i. I’ve read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. I’ll say very little about the book here because I don’t want to spoil it in any way – but I do want to say that the book is awesome. I read it in one sitting, and I gave it 5 stars on goodreads (av.: 4,09); I think it’s safe to say it’s one of the best crime novels I’ve ever read (and I’ll remind you again that even though I haven’t read that much crime fiction, I have read some – e.g. every Sherlock Holmes story ever published and every inspector Morse novel written by Colin Dexter). The cleverness of the plot reminded me of a few Asimov novels I read a long time ago. A short while after I’d finished the book I was in the laundry room about to start the washing machine and a big smile spread on my face, I was actually close to laughing – because damn, the book is just so clever, so brilliant!

I highly recommend the book.

ii. I have been watching a few of the videos in the Introduction to Higher Mathematics youtube-series by Bill Shillito, here are a couple of examples:

I’m not super impressed by these videos at this point, but I figured I might as well link to them anyway. There are 19 videos in the playlist.

iii. Mind the Gap: Disparity Between Research Funding and Costs of Care for Diabetic Foot Ulcers. A brief comment from this month’s issue of Diabetes Care. The main point:

“Diabetic foot ulceration (DFU) is a serious and prevalent complication of diabetes, ultimately affecting some 25% of those living with the disease (1). DFUs have a consistently negative impact on quality of life and productivity […]  Patients with DFUs also have morbidity and mortality rates equivalent to aggressive forms of cancer (2). These ulcers remain an important risk factor for lower-extremity amputation as up to 85% of amputations are preceded by foot ulcers (6). It should therefore come as no surprise that some 33% of the $116 billion in direct costs generated by the treatment of diabetes and its complications was linked to the treatment of foot ulcers (7). Another study has suggested that 25–50% of the costs related to inpatient diabetes care may be directly related to DFUs (2). […] The cost of care of people with diabetic foot ulcers is 5.4 times higher in the year after the first ulcer episode than the cost of care of people with diabetes without foot ulcers (10). […]

We identified 22,531 NIH-funded projects in diabetes between 2002–2011. Remarkably, of these, only 33 (0.15%) were specific to DFUs. Likewise, these 22,531 NIH-funded projects yielded $7,161,363,871 in overall diabetes funding, and of this, only $11,851,468 (0.17%) was specific to DFUs. Thus, a 604-fold difference exists between overall diabetes funding and that allocated to DFUs. […] As DFUs are prevalent and have a negative impact on the quality of life of patients with diabetes, it would stand to reason that U.S. federal funding specifically for DFUs would be proportionate with this burden. Unfortunately, this yawning gap in funding (and commensurate development of a culture of sub-specialty research) stands in stark contrast to the outsized influence of DFUs on resource utilization within diabetes care. This disparity does not appear to be isolated to [the US].”

I’ve read about diabetic foot care before, but I had no idea about this stuff. Of the roughly 175.000 peer-reviewed publications about diabetes published in the period of 2000-2009, only 1200 of them – 0.69% – were about the diabetic foot. You can quibble over the cost estimates and argue that perhaps they’ve overstated because these guys want more money, but I think that it’s highly unlikely that the uncertainties related to the cost estimates are so big as to somehow make the current (research) ressource allocation scheme appear cost efficient in a CBA with reasonable assumptions – there simply has to be some low-hanging fruit here.

A slightly related (if you stretch the definition of ‘related’ a little) article which I also found interesting here.

iv. “How quickly would the ocean’s drain if a circular portal 10 meters in radius leading into space was created at the bottom of Challenger Deep, the deepest spot in the ocean? How would the Earth change as the water is being drained?”

And, “Supposing you did Drain the Oceans, and dumped the water on top of the Curiosity rover, how would Mars change as the water accumulated?”

And now you know.

v. Take news of cancer ‘breakthrough’ with a big grain of salt. I’d have added the word ‘any’ and probably an ‘s’ to the word breakthrough as well if I’d authored the headline, in order to make a more general point – but be that as it may… The main thrust:

“scientific breakthroughs should not be announced at press conferences using the vocabulary of public relations professionals.

The language of science and medicine should be cautious and humble because diseases like cancer are relentless and humbling. […]

The reality is that biomedical research is a slow process that yields small incremental results. If there is a lesson to retain from the tale of CFI-400945, it’s that finding new treatments takes a lot of time and a lot of money. It is a venture worthy of support, but unworthy of exaggerated expectations and casual overstatement.

