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Who needs a password when your voice will do

A farewell to pins

"Barclays Wealth customers will no longer need to answer security questions and remember pin codes to use telephone banking," The Daily Telegraph says. "Advanced voice recognition will detect whether customers are who they say they are after just 30 seconds of normal conversation, the bank claims. The system, which is powered by the voice specialists Nuance, who are also widely known to be behind Apple's Siri technology, could end the frustration of customers who struggle to remember passwords." Wealth is the private banking division of Barclays.

Golf returns to Cuba

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"Five decades after Fidel Castro ordered Cuba's golf courses to be closed down because he considered them 'elitist,' the island's Communist government has approved the construction of a luxury golf resort, complete with an 18-hole course," reports BBC News. "The $350-million Carbonera Club …'will be a major complement to the tourist offering of [the resort town of] Varadero and the start of a whole new policy to increase the presence of golf in Cuba,' Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero said. …As well as the golf course, the plans include the construction of an exclusive, gated community of some 650 apartments and villas. … A second golf project, with Chinese investment, is expected to be approved by the end of this year. Other resorts will then be rolled out gradually across the island with Spanish, Vietnamese and Russian funding."

Stress can do you good

"We try to avoid it, yet being under pressure might be good for our health," says the New Scientist. "It seems a little stress can sometimes blunt the harmful effects of aging – as long as we aren't frazzled to begin with. When stressed, the body burns fuel to release energy. This helps us respond to threats, but also swamps cells with toxic free radicals produced during metabolism. They can damage DNA and so make us more prone to age-related disease. Kirstin Aschbacher of the University of California, San Francisco and her colleagues asked two groups of women, one of which led chronically pressured lives, to give a speech to a judging panel. By measuring levels of the stress hormone cortisol, plus other chemical markers, the team found that the task caused more cell damage in the women who were already stressed. The surprise was that among the non-stressed group, those who found the task moderately taxing had lower levels of cell damage than those who felt no pressure."

Deciding? Don't think too much

"New research suggests detailed analysis of a situation may undermine the decision-making process because variables are inappropriately weighed," says Psych Central. "This concept stems from research on gambling that discovered people are less successful in predicting the winner of a sports event when they bet on the final score. Rather, individuals do better when a person merely picks a team to win or lose."

Climate refugees

Last year, 32.4 million people around the world were forced to flee their homes by disasters such as floods, storm and earthquakes, says the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. While Asia and west and central Africa bore the brunt, 1.3 million were displaced in rich countries, with the United States particularly affected. Ninety-eight per cent of all displacement was prompted by climate– and weather-related events, with flood disasters in India and Nigeria accounting for 41 per cent of global displacement in 2012. In India, monsoon floods affected 6.9 million people, and in Nigeria, 6.1 million.

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Thought du jour

"I don't believe in good people and bad people. I believe in the better parts of people."

Mort Sahl, Canadian-born comedian (1927– )

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