Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for August 26th, 2008

Cool bridges you’ve probably not seen

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Go take a look. Most were new to me.

Written by Leisureguy

26 August 2008 at 4:20 pm

Posted in Daily life

Tagged with

Two dozen places to read free books online

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Good collection of links, especially if you have a Kindle, I suspect.

Written by Leisureguy

26 August 2008 at 1:41 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life

Trusting Big Business: Polonium

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Yet another reason I really don’t trust Big Business and why I want close oversight by an outside watchdog—namely, a Federal government that is barred from taking money from Big Business and its lobbyists. Here’s the story:

Tobacco manufacturers discovered over 40 years ago that radioactive polonium-210 exists in cigarettes and tobacco smoke, and spent decades working to remove it, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Public Health. The companies tried to remove polonium, a naturally-occurring, alpha particle-emitting constituent of the fertilizers and soil used to grow tobacco, by creating special filters, washing the tobacco leaf and genetically altering tobacco plants, but ultimately failed to remove it. Instead of coming clean, the companies kept their internal research on polonium and information about their unsuccessful efforts to remove it secret. They didn’t want to heighten public awareness of polonium in cigarettes. Polonium-210 is the lethal radioactive substance that was used to poison Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006.

Source: UK Independent, August 24, 2008

Written by Leisureguy

26 August 2008 at 12:26 pm

The Wire, Season 5

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I get the first DVD in the series tomorrow! I can’t wait…

Written by Leisureguy

26 August 2008 at 12:13 pm

Posted in Daily life

Selling your water supply to the highest bidder

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Business, in search of profits, takes the shortest possible view and ignores (and, if challenged, denies or minimizes) the long-range costs. Latest example:

Texas oil billionaire T. Boone Pickens is about to make a killing by selling water he doesn’t own. As he does it, it will be praised as a planet-friendly wind project. After he pulls it off, the media will deride it as craven capitalism. In truth, it is one the most audacious examples of politics for profit, showing how big government helps the biggest business steal from the rest of us. The plotline behind Pickens’ water-and-wind scheme is almost too rich to believe. If it were a movie script, reviewers would dismiss it as over-the-top.

The basic story amounts to this: Pickens, thanks to favors from state lawmakers whose campaigns he funded, has created a new government whose only voters are two of his employers; this has empowered Pickens to more cheaply pump water from an aquifer and, by use of eminent domain, seize land across 11 counties in order to pipe the water to Dallas. To win environmentalist approval of this hardly “sustainable” practice, he has piggybacked this water project onto a windmill project pitched as an alternative to oil.

Pickens’ scheme is a perfect demonstration of why it’s worth asking cui bono — who benefits? — from regulatory and environmental initiatives. Last week, this column pointed out that Pickens, before his current lobbying blitz for increased federal support of wind power, built the largest wind farm in the world. …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 August 2008 at 12:03 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, Government

Tagged with

Another rave review of Evernote

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A good detailed look at Evernote and what it can do for you. I find it invaluable—and it’s free.

Written by Leisureguy

26 August 2008 at 11:57 am

Posted in Daily life, Software

Medical anthropology

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Mind Hacks has a very interesting brief post that begins:

Somatosphere is an excellent new blog on medical anthropology, the study of how culture influences our understanding of health, illness and medicine.

While we tend to think of illnesses as specific encapsualted ‘things’ that happen to the body, it turns out that our culture and psychology has a huge influence on not just what we think of illness, but how we actually become ill.

Culture also shapes what we think of as ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’, ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ and this is one of the main driving forces behind how we express physical or psychological distress and expect it to be treated.

Of course, in the West, …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 August 2008 at 11:55 am

Good science site to bookmark—and show it to your kids!

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This site looks good—videos, a blog, and more.

Written by Leisureguy

26 August 2008 at 11:52 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

Encrypt those files!

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MakeUseOf has a good review of five on-line encryption tools.

