Econstudentlog

Autumn!

What autumn in Denmark looks like right now:

Click the pictures to see them in a (much) higher resolution. I went to visit my parents this weekend, the pictures are taken near where they live. Pics would’ve been better if it’d been less cloudy, but I don’t think these are half bad as it is.

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October 31, 2010 Posted by | pictures, Random stuff | 2 Comments

Some (more) links

I know the previous post contained a few, but I’ve been stocking up on them for a while and too many links in one go is bad for you anyway.

1) The Rule of 72. I’ve only read a couple of post from betterexplained so far, but it looks like an interesting site.

2) How Cancer Begins. I don’t know if I’ve blogged this before, but I don’t think so. It’s a very good lecture, so even if it takes most of an hour, you should give it a chance.

3) When in doubt, shout – why shaking someone’s beliefs turns them into stronger advocates. Part of why Ed Yong’s blog is one of my favourites. But only a small part. Here’s another.

4) A time waster. If you go through the main site, they require you to sign up, and I won’t do that – and you don’t need to do it either if you come via the link provided. At the bottom of the page there are links to other ‘Popular Games’, I’ve also tried word-bubles. I probably won’t try any of the others. I guess there are worse ways to spend your time if you’re really bored, though I should probably warn those who don’t already know that these kinds of games are probably as addictive as blitz-chess. Not something you should be spending much time doing.

October 28, 2010 Posted by | Cancer/oncology, Medicine, Psychology, Random stuff | Leave a comment

Stuff you should read

Dealing with the high quantity of scientific error in medicine. Many of the comments to the post are (in my opinion) uninteresting stuff about diet, but this comment is quite good, and so is Yvain’s response here. Here’s one bit from the post, Ioannidis’ corollaries:

“Corollary 1: The smaller the studies conducted in a scientific field, the less likely the research findings are to be true.

Corollary 2: The smaller the effect sizes in a scientific field, the less likely the research findings are to be true.

Corollary 3: The greater the number and the lesser the selection of tested relationships in a scientific field, the less likely the research findings are to be true.

Corollary 4: The greater the flexibility in designs, definitions, outcomes, and analytical modes in a scientific field, the less likely the research findings are to be true.

Corollary 5: The greater the financial and other interests and prejudices in a scientific field, the less likely the research findings are to be true.

Corollary 6: The hotter a scientific field (with more scientific teams involved), the less likely the research findings are to be true.”

It looks like this article that the first article I linked to above links to as well is well worth reading too. It takes on, among other things, the subject of meta-studies:

“Now let’s iterate this […publication/attempted replication] process several times. Every couple of years, some enterprising young investigator will decide she’s going to try to replicate that cool effect from 2009, since no one else seems to have bothered to do it. This goes on for a while, with plenty of null results, until eventually, just by chance, someone gets lucky (if you can call a false positive lucky) and publishes a successful replication. And also, once in a blue moon, someone who gets a null result actually bothers to forces their graduate student to write it up, and successfully gets out a publication that very carefully explains that, no, Virginia, lawn gnomes don’t really make you happy. So, over time, a small literature on the hedonic effects of lawn gnomes accumulates.

Eventually, someone else comes across this small literature and notices that it contains “mixed findings”, with some studies finding an effect, and others finding no effect. So this special someone–let’s call them the Master of the Gnomes–decides to do a formal meta-analysis. (A meta-analysis is basically just a fancy way of taking a bunch of other people’s studies, throwing them in a blender, and pouring out the resulting soup into a publication of your very own.) Now you can see why the failure to publish null results is going to be problematic: What the Master of the Gnomes doesn’t know about, the Master of the Gnomes can’t publish about. So any resulting meta-analytic estimate of the association between lawn gnomes and subjective well-being is going to be biased in the positive directio. That is, there’s a good chance that the meta-analysis will end up saying lawn gnomes make people very happy,when in reality lawn gnomes only make people a little happy, or don’t make people happy at all.”

Some meta-analysts are more aware of the publication bias problem than others – I remember reading a meta-study by Martin Paldam a while ago where he emphasized this problem in the analysis, and I believe he’s actually done a meta-study on publication bias as well, though I don’t remember which subject it was about and I’m too lazy to look it up now. In some studies this issue is hardly even mentioned though.

