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Happy St. Urho's Day!

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On the day before St. Patrick's Day, celebrate St. Urho's Day to honor the Patron Saint of the Finnish vineyard workers.

Before the ice age, Finland's grape crops were under attack from a pest. A man named Urho (pronounced "oorho") fortified by sour milk and fish soup came to the hill and yelled "Heinasirkka, heinasirkka, menetaalta hiteen!" which translates to "Grasshopper, grasshopper, go away!" With a few words, Urho saved the vineyards and became a hero.

Though Urho lived in ancient times, his story emerged in the 1950s, from the imagination of Richard Matteson, a Ketola department store manager in Minnesota. According to the account in Joanne Asala's book The Legend of St. Urho, Matteson wanted to impress his Irish coworker with a Finnish saint story, and made up the tale of how Saint Urho rescued Finland's grape crop by driving poisonous frogs out.

Urho's story evolved from a workplace joke to an international legend.

Matteson's coworker Gene McCavic wrote an ode in his honor in a "Finnish dialect." In the original story, Urho rid Finland of poisonous frogs, but grasshoppers were an actual pest native to the country. Bemidji State College Professor Sulo Havumäki revised the myth to grasshoppers and helped to popularize it. His name is on the bottom of the plaque that graces the main Urho statue in Menahga, Minnesota. Every year, locals dressed as grapes and grasshoppers wearing purple and green reenact their hero's triumph over the grasshoppers, and then they drink grape juice. Celebrations span Finnish communities around the globe,
including Ontario, Canada.

Urho's legacy made it back to Finland with the establishment of St. Urho's Pub in 1973. Grasshoppers have also returned.

See how they celebrate in Squaw Lake, Minnesota:

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Brain Training Could Help Combat Hearing Loss, Study Suggests
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Contrary to what you might think, the hearing loss that accompanies getting older isn't entirely about your ears. Studies have found that as people get older, the parts of their brain that process speech slow down, and it becomes especially difficult to isolate one voice in a noisy environment. New research suggests there may be a way to help older people hear better: brain training.

The Verge reports that a new double-blind study published in Current Biology suggests that a video game could help older people improve their hearing ability. Though the study was too small to be conclusive, the results are notable in the wake of several large studies in the past few years that found that the brain-training games on apps like Luminosity don't improve cognitive skills in the real world. Most research on brain training games has found that while you might get better at the game, you probably won't be able to translate that skill to your real life.

In the current study, the researchers recruited 24 older adults, all of whom were long-term hearing-aid users, for eight weeks of video game training. The average age was 70. Musical training has been associated with stronger audio perception, so half of the participants were asked to play a game that asked them to identify subtle changes in tones—like you would hear in a piece of music—in order to piece together a puzzle, and the other half played a placebo game designed to test their memory. In the former, as the levels got more difficult, the background noise got louder. The researchers compare the task to a violinist tuning out the rest of the orchestra in order to listen to just their own instrument.

After eight weeks of playing their respective games around three-and-a-half hours a week, the group that played the placebo memory game didn't perform any better on a speech perception test that asked participants to identify sentences or words amid competing voices. But those who played the tone-changing puzzle game saw significant improvement in their ability to process speech in noise conditions close to what you'd hear in an average restaurant. The tone puzzle group were able to accurately identify 25 percent more words against loud background noise than before their training.

The training was more successful for some participants than others, and since this is only one small study, it's possible that as this kind of research progresses, researchers might find a more effective game design for this purpose. But the study shows that in specific instances, brain training games can benefit users. This kind of game can't eliminate the need for hearing aids, but it can help improve speech recognition in situations where hearing aids often fail (e.g., when there is more than one voice speaking). However, once the participants stopped playing the game for a few months, their gains disappeared, indicating that it would have to be a regular practice.

[h/t The Verge]

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Need to Calm Yourself Down? Try This Military-Approved Breathing Technique
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Whether you’re dealing with co-worker chaos or pressure to perform on a project, it’s difficult to excel at work when you're extremely stressed. Can’t escape the office? Take a cue from real-life soldiers and try a technique called tactical breathing—also known as combat breathing, four-count breathing, and diaphragmatic breathing—to lower your heart rate and regain control of your breath.

“It’s one you can use when things are blowing up around you”—both literally and figuratively—“and you need to be able to stay calm,” explains clinical psychologist Belisa Vranich, who demonstrates a version of tactical breathing in Tech Insider’s video below.

Vranich is the author of 2016’s Breathe: The Simple, Revolutionary 14-Day Program to Improve your Mental and Physical Health. Watch, learn, and—of course—inhale and exhale along with her until you feel zen enough to salvage the remainder of your workday.

[h/t Business Insider]

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