Aug 20, 2014

modern jackass redux

If you have kids, this is making the rounds,

57 percent of americans say only kids who win should get trophies

This is such a great illustration of Modern Jackass.

This is a topic that generates such authoritarian responses it's ridiculous. Everyone has a strong opinion on this. And yet does anyone actually know if it matters? I haven't got a clue. I actually suspect it doesn't matter if you give a trophy or not to the kid in any place in a competition. I just don't think it matters at all.

I remember the soccer team I was on came in 2nd place two years in a row. I think they gave us 2nd place trophies. I couldn't have cared less. We came in 2nd. I didn't want to come in 2nd. The trophy was irrelevant. But maybe it mattered to other people on the team. I don't know.

So why are we so sure about so many things we know nothing about. Why are our own personal anecdotes such persuasive evidence to us regarding very complicated things that must apply to everyone else? And why do we always have strong opinions about things being good or bad versus being irrelevant. People aren't generally hyperbolic about things being unrelated. Things are always very good or very bad.

Like bacon and nitrites. "Oh I won't eat any bacon because it has nitrites." You get stuff like that a lot in LA. "Oh yea what research report did you read to come to that conclusion?" That's how the conversation essentially ends every time.

I sometimes have fun at other's expenses with this. The great example I have is selenium. You eat too much selenium and you'll die. Totally toxic. There's no debate about this. I'll bring this up. "Oh yea it's used in computer chip processing, glass processing, rubber, metal alloys, etc. IT'S EVERYWHERE." Then I'll talk about brazil nuts because brazil nuts have an insane mount of selenium in them. If you ate 3.5 ounces of brazil nuts you'd have ingested about 5 times the recommended upper limit of selenium. They can be dangerous and can invoke bouts of vomiting and toxicity effects. Holy shit no one is eating Brazil nuts again. I'm always tempted to let the conversation end there. Just let everyone go off and be Modern Jackasses.

But here's the thing. No selenium and you die. It's an essential nutrient. Like most things a little is good, none is bad, and a lot is bad. Brazil nuts are the example of something that's kind of in the middle. We aren't good at processing those kinds of things. At all.

restaurants these days

I thought this fake menu from Eater was pretty spot on.

Aug 14, 2014


Merely posting this because I'm constantly searching for it. It keeps coming up.
 "Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution." - The Shirky Principle."
And Upton Sinclair's version
"It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!"

Aug 8, 2014

carbs carbs carbs

I've had carbs on the mind lately, not because I'm not eating any, but rather that there is some interesting research and discussions going on.  I wanted to list them here because I'm still doing research.

Resistant Starch (RS)
  • This has been coming up a lot lately. It can be thought of as a type of fiber. In other words it's a form of carbohydrate that is not easily digested by our bodies. There's a few places that it mainly comes from. Green bananas, potatoes that have been cooked but then cooled, and rice that has been cooked but then cooled. It has to be cooled because the RS denatures at medium high heats. I don't know about you but none of these are things I would normally eat. EXCEPT. Potato chips. Yea. That's what I thought. Potato chips are good or you? Not really. They are still going to dump a ton of carbs into you and they are generally cooked in bad vegetable oils (PUFA). But they do have resistant starch. And can probably be eaten in moderation. Actually scrap that. No eats potato chips in moderation.
  • What's so good about resistant starch? Basically it's a food source for good bacteria in your gut. And this is slowly becoming a topic in the low carb circles. Gut bacteria seems to have a number of complicated side benefits. In addition there is some data suggesting it improves glycemic responses as well as satiety (but I don't know if that's via pure bulk filling or modification of grehlin/leptin).
  • It may be the supplemental dietary addition of RS could be beneficial to your gut flora. Most people are adding potato starch powder to water and drinking it. 