If you read the links, you’ll become much better able to evaluate some of the stuff that’s out there. Btw. I am somewhat in agreement with Yvain when it comes to two main points: a) If it is indeed true that a lot of the stuff that gets published in medical journals later turn out to be wrong, the most likely explanation is that ‘the system’ is generally working and that we’re getting smarter over time, and b) the fact that the findings of ‘mainstream’ researchers are more prone to error that you might have thought does not make the non-mainstream people any less unlikely to be wrong.

October 28, 2010 Posted by | Medicine, Science, Statistics, Studies | Leave a comment

Squick!

Don’t read the following passage if you’re prone to having nightmares about wasps paralyzing you, giving you a lobotomy and then laying eggs on your stomach, the larvae of which will eat you – starting from the outside, then slowly hollowing you out by going into your stomach and eating your internal organs one by one in a manner that will keep you alive as long as possible – while you’re buried alive in the burrow of the wasp (some people are weird, what do I know, maybe such nightmares are normal? …wait, did my warning just increase the likelihood that someone actually will have nightmares about this? 😉 Anyway, if you do have nightmares like those, you have an interesting mind!):

“As early as the 1940s it was reported that female wasps of this species [Ampulex compressa] sting a roach (specifically a Periplaneta americana, Periplaneta australasiae or Nauphoeta rhombifolia[1]) twice, delivering venom. A 2003 study[2] using radioactive labeling demonstrated that the wasp stings precisely into specific ganglia of the roach. It delivers an initial sting to a thoracic ganglion and injects venom to mildly and reversibly paralyze the front legs of its victim. This facilitates the second venomous sting at a carefully chosen spot in the roach’s head ganglia (brain), in the section that controls the escape reflex. As a result of this sting, the roach will first groom extensively, and then become sluggish and fail to show normal escape responses.[3] In 2007 it was reported that the venom of the wasp blocks receptors for the neurotransmitter octopamine.[4]

The wasp proceeds to chew off half of each of the roach’s antennae.[1] Researchers believe that the wasp chews off the antenna to replenish fluids or possibly to regulate the amount of venom because too much could kill and too little would let the victim recover before the larva has grown. The wasp, which is too small to carry the roach, then leads the victim to the wasp’s burrow, by pulling one of the roach’s antennae in a manner similar to a leash. Once they reach the burrow, the wasp lays a white egg, about 2 mm long, on the roach’s abdomen. It then exits and proceeds to fill in the burrow entrance with pebbles, more to keep other predators out than to keep the roach in.

With its escape reflex disabled, the stung roach will simply rest in the burrow as the wasp’s egg hatches after about three days. The hatched larva lives and feeds for 4–5 days on the roach, then chews its way into its abdomen and proceeds to live as an endoparasitoid. Over a period of eight days, the wasp larva consumes the roach’s internal organs in an order which guarantees that the roach will stay alive, at least until the larva enters the pupal stage and forms a cocoon inside the roach’s body. Eventually the fully grown wasp emerges from the roach’s body to begin its adult life. Development is faster in the warm season.

Adults live for several months. Mating takes about one minute, and only one mating is necessary for a female wasp to successfully parasitize several dozen roaches.

While a number of venomous animals paralyze prey as live food for their young, Ampulex compressa is different in that it initially leaves the roach mobile and modifies its behavior in a unique way. Several other species of the genus Ampulex show a similar behavior of preying on cockroaches.[1] The wasp’s predation appears only to affect the cockroach’s escape responses. Research has shown that while a stung roach exhibits drastically reduced survival instincts (such as swimming, or avoiding pain) for approximately 72 hours, motor abilities like flight or flipping over are unimpaired.[5][6]”

Here’s the article, here’s a direct link to the 2003 paper mentioned above.

October 26, 2010 Posted by | Biology, Papers, Wikipedia, Zoology | Leave a comment

Chronic wounds, a study

Epidemiology of Chronic Wound Patients and Relation to Serum Levels of Mannan-binding Lectin, by Bitsch, Laursen et al (2009):

“The aim of this study was to describe the epidemiology of chronic wounds in a large cohort of patients from a tertiary hospital out-patient clinic, and examine the significance of serum mannan-binding lectin for the occurrence and clinical presentation of such wounds.The study comprised 489 consecutive patients with chronic foot and leg ulcers. A clinical classification of wound-aetiology was performed, and mannan-binding lectin was measured in the sera of patients and healthy controls. The patients presented with 639 wounds altogether; diabetic foot ulcers (309), venous leg ulcers (188), arterial ulcers (109), and vasculitis (33).”