Written by Leisureguy

26 August 2008 at 11:49 am

Medication slows progression of myopia in children

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Wish they had had this 65 years ago:

Daily treatment with a medication called pirenzepine can slow the rate of progressive myopia, or nearsightedness, in children, reports a study in the August issue of the Journal of AAPOS (American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus). Led by Dr. R. Michael Stiatkowski of Dean McGee Eye Institute/University of Oklahoma Department of Ophthalmology, the researchers evaluated the effects of pirenzepine in children with myopia. Myopia—sometimes called nearsightedness—is a condition in which focus on near objects is good, but distant objects appear blurry. Caused by a problem with the length of the eyeball or the curvature of the cornea, myopia gets worse over time in many children.

In the study, children with myopia were randomly assigned to treatment with pirenzepine gel or an inactive placebo gel. After a year of treatment, the average increase in myopia was significantly less for children using pirenzepine. The new study presents the final results in 84 patients who continued treatment for a total of two years: 53 with pirenzepine and 31 with placebo.

Although myopia worsened in both groups of children, the rate of progression was slower with pirenzepine. At the end of two years, myopia increased by an average of 0.58 diopters in children using pirenzepine versus 0.99 diopters with placebo. (All children initially had “moderate” myopia, with an average refractive error of about -2.00 diopters.)

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Written by Leisureguy

26 August 2008 at 11:37 am

Posted in Daily life, Medical, Science

Global warming denier admits his error

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This is remarkable:

We all make mistakes. And even the most humble among us can be a little self-righteous when it comes to our pet projects. But when was the last time you came across a self-righteous pseudo-skeptic who had the decency to admit to getting it completely wrong? Meet Steven Goddard of The Register, a peculiar little news outlet published in London. Sort of. Goddard wrote a piece that appeared on Aug. 15 under the bold headline “Arctic ice refuses to melt as ordered.” As anyone who has been following the plunging arctic sea-ice extent graphs at the National Sea Ice Data Center can attest, this is a rather peculiar interpretation of the data.

Goddard’s article is rife with scientific errors and evidence of his lack of familiarity with the science. His main argument, that the ice area up there is 30% larger than last year, not just 10%, is the product of the fact that Goddard based his story on his own analysis of images from the NSIDC and other sources. That analysis, which consisted entirely of counting white pixels, led to language like this:

The Arctic did not experience the meltdowns forecast by NSIDC and the Norwegian Polar Year Secretariat. It didn’t even come close. Additionally, some current graphs and press releases from NSIDC seem less than conservative. There appears to be a consistent pattern of overstatement related to Arctic ice loss.

Which prompted the good people at the NSIDC to offer a rebuttal. It turns out that Goddard got confused because he didn’t take into account map-projection distortion differences between competing images. Walt Meier of the NSIDC wrote that

Besides this significant error, the rest of the article consists almost entirely of misleading, irrelevant, or erroneous information about Arctic sea ice that add nothing to the understanding of the significant long-term decline that is being observed.

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 August 2008 at 11:34 am

Are you getting married?

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Written by Leisureguy

26 August 2008 at 9:59 am

Posted in Daily life, Software

How the US set about creating terrorists

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Important story in the Washington Independent. It begins:

When Joshua Casteel arrived at Abu Ghraib in June 2004 to interrogate detainees, he knew how notorious the Iraqi prison was. He arrived in the wake of a still-notorious scandal. Earlier that spring, CBS News and The New Yorker magazine published the infamous photographs from late 2003, showing U.S. military police torturing terrified Iraqis. With that, the American jail had been transformed into a symbol of U.S. human-rights abuses.

Yet the young Army interrogator, then age 24, never expected to discover a systemic problem just as crippling to the war effort: intelligence collection in total disarray, leading to mass detentions. This, Casteel noted, is precisely the sort of thing that creates terrorists.

Under pressure from his commanders, Casteel was ordered to interrogate detainees at length even after he was convinced they knew little or nothing about the insurgency — a diversion of resources that, he said, wasted time and energy. Worse, he was cut off from the rest of the intelligence process, lacking the ability to judge the reliability of those whose confessions and anonymous tips had led to the detentions of the men he interrogated.

