February 5, 2009
Some of you may know the story of Schrödinger’s Cat. From a quantum mechanics standpoint, it’s a story about indeterminacy. I.e. given a specific limited number of states under which we cannot know an outcome, the idea of whether the outcome really exists is not known — is the cat alive, dead, in both states, or neither? From a philosophical standpoint, it’s often used as a statement about the reliability of knowledge. I.e. from the standpoint of humanity, the cat is neither alive nor dead until the box is opened. (Note — I’m deliberately oversimplifying here).
But today, I apply it to a very specific issue…
On the table is an envelope. Inside the envelope is a business card. On the business card is written whether the baby my wife is carrying is a boy or a girl. We haven’t opened the envelope — and won’t for a few more days.
So what is the sex of Baby W? From our point of view, there is no knowledge. So for at least a few more days, this is Schrödinger’s Baby.
The Unrepentant Individual linked with It’s A Boy!
April 1, 2008
Richard Branson is taking space tourism to the next level, with the help of Google.
For thousands of years,
the human race has spread out across the Earth, scaling mountains and plying the oceans, planting crops and building highways, raising skyscrapers and atmospheric CO2 levels, and observing, with tremendous and unflagging enthusiasm, the Biblical injunction to be fruitful and multiply across our world’s every last nook, cranny and subdivision.
Earth has issues, and it’s time humanity got started on a Plan B. So, starting in 2014, Virgin founder Richard Branson and Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin will be leading hundreds of users on one of the grandest adventures in human history: Project Virgle, the first permanent human colony on Mars.
I’m so there!
I think I should file this one under “travel”, right?
January 17, 2008
So, the wife and I decided to join Weight Watchers, as we’re both far beyond our ideals. I’d like to lose 35-45 pounds (I’m at 265 now), and I’m not sure how much she wants to lose (I’ve never asked her what she weighs– I’m not an idiot, after all!) But we both need to make some improvements in eating habits and lifestyle, and weight watchers seems like a good way to keep ahead of the curve here.
But I saw the “target” that they’ve defined for me, and I think it’s a bunch of bullshit. I’m 6′5″ and I come from a long line of Eastern European descent… A land where the men are men and the women are too. Yet they want to see me shrink down to the 190-210 lb range.
I’ve posted before about how BMI is a crock for people of my body type, and I think this is no exception. I’d love to be under 220 lbs at my current level of muscle mass, and if I were to actually exercise regularly, my body could easily carry more weight than that and still be quite healthy and within optimal weight. But under 210? I don’t think I could even get there at this point.
I think back to where I was at the age of 18, getting out of high school. At the time, I had been studying martial arts for 6 years, training several days a week. I was in the best shape of my life, and even then, an 18-year-old does not have the muscle development of a real “adult”, that usually comes over the next 3-6 years. I was at my leanest and strongest I’ve probably ever been, and at 18 years old I weighed 225 lbs.
I actually bucked the trend of the “freshman 15″ in college. I lost weight throughout college, despite eating quite a bit and drinking a lot of beer, because I was losing muscle mass. When I left college, I was also very skinny, and yet hovered in the 210-215 lb range. I can’t imagine living under 210 lbs at this point. I’m overweight, but I’m not a fat man, and I’m not sure I could drop to under 210 lbs at my current muscle mass level without being at an absurdly low body fat percentage.
So I’m going to see how I can do with this whole Weight Watchers thing. My soft goal is to get under 230, and when I make it there, I’ll try to push for the 220 mark. But I don’t intend to attempt to get under 210. Once I hit 220, I’d like to start rebuilding that muscle mass and get to a proper weight on my frame.
I did begin a new post category though, and I’ll be periodically tracking my progress.