[The people doing the study are from Copenhagen Wound Healing Center. Notice how many of the patients are diabetic? That’s not a coincidence]

“Mannan-binding lectin (MBL) is an important component of the humoral innate immune system, and MBL possesses several characteristics indicating that it may play an essential role in wound healing; i.e. modulating inflammation and contributing to the clearance of microorganisms and apoptotic cells (3, 4). Deficiency in MBL might therefore contribute to prolonged healing.” […] “Whether MBL plays a direct role in prevention or reduction of the “bio-burden” of chronic wounds is unclear. Chronic wounds colonised with bacteria are often neither infected nor inflamed, and when infection does appear antibiotic treatment will be initiated immediately – or may even have been given prophylactic. This indicates that MBL – shown to be associated with susceptibility and severity of infections – primarily functions upstreams to the manifestation of the chronic leg ulcer as different mechanisms appear to initiate and maintain the leg ulcer.” […] “Like other immune components MBL may act as a double-edged sword; in some clinical contexts MBL deficiency may be advantageous as protection against complement-mediated tissue injury. Studies of patients with type 1 diabetes have shown significantly elevated levels of MBL to be positively correlated with markers of renal complications and nephropathy (26, 27), possibly indicating that MBL may play a pathogenetic role or be a risk factor in type 1 diabetes. Diabetic foot ulcer is most frequently presented by type 2 diabetics, who also constitute the majority of patients in the present study. A follow-up study of Danish type 2 diabetics showed their risk of dying to be significantly correlated to high MBL, indicating an implication in diabetic vascular complication (28). Whether such MBL-associated vascular complications also contribute to the development of chronic foot ulcer in diabetic patients needs further investigation.

In conclusion, in a cohort of chronic foot and leg ulcer patients with different aetiological backgrounds, those with ulcers due to venous insufficiency, alone or in combination with other aetiologies, expressed significantly lower MBL concentrations than the healthy controls. The inverse pattern was seen in diabetic and arterial ulcer patients, who expressed significantly higher MBL levels. This indicates different roles for MBL in the development of ulcers in the different groups of patients; and the significant correlation of MBL deficiency to venous leg ulcer suggests that MBL substitution might be a relevant therapy for this group of patients.”

Basically there seems to still be a lot of work to be done and a lot of stuff ‘we’ (the experts that is, I’m not including myself in that ‘we’…) don’t understand, or at least don’t know for certain if they know yet, but someone are actually doing some of that work right now. As someone who might benefit from this research, all I can say is: Just keep working you guys!

October 25, 2010 Posted by | Data, Diabetes, Immunology, Medicine, Studies | Leave a comment

Quotes

1. “above a threshold that essentially all normal humans meet, I have never heard of conditions in which general intelligence would directly predict reproductive success. I know of at least one example where the opposite is true. I know there are a lot of possible adaptive stories that would reward small increases in cognitive ability, just never have heard evidence for any.

[…] We like to tell ourselves that emigrating populations of humans are special and adventurous (see myths about what makes Americans apparently so awesome). It seems to me that in most animals (and people) emigration usually happens because you are pushed out by a more fit local group.” (‘miko’, gnxp).

2. “Courage is not the absence of fear but the awareness that something else is more important.” (Stephen Covey, the quote is Wikipedia’s ‘quote of the day’. I don’t actually like that quote, but to think along these lines is probably not all that uncommon. I’d replace awareness with another word, some random words that came to mind: ‘Idea’? ‘Conviction’? ‘Illusion’? And what about instincts and hormones?)

3. “A religion, even if it calls itself a religion of love, must be hard and unloving to those who do not belong to it.” (Sigmund Freud, Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, 1921)

4. “It is a great ability to be able to conceal one’s ability.” (François de la Rochefoucauld)

5. “The extreme pleasure we take in talking of ourselves should make us fear that we give very little to those who listen to us.” (-ll-. Well, that one was mainly directed at myself, not you guys.)

