can fear impact economic decisions in pandemic contexts at the light of decision-making systems? An approach to the COVID-19 case', Int. J. Business and Systems Research, Vol. 16, Nos. 5/6, pp.759–782.
    DOI: 10.1504/IJBSR.2022.10047150

  • Researchers in Ecuador are using deep learning techniques to identify the characteristics of bullying behaviour in Spanish language text on social media systems. Details are provided in the International Journal of Data Mining, Modelling and Management.

    Paúl Cumba-Armijos, Diego Riofrío-Luzcando, Verónica Rodríguez-Arboleda and Joe Carrión-Jumbo Digital School, SEK International University, Quito, Pichincha, Ecuador have extracted expressions and phrases that might commonly be used in episodes of cyberbullying from 83400 updates on one particular social network. They have used this body of text to train a convolutional neuronal network. The algorithm that emerges from this training is a tool that can then autonomically identify insults, racism, homophobic attacks, and so on.

    It is perhaps well recognised that although there are huge benefits wrought by social media and social networking tools. However, as with any invention, there are always those who might seek to abuse the system for their own malicious ends. Such activity might involve the further marginalisation of vulnerable groups and young people and so it is desirable to find ways to ameliorate the risk to such groups from cyberbullies. The team writes that in Ecuador, 27% of teenagers have reported suffering marginalisation through cyberbullying, 46% have reported harassment, 17% aggressive behaviour online, and 10% have experienced extortion.

    Tests on the trained neural network by the team showed that it works with a high precision of more than 98 percent. The next step, which may well improve that precision, would be to draw in data from blogs and additional social media sites and to incorporate additional Spanish phrases to improve the system's prediction capabilities.

    Cumba-Armijos, P., Riofrío-Luzcando, D., Rodríguez-Arboleda, V. and Carrión-Jumbo, J. (2022) 'Detecting cyberbullying in Spanish texts through deep learning techniques', Int. J. Data Mining, Modelling and Management, Vol. 14, No. 3, pp.234–247.
    DOI: 10.1504/IJDMMM.2022.10045289

  • Personalisation and interactivity are key to boost the effect of an advertising campaign on social media, according to work published in the International Journal of Economics and Business Research. The finding has implications for how marketers and advertising teams might get the most value out of their efforts and budgets.

    Taanika Arora of the Rukmini Devi Institute of Advanced Studies at the IP University in Delhi, India, has studied in detail one particularly popular area of the world of social media – the networking site, Facebook. Specifically, Arora has used Ducoffe's web advertising model and flow theory to investigate to what extent personalisation and interactivity are determinants of purchase intention among potential consumers exposed to advertisements on Facebook.

    At the time of writing this Research Pick, Facebook has almost 3000 million active monthly users. The world population is almost 8000 million, so that number represents a very large proportion of all the people on Earth, almost 40 percent of us. That, by any metric, is a vast advertising market representing a huge number of potential consumers of a product or service, even if we assume a fraction of those accounts are fake, duplicates or themselves companies with something to sell.

    Arora carried out a systematic study using non-probability sampling of data obtained from more than 700 active Indian Facebook users. Structural equation modelling was used to demonstrate model fitness and to establish the validity and reliability of the adapted scales, she explains.

    "The results indicate that the proposed framework is a robust tool for measuring advertising effectiveness on Facebook," Arora writes. "This study theoretically contributes to the application of the Facebook advertising model and practically contributes influential factors for effective advertising to marketers and advertisers." An important finding that might guide marketers and advertisers is that "credibility" and "entertainment" are critical in Facebook advertising, without the authenticity and the amusement, much is lost. In addition, advertising that is two-way or interactive helps lead potential consumers to making a purchase. The converse of all of this is that personalisation raises privacy concerns and consumers do not often tolerate any invasion of their privacy, despite being active in, to what is to all intents and purposes, the very public realm of social networking.

    The bottom-line is that marketers hoping to get the most out of their Facebook advertising budget must be authentic, entertaining, and cognisant of the privacy concerns of their target market.

    Arora, T. (2022) 'A framework for enhancing the influence of Facebook advertising: the key role of personalisation and interactivity', Int. J. Economics and Business Research, Vol. 24, No. 3, pp.305–343.
    DOI: 10.1504/IJEBR.2022.10044237

  • The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a deep impact on society, human health, and the world economy. Research in the International Journal Medical Engineering and Informatics, offers a conceptual framework for how the necessary preventative behaviours enforced and adopted during a pandemic might be associated with mental health issues that arise.