November 30, 2007
I came across this post by Doug a while ago, and have meant to comment on it for quite some time. While his post is largely a question of whether there can truly be a wine “expert”, since there is subjectivity to taste, the key that I saw was this quoted passage from his source article:
What these experiments neatly demonstrate is that the taste of a wine, like the taste of everything, is not merely the sum of our inputs, and cannot be solved in a bottom-up fashion. It cannot be deduced by beginning with our simplest sensations and extrapolating upwards. When we taste a wine, we aren’t simply tasting the wine. This is because what we experience is not what we sense. Rather, experience is what happens when our senses are interpreted by our subjective brain, which brings to the moment its entire library of personal memories and idiosyncratic desires.
What got me thinking about this was an experience I had at the Great American Beer Festival in October. One of the “need to try” things on my list was the Samuel Adams Utopias, a beer unlike any other I’ve tried. At 27% ABV, it’s strong, and due to the way it’s brewed and packaged, it’s a still (uncarbonated) beer. So I stood in line at the Sam Adams booth, I pushed my way up front, I got my 1 ounce taster, and I hated it. I couldn’t stand to even drink the stuff. I simply though it sucked.
But an interesting thing happened. I got a chance to try the very same beer at a beer/food pairing event the next day. Instead of being in a loud convention hall, I was in a nice quiet restaurant. Instead of pushing through hordes of people to get my glass filled, I was seated comfortably chatting with fellow beer lovers. And when I tasted the Utopias, suddenly it had changed. Of course, it hadn’t changed a bit, but I was in a completely different frame of mind when I got the chance to taste it. Suddenly it tasted great! It seemed (as is intended) as a perfect end to a nice meal. Sweet and complex, with a definite “beer” character that you don’t find in a brandy (as it does have hops), but not overpowering or harsh, as I had thought before. When I had a chance to sit down and drink it slowly, I was able to appreciate the subtle flavors inherent in the beer rather than simply feel the warmth in my stomach that something so high in alcohol will bring.
The beer which I had decided merely a day earlier that I’d never buy a bottle of (it’s well over $100 for a bottle, so it is a difficult decision) now seemed like something that might be a good thing to keep for special occasions. And I might end up doing that, as it has just hit its 2007 release here in California.
But it proves that a lot more goes into the taste of anything than simply its ingredients. Much of what we taste is due to what we’ve brought to the table within ourselves.
November 11, 2007
Intelligence is not the most understood of human attributes, and is quite certainly one of the most contentious, especially when the field of genetics become involved.
Breastfeeding has been shown in some studies to be correlated with higher intelligence. But a recent study, reports The Economist, suggests that there is a genetic component as well. But here is where the story gets strange:
Dr Caspi and Dr Moffitt, however, were not so sure. They suspected the involvement of a gene called FADS2. This regulates the metabolism of a group of molecules called long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids. These are important for the growth of nerve cells and are abundant in human milk but generally absent from formulas. FADS2 comes in two varieties, known as C and G, and the researchers wondered if these two varieties interacted differently with breast milk.
What Dr Caspi and Dr Moffitt found was that the increase in intelligence associated with breastfeeding only happened to people who had inherited at least one copy of the C version of FADS2. (Most genes are present as two copies, one inherited from the mother and one from the father.) The effect did not depend on the social classes or IQs of the parents, nor on the birthweight of the child in question (low birthweight has been linked to lower IQ). And the difference in IQ was preserved into adulthood.
Only about 10% of the population is double-G, but what is curious about this result is that the G version of the gene has survived at all. If intelligence is valuable, the C version might be expected to have become universal. Indeed, this is the nub of the nurturists’ argument. Natural selection should have pushed intelligence genes as far as they will go, so all variation should be environmental. That it is not suggests there is some unknown countervailing advantageâ€”at least in reproductive termsâ€”to being less than averagely bright.
This is incorrect. That the gene has not disappeared does not show that there is an advantage evolutionary to being dull, only that being dull isn’t a disadvantage to mating. Evolution is not necessarily based on what is optimal, only what is “good enough” to find a mate. I’d say that looks and pheromones are probably much more important traits than pure intelligence. After all, Britney Spears was able to reproduce twice, and nobody will say it was her brainpower that got her knocked up!