6. “We do not remember days, we remember moments. The richness of life lies in memories we have forgotten.” (Cesare Pavese)

7. Along the same lines: “If you wish to forget anything on the spot, make a note that this thing is to be remembered.” (Edgar Allan Poe)

8. “Advice is seldom welcome; and those who want it the most, always like it the least.” (Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield)

October 24, 2010 Posted by | Quotes/aphorisms | Leave a comment

An almost perfect game

You can watch the game here. I was black.

1.c4 Nf6, 2.Nc3 g6, 3.Nf3 Bg7, 4.d4 d6, 5.e3 0-0, 6.Bd3 Nbd7, 7.0-0 e5, 8.dxe5 dxe5, 9.e4 Nc5, 10.Bc2 Qd7, 11.a3 Re8, 12.Qe2 Bg4, 13.b4 Ne6, 14.h3 Nd4, 15.hxg4 Nxe7+, 16.Nxe7 Nxg4, 17.Ng3 a5, 18.b5 Qc5, 19.Bb3 a4, 20.Ba2 Rd3, 21.Bb2 Rad8, 22.Nh2 Rxg3, 23.Nxg4 Rxg4, 24.Kh2 Rxe4, 25.f3 Re2, 26.Bc1 e4, 27.Rb1 exf3, 28.Rxf3 Qh5+, 29.Rh3 Be4+ (resigned, 0-1)

In the chess litterature, games with less than 30 moves are often called ‘miniatures’. This game stayed within the limit, but only just! The computer liked almost all my moves and actively disliked none of them (much).

October 20, 2010 Posted by | Chess | Leave a comment

Wikipedia articles of interest

I read a lot of wikipedia stuff right now, so it’s natural for me to post some of it here as well. Anyway, in general I’ll post a post like this once I’ve found 4-5-6 at least ‘semi-link-worthy’ posts, regardless of timing. If there are too many articles in one post, you guys are generally unlikely to follow the links.

1. Mushroom poisoning.

“Mushroom poisoning, also known as mycetism, refers to harmful effects from ingestion of toxic substances present in a mushroom. These symptoms can vary from slight gastrointestinal discomfort to death. The toxins present are secondary metabolites produced in specific biochemical pathways in the fungal cells. Mushroom poisoning is usually the result of ingestion of wild mushrooms after misidentification of a toxic mushroom as an edible species. The most common reason for this misidentification is close resemblance in terms of colour and general morphology of the toxic mushrooms species with edible species. Even very experienced wild mushroom gatherers are upon rare occasion poisoned by eating toxic species, despite being well aware of the risks, through carelessness.”

All the ‘folk wisdom’ about which mushrooms you can ‘eat without problems’ that you’ve heard is probably wrong. Relying on those is particularly problematic once you start crossing borders, but I wouldn’t recommend doing it either way. The aptly named death cap (Amanita phalloides) is responsible for half of all deaths from mushroom poisoning worldwide, and appr. 95 percent of all fatalities related to mushroom poisoning are caused by mushrooms from the Amanita genus, of which it is a member. Poisonous mushrooms aren’t all brightly coloured, in fact ‘most poisonous species are brown or white’. Not all toxic species taste unpleasant; the death caps for instance ‘have been reported to taste pleasant’. The Jack o’Lantern ‘smells and looks very appealing, to the extent that there are reports of repeat poisonings [the species is poisonous, but not deadly] from individuals who were tempted to try them a second time.’

Here’s a picture of the edible species Chanterelle:

Here’s a picture of the poisonous species Jack o’Lantern (Omphalotus olearius):

This is what a death cap looks like:

Some of the toxins in mushrooms are really sneaky bastards: For instance, orellanine does not cause any symptoms for 3–20 days after ingestion, and the kidney failure it causes is ‘usually symptomatic by day 20’ – a person can go around for 2-3 weeks and think he’s healthy, until…

2. Charles-Valentin Alkan.

3. Iron.

A map from the article:

4. Tang Dynasty. A few quotes:

“Beginning in 785, the Chinese began to call regularly at Sufala on the East African coast in order to cut out Arab middlemen,[127] with various contemporary Chinese sources giving detailed descriptions of trade in Africa. The official and geographer Jia Dan (730-805) wrote of two common sea trade routes in his day: one from the coast of the Bohai Sea towards Korea and another from Guangzhou through Malacca towards the Nicobar Islands, Sri Lanka and India, the eastern and northern shores of the Arabian Sea to the Euphrates River.[128] In 863 the Chinese author Duan Chengshi (d. 863) provided a detailed description of the slave trade, ivory trade, and ambergris trade in a country called Bobali, which historians suggest was Berbera in Somalia.[129] In Fustat (old Cairo), Egypt, the fame of Chinese ceramics there led to an enormous demand for Chinese goods; hence Chinese often traveled there (this continued into later periods such as Fatimid Egypt).[130][131] From this time period, the Arab merchant Shulama once wrote of his admiration for Chinese seafaring junks, but noted that their draft was too deep for them to enter the Euphrates River, which forced them to ferry passengers and cargo in small boats.[132] Shulama also noted that Chinese ships were often very large, with capacities up to 600-700 passengers.[128][132]”

[…]

“Although weakened after the An Shi Rebellion, in 799 the Tang government’s salt monopoly accounted for over half of the government’s revenues, while the salt commission became one of the most powerful state agencies, run by capable ministers chosen as specialists in finance.”

5. Four color theorem.

October 20, 2010 Posted by | Biology, History, Mathematics, Music, Wikipedia | 5 Comments

Wikipedia links of interest

1. Precipitation.

2. Prime number theorem.

“In number theory, the prime number theorem (PNT) describes the asymptotic distribution of the prime numbers. The prime number theorem gives a rough description of how the primes are distributed.

Roughly speaking, the prime number theorem states that if a random number nearby some large number N is selected, the chance of it being prime is about 1 / ln(N), where ln(N) denotes the natural logarithm of N. For example, near N = 10,000, about one in nine numbers is prime, whereas near N = 1,000,000,000, only one in every 21 numbers is prime. In other words, the average gap between prime numbers near N is roughly ln(N).”

‘Roughly’ because we’re dealing with asymptotics. For n=10, the true likelihood is 40%, the approximative result is 43,43 percent [10/ln(10)], for n=100 the true likelihood is 20%, the approximative result is 21,71% [100/ln(100)]. There’s more stuff along the same lines here. x/ln(x) is not the best estimator of pi(x), but it works.

3) Hadrian’s Wall.

The right hand side of the article has a lot of great links to articles belonging to the article series on ‘Military of ancient Rome’. If you find this subject interesting, there’s probably a lot of stuff waiting for you there.

4) Hayashi limit (the maximum radius of a star for a given mass).

5) Placoderms. They died out 360 million years ago, yet we still know that they existed and even a bit more than that. “A 380-million-year-old fossil of one species represents the oldest-known example of live birth.” The fact that we even know something like that – how cool is that? Very cool! Here’s a picture:

October 17, 2010 Posted by | Astronomy, History, Mathematics, Paleontology, Physics, Wikipedia | Leave a comment

Random thoughts on education

A society where people finance higher education at least in part by personal debt will on average reward individuals who are risk-takers and punish individuals who are risk-averse, relative to a society where (some higher) education is fully financed by the government.

I know that it might be offset at least in part by future wage increases, but the reform suggestions that are rumoured (Danish link) will rob me of maybe 150k kroners over the next few years. No, it was never my money to begin with, but… My brother bought a car when he got a job after his studies, the value of that car corresponds roughly to the value of that money*.

In principle maybe such a reform is a good idea, but I can think of a whole lot of other ways for the government to try to solve the main problem, which is that thousands of young people spend years taking educations that teach them nothing useful and have a negative ROI. Of course that problem will not become fully apparent until the government tries to actually solve it, but anyway, my best guess is that some people will drop out, the unemployment numbers will go up and the government will have to think up a new scheme to better hide that unemployment five-ten years down the line (a scheme like efterløn – anybody remember that one? Hopefully not, that’s part of why the government is discussing this reform. 150k probably(?) also roughly corresponds to one year’s worth of government payments of efterløn to a 63-year old. But there are a lot of those people and they all vote – and anyway most students already hate this government so there’s no need to try to please them).

An MA will be worth more after the reform relative to now, so implicitly this transition will correspond to a transfer from future students to people who currently already have a high education (and wage) – the latter get lower wage- and employment competition from people with the same education level in the long run, which’ll result in a higher wage.