Hype only serves to create false hope.”

People who’re not familiar with how science actually works (and how related processes such as drug development work) often have weird ideas about how fast things tend to proceed and how (/un?)likely a ‘promising’ result in the lab might be to be translated into, say, a new treatment option available to the general patient population. And yeah, that set of ‘people who’re not familiar with how science works’ would include almost everybody.

It should be noted, as I’m sure Picard knows, that it’s a lot easier to get funding for your project if you’re exaggerating benefits and downplaying costs; if you’re too optimistic; if you’re saying nice things about the guy writing the checks even though you think he’s an asshole; etc. Some types of dishonesty are probably best perceived of as nothing more than ‘good salesmanship’ whereas other types might have different interpretations; but either way it’d be silly to pretend that stuff like false hope does not sell a lot of tickets (and newspapers, and diluted soap water, and…). Given that, it’s hardly likely that things will change much anytime soon – the demand for information here is much higher than is the demand for accurate information. But it’s nice to read an article like this one every now and then anyway.

vi. “There aren’t enough small numbers to meet the many demands made of them.” Short description here, link to the paper here.

July 17, 2013 - Posted by | Books, Diabetes, Journalism, Lectures, Mathematics, Papers, Science


  1. I’m glad that you enjoyed ‘The Murder of Roger Ackroyd’! When it comes to literary style, Conan Doyle is far superior to Christie, but in terms of plot, Christie has some really good gems that are difficult to surpass. I’ve read *almost* all of Christie’s books, I would recommend these titles as well:

    1. The Mysterious Affair at Styles
    2. The Murder on the Links
    3. Lord Edgware Dies
    4. Murder on the Orient Express
    5. Three-Act Tragedy
    6. The A.B.C. Murders
    7. Dumb Witness
    8. Five Little Pigs
    9. Evil Under the Sun
    10. Towards Zero
    11. Taken at the Flood
    12. Curtain

    In addition, the plot in ‘The Devotion of Suspect X’ (which I gave to you) is also very good. I also just finished this book called ‘The Hollow Man’ by John Dickson Carr 5 minutes ago, and it is superb — I’d rate it to be on par with Christie’s best in terms of ingenuity.

    Comment by Miao | July 18, 2013 | Reply

    • P.S. I did not name ‘And Then There Were None’ since you already have it.

      Comment by Miao | July 18, 2013 | Reply

    • I neglected to mention these by mistake:

      1. Peril at End House
      2. Hercule Poirot’s Christmas
      3. Sad Cypress

      After reading a few of her books, you might begin to notice some common tropes. But nevertheless the solutions are never obvious.

      Comment by Miao | July 19, 2013 | Reply

      • Thanks for the additional suggestions. I just finished And Then There Were None, which I also enjoyed immensely; I’ll give some of the other books a shot as well, this is good stuff.

        As for the second part of your comment, common tropes are natural and only to be expected. Tropes are not bad, and presumably given her productivity she invented – or at the very least popularized – some of the crime tropes we now take for granted. Incidentally the ‘the solutions are never obvious’ remark naturally also applies to the Dexter novels.

        Comment by US | July 19, 2013

      • The device she used in ‘The Murder of Roger Ackroyd’ originated from her. I don’t think it was ever used in a mystery before. Reactions to that book were quite polarised — some readers felt cheated and criticised it for being ‘too clever’ (how that could ever be a bad thing is beyond my comprehension!); some others thought it was not only a brilliant mystery, but also an excellent sample for literary criticism.

        Comment by Miao | July 19, 2013

      • “The device she used in ‘The Murder of Roger Ackroyd’ originated from her. I don’t think it was ever used in a mystery before.” – it may have been, I certainly wouldn’t know, but I assumed the same thing when I’d read it (that she came up with it) and that was a big part of why I was so excited about the book after I’d read it. It’s a brilliant idea, and the execution was just perfect.

        Comment by US | July 19, 2013

  2. Unfortunately, ‘The Murder of Roger Ackroyd’ is a book that does not lend itself to re-reading — its ending is so memorable that I suspect you would still remember it decades from now, barring amnesia and etc.

    Comment by Miao | July 18, 2013 | Reply

    • Yes, this is always the downside to a book like this. On the other hand I should note that I very rarely reread books (especially fiction), even great books, so it’s not a big minus; there are a lot of good books out there and it shouldn’t be too hard to find other stuff to read until you’ve forgotten all about who committed which crime in some specific book you read a very long time ago.