    Rajesh R. Pai of the Manipal Institute of Technology in Manipal and Naganna Chetty and Sreejith Alathur of the National Institute of Technology Karnataka in Surathkal, India, point out how containment and mitigation strategies, such as closure of international borders, national and local lockdowns, quarantine for travellers, hand sanitisation and masks, were put in place soon after the realisation that the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 was approaching an infection rate that would lead to a pandemic. The pandemic was, unfortunately, not halted, perhaps because many of the measures were not sufficiently timely nor enforced rigourously enough by the authorities in different countries.

    However, once lockdowns were enforced, many people facing social isolation felt trapped and angry. There has, it seems, been an increase in anxiety and depression associated with the pandemic, while rates of alcohol abuse and suicide incidence have risen. Many areas of society have perhaps been affected more than others and at the least in different ways. Those in healthcare, hospitality, and marginalised communities, for instance, have all faced different kinds of pressure because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    The team concludes from their study that while preventative health measures may well have ultimately reduced the total number of infections and deaths from this disease, the dark side is that they may have led to morbidity of a different kind through their effects on mental health. Part of the issue, the team found, was that media exposure was a significant variable in whether or not individuals adopted or accepted various measures but also induces fear and anxiety.

    Pai, R.R., Chetty, N. and Alathur, S. (2022) 'Impact of COVID-19 on individuals' mental health and preventive health behaviours: a conceptual framework', Int. J. Medical Engineering and Informatics, Vol. 14, No. 5, pp.454–463.
    DOI: 10.1504/IJMEI.2022.10049363

  • Research published in the International Journal of Information and Computer Security has looked at the everyday privacy and anonymisation settings in conventional web browsers and compared the enhanced functionality of browsers with greater and layered privacy control that can help hide one's legitimate activity from prying eyes, for instance. The notion of volatile memory forensics is considered a putative way to access at least some of that activity even with privacy-enhanced browsers once criminal investigators have timely access to the laptop or other device on which the browser is running.

    Privacy-enhanced web browsers help protect citizens using the internet from those who might wish to see details of their browsing habits and behaviour, perhaps relatives or so-called friends, but also government agencies with no right to access personal information, as well as third-parties with malicious intent, such as identity theft. The flip side of creating such browsers is that criminals too can use these tools to obfuscate their activities and to exploit potential victims of their crimes. The very nature of a privacy-enhanced browser might then make it very difficult for the police to investigate a crime where such a browser has been central to the activity.

    Nilay R. Mistry, Krupa Gajjar, and S.O. Junare of the National Forensic Sciences University in Gandhinagar, Gujarat, India, explain how digital forensics is central to many a criminal investigation whether the crime happens online or offline. Critically, the wider concept of computer forensics must be able to identify, acquire, preserve, and analyse evidence from a device so that it can be presented in a court of law with the provenance that it is exactly as it was found on the device an so representative of the perpetrator's behaviour.

    The team's work compares various privacy-enhanced browsers and the artefacts of browsing and login activity that are held and might remain in the device's volatile memory, essentially the RAM (random access memory) or virtual memory. With their tools, they were able to obtain email addresses, visited website addresses from all the browsers tested from both a live RAM dump of the data on the device as well as a dead RAM dump, where all tabs in the browser had been closed and the browser shut down. Such access could be very important in a criminal investigation but it would be essential that investigators could seize the device before it is completely shut down otherwise the data in volatile memory, as the term suggests, would evaporate and be lost.

    In addition, they were able to obtain search terms from a live RAM dump from all browsers on the test devices but not from a dead RAM dump. No downloaded images could be retrieved from either scenario from any browser, nor any passwords. However, for some purportedly privacy-enhanced browsers, the team was able to extract searches from a well-known online video service, live RAM dumps for all and with the exception of three, dead RAM dumps too.

    The very minimum of evidence that would be available to investigators finding a shut down device, might be files present or cached on the device's permanent storage and the presence of a given privacy-enhanced browser. That would not be as strong evidence as a live RAM dump of activity in the browser obtained while activity associated with a crime is underway, of course.

    Mistry, N.R., Gajjar, K. and Junare, S.O. (2022) 'Volatile memory forensics of privacy aware browsers', Int. J. Information and Computer Security, Vol. 18, Nos. 3/4, pp.313–326.
    DOI: 10.1504/IJICS.2020.10047607

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Prof. Paolo Crippa from the Università Politecnica delle Marche in Italy has been appointed to take over editorship of the International Journal of Computational Intelligence Studies.