Glucose & Fructose & Sucrose
  • Again there are lots of signs that fructose is worse than glucose. But it's complicated because it depends on what you are talking about. 
    • Fructose seems to show significant effect on ApoB counts. This is a measure of how many lipoproteins that carry triglycerides and sterols through your bloodstream you have. Heart disease is correlated with high number counts of ApoB (which by the way is NOT what they measure when you get an LDL blood measurement). Basically if you eat glucose you get a small relative spike in triglycerides which helps keep ApoB transports lower. If you eat fructose you get a triglycerides spike (bad). Confusingly if you eat fructose with glucose (sugar) you get an even worse triglyceride spike. Glucose makes the fructose worse. Although we don't know why.
    • Fructose has not effect on insulin. Weird I know. There is no insulin response. This is technically good if you have metabolic syndrome. BUT....
    • Because it has no effect on insulin it also doesn't stimulate the insulin-mediated glucose cycle that regulates leptin production (the satiety hormone). So basically fructose never fills you up. With fructose you could eat and eat and eat....
    • It also seems to inhibit the suppression of ghrelin (the hungry hormone) after eating. It's like a double whammy. Fructose doesn't make you feel full and it doesn't stop you from being hungry.
    • So what fruits are super high in fructose?
      • Anything dried (dates, raisins, etc.)
      • Grapes
      • Apples
      • Pears
      • Cherries
    • What fruits are low in fructose?
      • Apricots
      • Avocados
      • Peaches
      • Plums
    • But here's the problem. The web can't even agree on which are high and low because people are sloppy and can't normalize for the different sizes of fruit. Mangoes show up on both lists for example. I need a better source. Like I said, I'm still doing research.

Jul 31, 2014

rosetta - 2,000 km away

Rosetta, which I've talked about before, is about 2,000 kilometers from the comet it will be attempting to land on.

It's a funny shape and has been likened to a floating rubber ducky. And apparently the neck of the comet is lighter. Perhaps it's a different material (that sublimates faster) and explains why the comet is such an odd shape. Although it's possible it was impacted into this shape or even formed from two comets sticking together.

I haven't seen any info on how fast this thing rotates which I would assume makes landing easier or harder.

Update: And now it's 1,000km away. New picture.

Update: 500km away

Update: 234km away

Update: 130km away (they are basically there)

  • Rendezvous (High orbit) - August 6
  • Low orbit - August 30
  • Landing site identified - Mid September
  • Detailed imaging - September - October
  • Landing - November 11-19

Jul 29, 2014

cable and stockholm syndrome

Well given the recent news about Comcast cancellation issues I had a lot of trepidation about downgrading some of my Time Warner Cable services. It's funny that in totality I was okay with the process when in reality it took almost 1.5 hours of phone time to get it done (but there was more). I had budgeted 3 hours of phone time because that's how bad internet providers are. You expect the worst and are pleasantly surprised when things aren't as bad as you expect.

My other plan based on how these companies play this game is to simply say that I no longer used the services. If you use them there is a price so they will keep hammering on that. I just kept telling them we didn't watch TV and didn't use hte phone. Here's the play-by-play,

11:06 - Called TWC
11:45 - Ronaldo picked up and I told him what I wanted. Transferred to Cancellation Services. On hold
11:53 - Cancellation Services picks up and puts me back on hold to get account info
12:01 - Back on with a reduced cost offer. I told them I didn't use the services anymore. Back on hold
12:07 - Back on with complaints of technical issues on their end
12:15 - Back on with complaints of computer issues on their end
12:24 - Back on with a second reduced cost offer.
12:31 - Back on to say they need a "Supervisor Override" [override?]
12:33 - Back on to say things were "finishing up"
12:36 - Call completed

Total Time: 1.5 hours

 But I wasn't done yet. Now I just need to return the Cable TV boxes at a local center. They won't allow you to mail it in. We'll see how long this takes.

Okay mission accomplished.

I arrived at the Time Warner Cable return center hopeful. Outside was a number ticket machine. That is never a good sign. As I peered in the waiting room my face sank. It was PACKED. I pulled my ticket number. 49. What number are they on? 18. 31 people ahead of me.

Turns out this was a mistake. I actually pulled F49. And they were on E18. Oh boy. 131 people ahead of me! Yowser.