      Thank you for the list! I saw a film version of Murder on the Orient Express some years ago, so I don’t think I’ll read that one anytime soon – I still remember it too well to get much out of reading it now. The others I’ll certainly consider giving a go at some point.

      And thank you for introducing me to Christie – you haven’t exactly given me a physical copy of any of her books, but absent your comments a while back I highly doubt I’d have started out reading her stuff.

      Comment by US | July 18, 2013 | Reply

      • There are some of her books you should definitely avoid though — e.g., those written during her later years, during which Alzheimer’s slowly began to take hold of her faculties.

        I recently watched the BBC series ‘Sherlock’ and I *highly* recommend it — the plots are very loosely adapted from Conan Doyle’s works, and they are all exceedingly clever. The writing is top-notch at best and still above average at worst; the pace is intense; and the acting by the main characters is absolutely superb. Season 3 will be released this year in the fall. Each season has only 3 episodes so it is very easy to catch up, if you want to. Watching the show has prompted me to read Conan Doyle’s works, and as of now I have almost finished all of his short stories. Of his four novels I’ve only read ‘The Study in Scarlet’ so far. In terms of literary merit, Christie is really no match for Conan Doyle in my opinion.

        I have also finished this book:, which led me to search for other works John Dickson Carr has written. That was how I came across ‘The Hollow Man’, which has a really ingenious plot.

        Comment by Miao | July 18, 2013

      • By the way, would you highly recommend Colin Dexter? Is Inspector Morse a deduction-based detective like Holmes and Poirot?

        Comment by Miao | July 18, 2013

      • i. You mentioned the Alzheimer’s when we first talked about her, so I was aware of this aspect – this was also part of why I was grateful for the list in your comment; having a person with excellent taste pick out the best of the books in a collection with quite a bit of variance in quality is very helpful…

        ii. Yet another TV-series? I haven’t even gotten to the second season of Game of Thrones yet 🙂 Oh well, I’ll make a note of it.

        iii. Would I ‘highly’ recommend Dexter? I’m not so sure. I reread a few of the novels last year around Christmas, and of those novels I liked The Riddle of the Third Mile best – but as for the rest of them it’s been a long time since I read him (10+ years). This makes me hesitant to recommend him – my taste in books has changed a lot since then (also a reason why you should not make too much of my goodreads ratings of the other books in the series – they’re surrounded by quite a bit of uncertainty).

        Morse is quite different from Holmes – as put here (follow the link at your own risk – it may contain spoilers): “The big difference between Sherlock Holmes and Inspector Morse is in method. Holmes is a detective who is strong on deduction, and he supports this by close research, keen observation and keeping precise records. Morse on the other hand makes random connections to see where they lead, a method which is condemned by Holmes. […] “Holmes is big on deduction … keen observation, research and record-keeping. Morse has the police computer whenever he wants it, but his method…“blundering about ”, he calls it – would be anathema for Holmes.” […]

        Morse was different from classic characters like […] Sherlock Holmes. Morse was brilliant but he was not always right. He often arrested the wrong person or came to the wrong conclusion. As a result, unlike many classic sleuths, Morse does not always simply “bust” his culprit; ironic circumstances have the case end and the crime brought to him. [27] This description of Morse is in contrast with Holmes, as Morse is described as more “human”. He is introduced as a quite normal person who has his own physical and psychological problems to deal with, at work as well as in private. He has a neurotic psyche where his compulsive temper and his melancholia are his most distinguishing features, as well as illnesses and self-doubt.”

        The plot-twists in the novels are often surprising and there are quite a few red herrings to deal with along the way. Some of the plots are quite clever. Two of his novels got the Gold Dagger, “an award given annually by the Crime Writers’ Association for the best crime novel of the year”, and two others got the Silver Dagger (given to the runner-up).

        If I were you I’d probably try out one of the novels and see if you like this stuff. If you find that you do, it’s probably smart to read the other books in the order they are written – that’s how they’re meant to be read, but one can read a single novel in the series and still make sense of it without starting out at the beginning of the series (I incidentally only just realized that the wiki link I’d added above in the original post contained a huge spoiler – in case anyone hasn’t read these novels yet, plan on doing it, and didn’t already follow that link; avoid wikipedia until you’ve finished the series!). As for where to start, the first novel in the series to get the Gold Dagger is The Wench is Dead.

        Comment by US | July 18, 2013

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