The current (proposed) model says that people are only to pay back the loan once they are considered high earners – that is, once they hit the top marginal tax rate – is that an incentive to stay below the income level of the topskat-limit or what? It will cause some people close to the limit to work less than they otherwise would, and much less than they would have if there was both no such high-earner clause and no ‘topskat’, and it’ll of course make the size of the education premium even more difficult to figure out than it is now. Yes, I know, of course bracket creep will solve that problem in the long run. Most if not all these things will come as a complete surprise to the people who vote for this law, or so they’ll claim.

When I initially learned about the reform proposals, my first thought was something along the lines of “that’s too bad, now I’ll have to drop out and I’ll never get my MA, even if I’ve worked quite hard getting back on my feet after a couple of hard years”. Now I’m at least considering trying to finish my education even if that stuff goes through, primarily because of the ‘only high earners pay back the loan’-clause (which is not all bad, though it is also quite bad, for the reasons mentioned above) that I’d overlooked. Remove that one and I’d be quite likely to leave the university next semester if it goes through.

*to foreigners like Plamus: No, he didn’t buy a brand new BMW – and he lent the money to pay for the car, he of course didn’t have that kind of money at the time. Cars are expensive in Denmark. Not pre-tax, pre-tax Denmark was the cheapest country in the European Union in 2007 (link). Post-tax it’s quite bad though. Here’s a page on the relevant taxation levels, by the ministry of taxation (Skatteministeriet). The example on that page features a car with a supplier pre-tax sales price of 85.000 kroners (appr. $16.000 using the current official exchange rate of 5,29 kroners/dollar) which ends up costing the consumer 222.850 kroners ($42k). No, don’t be deceived, it’s not that once you have the car, it’s cheap to drive around in it. A gallon of gasoline is currently at about 7,5 dollars (10,5 kroners/liter). Comparing that to these prices, well…

October 17, 2010 Posted by | education, Personal | 2 Comments

Quotes

Mostly quotes from books this time, I’ve neglected such posts for a while:

1. “There is a luxury in self-reproach. When we blame ourselves we feel that no one else has a right to blame us. It is the confession, not the priest, that gives us absolution.” (Oscar Wilde, ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ – I only posted a few (too few) quotes from that book when I wrote about it originally, and I’ve been thinking that i might as well include a few more in a quote post later on. This is now ‘later on’.)

2. “One can always be kind to people about whom one cares nothing.” (-ll-)

3. Lord Henry looked serious for some moments. “It is perfectly monstrous,” he said, at last, “the way people go about nowadays saying things against one behind one’s back that are absolutely and entirely true.” (-ll-)

4. “To get back my youth I would do anything in the world; except take exercise, get up early, or be respectable.” (-ll-)

5. “Kids, you tried your best, and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try.” (Homer Simpson, quote found here)

6. “he’ll be drawn on a hurdle to be half hanged, and then he’ll be taken down and sliced before his own face, and then his inside will be taken out and burnt while he looks on, and then his head will be chopped off, and he’ll be cut into quarters. That’s the sentence.”
“If he’s found guilty, you mean to say?” Jerry added, by way of proviso.
“Oh, they’ll find him guilty,” said the other. “Don’t you be afraid of that.”

[Below is part of the court proceedings of the case in question – the questioning of a witness, “John Barsad, gentleman, by name.” By name indeed…]

“Had he ever been a spy himself? No, he scorned the base insinuation. What did he live upon? His property. Where was his property? He didn’t precisely remember where it was. What was it? No business of anybody’s. Had he inherited it? Yes, he had. From whom? Distant relation. Very distant? Rather. Ever been in prison? Certainly not. Never in a debtors’ prison? Didn’t see what that had to do with it. Never in a debtors’ prison? – Come, once again. Never? Yes. How many times? Two or three times. Not five or six? Perhaps. Of what profession? Gentleman. Ever been kicked? Might have been. Frequently? No. Ever kicked downstairs? Decidedly not; once received a kick on the top of a staircase, and fell downstairs of his own accord. Kicked on that occasion for cheating at dice? Something to that effect was said by the intoxicated liar who committed the assault, but it was not true. Swear it was not true? Positively. Ever live by cheating at play? Never. Ever live by play? Not more than other gentlemen do. Ever borrow money of the prisoner? Yes. Ever pay him? No. Was not this intimacy with the prisoner, in reality, a very slight one, forced upon the prisoner in coaches, inns, and packets? No…” (Charles Dickens, ‘A Tale of Two Cities’)