I then did something I've done before which I think is a pretty good life tip. I looked around for discarded number tickets that disgruntled customers had tossed either in the garbage or floor. F28. Not bad. F21. Better. F01. Good enough. At this point a number of people around me start scrounging around for tickets too. I went to run a couple of errands and came back to find them on E88.

1.5 hours later I hand in my 2 cable TV boxes. Success.

Total Time: 3.0 hours.

Having now saved around $2,000 per year I can simply buy tons of TV (for the kids) and movies on iTunes and access them whenever I want. Much easier.

Jul 19, 2014

what the hell happened to movies

I have no idea. I used to love movies. I would have my Netflix DVDs cued up 3 at a time each week. And then I cancelled Netflix. And then I stopped going to the movie theater. And now I can barely get the energy up to watch one.

Sci fi in particular has gone to hell in a hand basket. We used to have 2001, Blade Runner, Planet of the Apes, Logan's Run, and even the critically flawed Dune. And now we have Elysium and the Planet of the Apes reboot and all these monotonous repetitive super hero movies. And what's changed?

Here's what's changed. Movies used to be about exploring themes. And now they largely don't do that. The best example is a set of movies I binge watched last weekend. The Planet of the Apes series. Both the 5 original (made back in 1968-1973) and the last reboot Rise of the Planet of the Apes (I skipped Tim Burton's reboot because it was universally panned).

Here's there Rotten Tomatoes scores:
  1. Planet of the Apes (1968) - 89%
  2. Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) - 41%
  3. Escape From Planet of the Apes (1971) - 78%
  4. Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) - 44%
  5. Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973) - 38%
  6. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Reboot, 2011) - 82%
It's easy to make a little fun of the original series. There are some awful special effects. Some awkward editing and even some awkward script writing. But how the new reboot earns a score just below the original is beyond me. Let me explain.

The original movie was written based on a book by a French author, Pierre Boulle. That book wasn't particularly clever. But the concept was handed over to its first screenwriter - Rod Serling. Yes. That Rod Serling. He's the one who came up with the twist ending. And then Michael Wilson fixed some problems that were driven by a limited budget. Here's why that movie is still relevant and still interesting to watch. Themes. 

There are lots of them. Orwellian class struggle, Darwinian survival of the fittest, evolution, religious theocracy, nuclear war, McCarthyism, animal testing, the morality of zoos, slavery, and subjugation. All of this in this old cheesy film. Consider the legal proceedings of Taylor (Charlton Heston). This is very slow scene and quite long. No action. Just discussion. And we all know Taylor will be found guilty; that the legal proceedings are a farce. Most of this scene is really about McCarthyism and the blacklisting of Hollywood workers. Michael Wilson, wrote this part of the film and for good reason. He was blacklisted at the time. He wrote it 'under the table'. In this context the scene is fascinating. The Congressional inquests regarding communists were also a farce and this was just a play on it. But the whole movie is engaged like this. The racial and slavery themes are obviously very interesting. Even how the primates themselves have segregated themselves into class structures (apes - low class warriors, chimpanzees - peaceful intellectuals, orangutans - political and economic power leaders). This stuff was thought out carefully.

And the later movies expanded on these themes in very intense ways. The poorly viewed Conquest movie is very clearly a statement about the rise in Black Power and the riots associated with that movement. The two primary (non-primate) lead characters are minorities: Mexican (Ricardo Montalban) and African American (the awesome Hari Rhodes) and are both obviously sympathetic to the primate's cause. It is thematically really "in-your-face" race relations stuff and it's really thought provoking and frankly powerful. After the movie I went down to Century City where it was filmed just to be on the set.

And then we come to the reboot. Which seems to be universally loved. And what's that movie about? I haven't got a clue. There's action. There's almost no character development. I don't give a shit about anyone in that movie. There's a plot. Shit happens. None of it particularly surprising or unexpected. Oh. There's some awesome special effects. Thematically? Perhaps animal testing and the usual 'people-in-science-are-thoughtless-and dangerous-and shit-always-backfires'? And maybe, owning apes is bad (LOL). These are so heavy handed as to be annoying though. This is like 3rd grade writing level. It's completely pedestrian. The actors are asleep at the wheel. Caeser, the main monkey who you HAVE to sympathize with is creepy and shifty. The eyes are all wrong. And the ending is a ludicrous, endless and gratuitous action sequence. And worse, it's an origin film clearly made to setup another set of serial movies. Ugh.