PS – I wonder what sort of Google hits this title will bring in!
July 21, 2007
This is an angle that I haven’t quite seen exploited on this story:
Poker champion Phil Laak has a good chance of winning when he sits down this week to play 2,000 hands of Texas Hold’em â€” against a computer.
It may be the last chance he gets. Computers have gotten a lot better at poker in recent years; they’re good enough now to challenge top professionals like Laak, who won the World Poker Tour invitational in 2004.
But it’s only a matter of time before the machines take a commanding lead in the war for poker supremacy. Just as they already have in backgammon, checkers and chess, computers are expected to surpass even the best human poker players within a decade. They can already beat virtually any amateur player.
This is a really interesting test of AI. Games like chess are fundamentally different than poker, because a computer knows precisely where all of a competitor’s pieces are located at all given times. In poker, you only have imperfect information. Knowing how to calculate odds is important, but reading your opponent is often more important. You can only guess from your opponents betting trends and behavior as to what cards he holds, and a good pro knows how to vary those trends enough to fool just about anyone.
The question of computers and poker are not new, as I mentioned here. Typical poker programs are set up with a varying level of aggressiveness, willingness to bluff, risk tolerance, etc. Setting up a computer to play a moderately “correct” strategy will usually be enough to beat mediocre players, but against a pro, won’t work at all.
So this will really be a good test of how far AI has come. The better they teach the computer to read Laak and vary its own behavior, the closer we’ll get to a computer that can really “think”. So for geeks, this one is pretty interesting.
There’s a bit of a different component, though… Phil Laak has a nickname, due to his fashion sense (hooded sweatshirts). He’s known as “The Unabomber”. The Unabomber, of course, was the guy who was attacking technology companies. Does anyone else find it a bit coincidental that he’s the guy picked to go against the highest level of artificial intelligence and technology?
March 2, 2007
I think it’s already starting…
One thing that I had requested for a gift with the news of the pregnancy was a “BabyPlus Prenatal Education System”. It’s a system which plays varying tempos of a sound similar to a heartbeat to a child in the womb. Starting at 18 weeks or so, it goes through various “lesson” of increasing complexity, which is supposed to help the baby’s brain develop a better abilities of “distinction”.
Now, I’m already an overprotective father who is willing to do anything I can to make sure that my son has every possible advantage in the world. If he’s smarter, taller, more athletic, and better looking than his peers, I’ll be pretty happy. With my wife’s instruction, he may even be well-dressed and socially adept (two things I still haven’t mastered)! This is just one option to get started early.
The only question, though, is whether it works. The site contains glowing testimonials, but that doesn’t mean a thing. If smart people who desire to be good parents buy this and end up with smart kids, is it the Babyplus or the parenting skills that made the kid smart? Correlation doesn’t equal causation, right? Well, week 18 is quickly coming up, so the wife will be starting this program, so we’ll have to see how it goes.
What do you guys think? Am I being obsessive?
December 21, 2006
And ignore the headline… I don’t know where they came up with that!
The best remedy to beat stress out is to simple hand-holding, claims health magazine WebMD.
According to a new study in the US, holding hands with your spouse can help you reduce stress. Psychology experts from the University of Virginia conducted the study of 16 happily married couples who were in their early 30s. The couples were told that the study was about holding handsâ€”and that mild electric shocks would be involved.
The wives wore electrodes on their ankles and watched screens that warned them when a shock was coming or assured them that they weren’t due for a shock.
Meanwhile, the researchers scanned the wives’ brains with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
As predicted, when the wives knew they were due for a shock, their brain scans showed activity in brain areas that handle threats.
But when the wives held their husbands’ hands during the same threat, their brain scans looked calmer than when they weren’t holding hands.
The study went on to show that the greatest stress reduction was found in the strongest marriages. Something to remember.