7. “Monseigneur was about to take his chocolate. Monseigneur could swallow a great many things with ease, and was by some few sullen minds supposed to be rather rapidly swallowing France; but, his morning’s chocolate could not so much as get into the throat of Monseigneur without the aid of four strong men besides the cook.
[…] One lacquey carried the chocolate-pot into the sacred presence; a second milled and frothed the chocolate with the little instrument he bore for that function; a third presented the favoured napkin; a fourth (he of the two gold watches) poured the chocolate out. It was impossible for Monseigneur to dispense with one of these attendants on the chocolate and hold his high place under the admiring Heavens.” (-ll-)

8. “The village had its one poor street, with its poor brewery, poor tannery, poor tavern, poor stable-yard for relay of post-horses, poor fountain, all usual poor appointments. It had its poor people too. All its people were poor, and many of them were sitting at their doors, shredding spare onions and the like for supper, while many were at the fountain, washing leaves, and grasses, and any such small yieldings of the earth that could be eaten. Expressive signs of what made them poor were not wanting; the tax for the state, the tax for the church, the tax for the lord, tax local and tax general, were to be paid here and to be paid there, according to solemn inscription in the little village, until the wonder was, that there was any village left unswallowed.” (-ll-)

8. Blackadder: “How would you like to earn some money?”
Comte de Frou-Frou: “I would not like to earn it. I would like other people to earn it and give it to me. Just like in France in the good old days!”
Blackadder: “Yes, but this is a chance to return to the good old days!”
Comte de Frou-Frou: “Oh how I would love that.” (Blackadder, Nob and Nobility)

October 13, 2010 Posted by | Books, Quotes/aphorisms | Leave a comment

Some links

1.Stop following me! (awesome t-shirt)

2. Dung beetle.

“Dung beetles are beetles that feed partly or exclusively on feces. All of these species belong to the superfamily Scarabaeoidea; most of them to the subfamilies Scarabaeinae and Aphodiinae of the family Scarabaeidae. This beetle can also be referred to as the scarab beetle. As most species of Scarabaeinae feed exclusively on feces, that subfamily is often dubbed true dung beetles. There are dung-feeding beetles which belong to other families, such as the Geotrupidae (the earth-boring dung beetle). The Scarabaeinae alone comprises more than 5,000 species.[1]”

“Dung beetles can roll up to 50 times their weight.” Those animals are awesome!

3. Well, they had me fooled. Imagine being the curious Chinese 15-year-old who finds that page in a google search. Imagine that you have poor English skills, have no knowledge of what The Onion is and have very little knowledge about Ancient Greece.

4. Comparison of Weight-Loss Diets with Different Compositions of Fat, Protein, and Carbohydrates. Exactly what it says on the tin. Haven’t read the study yet, but it looks interesting. Here are some highlights:

“We randomly assigned 811 overweight adults to one of four diets; the targeted percentages of energy derived from fat, protein, and carbohydrates in the four diets were 20, 15, and 65%; 20, 25, and 55%; 40, 15, and 45%; and 40, 25, and 35%. The diets consisted of similar foods and met guidelines for cardiovascular health. The participants were offered group and individual instructional sessions for 2 years. […]

At 6 months, participants assigned to each diet had lost an average of 6 kg, which represented 7% of their initial weight; they began to regain weight after 12 months. By 2 years, weight loss remained similar in those who were assigned to a diet with 15% protein and those assigned to a diet with 25% protein (3.0 and 3.6 kg, respectively); in those assigned to a diet with 20% fat and those assigned to a diet with 40% fat (3.3 kg for both groups); and in those assigned to a diet with 65% carbohydrates and those assigned to a diet with 35% carbohydrates (2.9 and 3.4 kg, respectively) (P>0.20 for all comparisons). Among the 80% of participants who completed the trial, the average weight loss was 4 kg; 14 to 15% of the participants had a reduction of at least 10% of their initial body weight. Satiety, hunger, satisfaction with the diet, and attendance at group sessions were similar for all diets; attendance was strongly associated with weight loss (0.2 kg per session attended). The diets improved lipid-related risk factors and fasting insulin levels.