And yet apparently this movie is as good as the original. This movie is worth your hard earned dollars. Don't even get me started on the superhero movies. But this stuff sells. And it's moving serious box office numbers and even critics are giving these movies high marks. I don't get it. Do we not want movies that are thought-provoking anymore? Are we not interested in being challenged. Just a bit? Because movies lately are passive vehicles. You sit and take in explosions and special effects and superficial script writing. It's banal. And for me, as a movie lover it is seriously depressing.

modern jackass

This week's "This American Life" had a potentially interesting piece on what they called "Modern Jackass". Just that name alone piqued my interest. Ira's intro was very interesting. The basic definition of a modern jackass is someone who doesn't know nothing about something, yet they only know a little bit about it. They're not experts by any means. But potentially act like they are.

Most of the conversations I have with people fall directly into this sweet (sour?) spot. "Did you see that [X] causes your kid's grades to go down?" The proliferation of web articles and popular research books has turned people into faux experts. The great example that they use is someone who is vehemently against trans fats yet has no real grasp on why. Trans fats are hydrogenated. They have lots of hydrogens on them. They're manufactured. They're bad for you. But no one who thinks this way (other than some researchers) really knows why. Why is hydrogenated oil bad for you? I'll be honest. I have no idea. And yet I say this crap all the time.

Unfortunately the piece then goes on to describe people who have funny but basic misunderstandings. Usually revolving around words they don't quite understand. This seemed a little off-base from what a modern jackass was.

 As a researcher, half of my work revolves around discovering things that I then know. But I would say that the other half is literally focused on understanding what I don't know. This seems like common sense coming from a science/engineering background. But people aren't particularly questioning.

I had an argument a few months back with a client who hated a company and wanted to short the company based purely on the fact that the senior management went to 'shitty' schools. So I asked him how he knew that shitty schools produced shitty senior management. Because I certainly had no data to support that. But he 'knew' it. What seemed to go right over his head at the end of the conversation is that if his 'short thesis' on the stock was that management was bad because they went to less than top schools, that this thesis could have been applied when they raised seed capital back when the company was worth 1/100th of what it was now worth. He didn't quite see the logic there which made me chuckle.

But I've been in his spot before. I used to eat a macrobiotic diet when I was in college. I had gained some weight (dorm butt) and was really out of shape. So I adopted the macrobiotic diet. It seemed right. Vegetables, grains, minimal oil, no animal products, etc. Surely this was right. Why even figure out if it make sense. Wasn't there some book written about a guy who had cured cancer with this diet? Sure. It had to work. I bought tons of books and special equipment to prepare the food properly and searched out obscure ingredients. I was hardcore. And so I did this diet for almost 2 years. And through it all I did not feel good. At all. And yet never did I attribute this to the diet. Or that perhaps the diet was wrong. And quite obviously I had cravings on this diet. And at the end of 2 years I broke down. I ordered some crappy Pizza Hut pizza. Extra cheese. I made sure to not let any oil, dispatched from the melted cheese, drip off. My body clearly craved fat. And it was glorious.

And that was that with the diet. I still felt it was correct but I couldn't do it any longer. A decade later I actually read some research reports on dietary needs and biochemistry and realized how wrong it was.

But for that period in college I was a modern jackass. Because I had no basic understanding of why anything regarding macrobiotics made sense and yet I was religious about the worthiness of the diet. It was a good lesson for me. You don't really know anything unless you put the work in.

And now when I read these articles that state sitting all day at your desk lowers your life expectancy and breakfast is the most important meal of the day and drinking 8 glasses of water is healthful, I just ignore it. Even if it supports my own beliefs. This is the problem of the web and most modern day journalism. Flippantly reported news items without any actual work done. And now we're all experts. We're all modern jackasses.

Jul 16, 2014

cute science quote

Given enough time, hydrogen starts to wonder where it's been and where it's going.