I know my wife is a stress case, and I never really know how to help. I’m an engineer, so I want to “solve” the problem. Perhaps this would be better…
Moderate drinking may lengthen your life, while too much may shorten it, researchers from Italy report. Their conclusion is based on pooled data from 34 large studies involving more than 1 million people and 94,000 deaths.
According to the data, drinking a moderate amount of alcohol â€” up to four drinks per day in men and two drinks per day in women â€” reduces the risk of death from any cause by roughly 18 percent, the team reports in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
I’ve got a theory on this. Moderate drinking is a stress-reducing activity. Much like exercise, or simple relaxation, when you sit down with a beer or glass of wine, you let yourself release the stress you’ve been building up all day long. There may be some actual scientific health effects of moderate drinking, to be sure, but I don’t think that can easily account for an 18% reduction.
Either way, I’m all for it.
Hat Tip: Below The Beltway
December 20, 2006
Thousands of soldiers sent to seize control of one of Mexico’s top drug-producing regions have discovered widespread cultivation of a hybrid marijuana plant that is easy to grow and difficult to kill, officials said Tuesday.
The plants can only be killed by having their roots pulled, a slow and tedious task, Army Gen. Manuel Garcia told The Associated Press, one of four media outlets allowed to accompany soldiers on the daylong raid.
“Before we could cut the plant and destroy it, but this plant will come back to life unless it’s taken out by the roots,” Garcia said.
The hybrid first appeared in Mexico two years ago but has become the plant of choice for drug traffickers in western Michoacan state, a remote mountainous region that lends to itself to drug production.
The plants resist chemicals that only burn the top leaves without hurting the root, making aerial fumigation impossible, Garcia said.
Does anyone think for a second that this would have happened without a ridiculous drug war causing the pot business to be extremely profit-laden?
In one sense, it’s a reminder of just how ingenious the market can be when providing a desired product, even if it’s illegal. On another sense, I get a bit worried when people are creating plants that won’t die. It reminds me of the plant that ate the South…
Hat Tip: Control Congress
December 8, 2006
A huge study from Denmark offers the latest reassurance that cell phones don’t trigger cancer. Scientists tracked 420,000 Danish cell phone users, including 52,000 who had gabbed on the gadgets for 10 years or more, and some who started using them 21 years ago.
They matched phone records to the famed Danish Cancer Registry that records every citizen who gets the disease â€” and reported Tuesday that cell-phone callers are no more likely than anyone else to suffer a range of cancer types.
The study, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, is the largest yet to find no bad news about the safety of cell phones and the radiofrequency energy they emit.
But even the lead researcher doubts it will end the debate.
“There’s really no biological basis for you to be concerned about radio waves,” said John Boice, a Vanderbilt University professor and scientific director of the International Epidemiology Institute in Rockville, Md. “Nonetheless, people are.”
I think I know why everyone is concerned about radio waves. You can’t see them. You can’t touch them. And they magically carry voices and sound around inside them. Isn’t that just a bit creepy?
Cell phones may not cause cancer… But being afraid of radio waves definitely causes crazy.
Below The Beltway linked with What We Know Ain’t Always So
December 4, 2006
I like it. It’s not fast enough for my taste, but it’s a good start.
NASA may be going to the same old moon with a ship that looks a lot like a 1960s Apollo capsule, but the space agency said Monday that it’s going to do something dramatically different this time: Stay there.
Unveiling the agency’s bold plan for a return to the moon, NASA said it will establish an international base camp on one of the moon’s poles, permanently staffing it by 2024, four years after astronauts land there.
The key decision for NASA in its planning was whether to have a permanent settlement, and that drove other decisions, Dale said. Going with a permanent base was an outcome of NASA asking itself and more than 1,000 experts from 14 nations the questions: “Why are we returning to the moon and what we plan to do when we get there?”
Two key themes, according to NASA, were to prepare for future exploration, with Mars the next stop, and expansion of human civilization. Both NASA’s science and engineering communities agreed on a permanent outpost, an agreement rare for two conflicting sides of the agency, Horowitz said.