Conclusions
Reduced-calorie diets result in clinically meaningful weight loss regardless of which macronutrients they emphasize.” [my emphasis]

October 10, 2010 Posted by | Biology, Data, health, Wikipedia, Zoology | Leave a comment

A few studies

1. Coffee consumption and cardiovascular risk (“regular coffee consumption is not associated with increased risk for CVDs or mortality in diabetic men”)

2. Do Microfinance Programs Help Families Insure Consumption Against Illness? (“We test whether access to microfinancial savings and lending institutions helps Indonesian families smooth consumption after declines in adult health. In general, results support the importance of these institutions in helping families to self-insure consumption against health shocks”)

3. How to Make the Japanese Public Pension System Reliable and Workable. I don’t know anything about the subject, but this paper has some interesting facts. Here’s one bit:

“Agency created yet another social scandal. By 2005, the problem of unpaid contributions had become prevalent and, as a result, the compliance rate had dropped substantially. In November 2005, the head of the Agency announced that all local offices had to achieve an official compliance rate target (65.7% in 2004, 69.5% in 2005, 74.5% in 2006, and 80% in 2007) for Category 1-insured persons. Many local officers took this message in the wrong way. They decided to reduce the number of eligible persons by giving exemption status for certain individuals without obtaining their consent. By reducing the denominator, the compliance ratio increased. Needless to say, this does not provide any solution to the problem of the declining number of contributors. As a result, the official compliance ratio remains still high, even though it has dropped from 85% in 1990 to 66% in 2006. Yashiro (2008) shows that, after correcting for these manipulations, this ratio has been less than 50% since 2003. What is more, these actions were also illegal under the National Pension
Law. After this case became public, the Social Insurance Agency discovered that 222 578 cases had been handled illegally in 31 local branches and 116 local offices throughout Japan. In August 2006, the Agency punished 1752 officials for misconduct.

October 5, 2010 Posted by | Cardiology, Economics, Medicine, Studies | 2 Comments

Quotes

1. “The fact that we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well, on the surface of a gas covered planet going around a nuclear fireball 90 million miles away and think this to be normal is obviously some indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be.” (Douglas Adams)

2. “A learning experience is one of those things that say, “You know that thing you just did? Don’t do that.”” (-ll-)

3. “The purpose of my life is to put off dying as long as possible.” (William Saroyan).

4. “When you’re a God, you don’t have to have reasons.” (Terry Pratchett, ‘Mort’)

5. “Science is a way of trying not to fool yourself. The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.” (Richard Feynman)

6. “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.” (-ll-)

7. “Some years ago I had a conversation with a layman about flying saucers — because I am scientific I know all about flying saucers! I said “I don’t think there are flying saucers’. So my antagonist said, “Is it impossible that there are flying saucers? Can you prove that it’s impossible?” “No”, I said, “I can’t prove it’s impossible. It’s just very unlikely”. At that he said, “You are very unscientific. If you can’t prove it impossible then how can you say that it’s unlikely?” But that is the way that is scientific. It is scientific only to say what is more likely and what less likely, and not to be proving all the time the possible and impossible. To define what I mean, I might have said to him, “Listen, I mean that from my knowledge of the world that I see around me, I think that it is much more likely that the reports of flying saucers are the results of the known irrational characteristics of terrestrial intelligence than of the unknown rational efforts of extra-terrestrial intelligence.” It is just more likely. That is all.” (-ll-)

8. “I shall never be ashamed to quote a bad author if what he says is good.” (Seneca the Younger)

9. “The problem with the future is that it keeps turning into the present.” (Hobbes/Bill Watterson)

10. “It’s not denial. I’m just selective about the reality I accept.” (Bill Watterson)

October 2, 2010 Posted by | Quotes/aphorisms | 10 Comments

Public debt, an international comparison

Here’s the link, here’s the data. Of all the coutries where data has been provided, Zimbabwe (283 % of GDP) is the only country with a higher public debt/GDP-share than Japan (189 % of GDP).

Do note that this is a stock variable, not a flow variable, and that flows can have great influence on the debt holdings even in the short run (the Danish government has doubled it’s public debt over the last two years alone). Basically, the above is a snapshot without a time dimension. Also, just in case you didn’t know, the light squares in Africa don’t mean that these countries do not have any public debt, that net holdings are positive or something like that – in a lot of cases it means the opposite. In general I’d assume that the fact that no number has been provided is an indicator that the country is really bad off, especially if we’re talking about the African countries.

October 1, 2010 Posted by | Data, Economics | 4 Comments