They’ve got the right idea. Getting off this rock is one of the most important things I can see in humanity’s future (and if it happens quickly enough, my own). But something tells me that we can do this faster.
At least, I don’t think “we” in the governmental sense can do it faster, but that “we” in the capitalist sense can do it faster. All you need are the right incentives. Go there, live long enough, and you own the moon. That sounds like a good enough incentive, if you ask me
NASA couldn’t be reached for comment on this proposal.
JRB Technology linked with NASA To Establish Permanent Moon Base
A Stitch in Haste linked with Moondoggle Alpha (or "Pork: 1999")
October 4, 2006
Warren Meyer of Coyote Blog wrote a snarky post exploiting a couple of the problems with the arguments of the people who think oil companies are keeping gas prices down to help Republicans. As an added thought, he said something brilliant:
In fact, the more I think about it, the more economics and evolution are very similar. Both are sciences that are trying to describe the operation of very complex, bottom-up, self-organizing systems. And, in both cases, there exist many people who refuse to believe such complex and beautiful systems can really operate without top-down control.
For example, certain people refuse to accept that homo sapiens could have been created through unguided evolutionary systems, and insist that some controlling authority must guide the process; we call these folks advocates of Intelligent Design. Similarly, there are folks who refuse to believe that unguided bottom-up processes can create something so complex as our industrial economy or even a clearing price for gasoline, and insist that a top-down authority is needed to run the process; we call these folks socialists.
It is interesting, then, given their similarity, that socialists and intelligent design advocates tend to be on opposite sides of the political spectrum. Their rejection of bottom-up order in favor of top-down control is nearly identical.
Oddly, they both have ascribe the same qualities to their god. For the right-wing Christian god, it is an all-knowing supreme being, that will use its power in a good and just way. For the left-wing socialists, it is an all-wise Government, that will use its power in a good and just way.
I’m not one to think either delusion is plausible, but at least the right-wingers are smart enough to believe in something that can never truly be disproven. The left wingers, despite being shown over and over that government is inherently a flawed system, continue to believe that it can work.
September 8, 2006
Childhood scores on intelligence tests show a correlation between height and cognitive ability, and this remains true throughout life, they report.
Yet more evidence that Edmund Burke was right: Prejudices can be useful–if short people are being discriminated against in the job market, it’s only because (statistically speaking) they’re dumb as a box of rocks.
Yep… Being tall has its advantages. Except on airplanes. That sucks. But being as smart and successful as I am, I am getting more and more upgrades to first class these days, so that’s not as big of a problem any more…
Hat Tip: Warren Meyer (6′4″)
August 24, 2006
Hereâ€™s a story on the BBC about how easy it would be for terrorists to poison our food supply: just a tiny bit of botulism in a milk truck, for example, could kill a couple hundred thousand people.
“Prof Wein found milk was particularly vulnerable to an attack. If someone were to put just 10 grams of botulinum toxin into a milk tanker, it could have devastating effects.
“If we didn’t realise what was happening, half a million people would drink this milk… most of these would be poisoned, roughly half of them would die,” he concluded.”
That’s why I drink nothing but distilled water, or rain water, and pure-grain alcohol.
Always in a mood to make sure those who fear everything get aneurysms from worry overload, I figured I’d pass this along. But I thought about it a little more, and did some research. According to Wikipedia, botulinum toxin is “the most poisonous naturally occurring substance in the world” and “a single drop is capable of killing 50,000 people.” Pretty nasty stuff, don’t you think.
Yet women in Hollywood voluntarily pay doctors to inject this stuff into their faces, at least when it’s called “Botox”. In small quantities, botox can be used to treat muscle spasms. In the cosmetic treatment world, I like to call it “voluntary paralysis”.
And last, I was struck by another thought. Botox is used by older women in order to get their face and skin to hold up the way a younger woman’s would… When will they start using it for boobs?
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