In addition, he was given a quota of so-called “actionable intelligence” he had to get out of his interrogations, regardless of whether those he interrogated knew anything valuable. Then, when his interrogations ended, he was never able to learn if those arrested as the result of his interrogations were dangerous terrorists or innocent people.

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Written by Leisureguy

26 August 2008 at 9:47 am

Mindset and its effects

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I’ve blogged previously about Carol Dweck:

Well, now there’s an interview with her in New Scientist, where she talks about her web site to help middle school students acquire a good mindset. They note:

Carol Dweck earned her PhD in psychology from Yale University in 1972. She joined Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, in 2004, after 15 years at Columbia University in New York. Dweck’s popular book Mindset: The new psychology of success was published in 2006 by Random House. Brainology, her online educational software, is at www.brainology.us

A few snippets from the interview:

You say that the key to success in life is to adopt a “growth” mindset as opposed to a “fixed” one. What do you mean by these terms?

People with a fixed mindset believe their basic qualities are carved in stone, so they are concerned about making their abilities look good. Those with a growth mindset believe their basic abilities can be cultivated through dedication and education. They are more concerned with stretching themselves. We’ve shown that a growth mindset orients you towards learning, whereas a fixed mindset makes you wary of challenges. If the learning involves risk of failure, those with a fixed mindset are more likely to pass it up.

Which of your studies most vividly demonstrates the power of these mindsets?

A year ago we showed how, if you know someone’s mindset, you can predict how motivated they will be and the grades they are likely to get when they move to junior high school at the age of 12 or 13, when there is often a decline in grades. After a poor grade on an initial test, the students with fixed mindsets said that they would study less, try not to take that subject again – and consider cheating.

Why might a fixed mindset lead people to cheat?

Effort is seen as negative, and failures mean you lack ability. What’s left? You can withdraw from that field of endeavour, but if you’re required to pursue it, as in school, then maybe you will resort to other means.

Have you looked at how these mindsets operate at the level of brain activity?

We looked at the electrical activity in the brains of college students as they performed a difficult general-knowledge task, which showed whether they were entering a state of heightened vigilance. A second and a half after they typed in their answer to a question, they were told whether they were right or wrong. A second and a half after that, they were told what the right answer was. The students with the chronic fixed mindset entered a state of vigilance while waiting to learn whether they were right or wrong, and then that was that. But the students with the growth mindset entered a further state of vigilance while waiting to learn what the actual answer was. …

In a typical group of children starting school, what proportion is in each mindset?

We find that about a third of pre-school children have a fixed mindset and two-thirds have a growth mindset, except in very high-power environments like child day-care at an elite university’s business school. These kids tend to have more of a fixed mindset. They worry more about mistakes and being disapproved of. Maybe they have more pressure put on them by their parents, or have been told they are brilliant. As children move on after pre-school, we find that more of them move into a fixed mindset, so we get a 50:50 split. In adults, it’s about 50 per cent of each mindset, too.

What is your advice to parents who want to avoid trapping their children in a fixed mindset?

First, teach your child the growth mindset, and then praise effort, strategy and improvement. Do not praise intelligence and talent. This harms them. …

Could more be done to foster growth mindsets in school?

In our study of the transition to junior high, a control group was given extensive training using study aids. The experimental group got those study aids but they also got several workshops in the growth mindset. They were told that every time they stretch themselves, the neurons in their brain form new connections, and over time they get smarter. They were also taught how to put that into practice in their schoolwork. Their grades rebounded, while those of the control group continued to decline.

Your new computer program, Brainology, is based on these workshops. How does it work?

Kids follow two hip teenagers through the program. The students interact with these virtual characters and make study plans for them. But the basic framework is learning about the brain. They’re told they can do things to make their brains work better. In that context they learn the growth mindset. Brainology is an owner’s manual for the brain.

You say you used to have a fixed mindset. Where did that come from?

I was raised in an era when there was tremendous faith that IQ tests measured something inherent. My sixth-grade teacher seated us around the room in order of IQ and assigned every privilege and responsibility on this basis.

How did you change your mindset? …

Written by Leisureguy

26 August 2008 at 9:28 am

Traditional diets and their context

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It has been found that some traditional diets seem to produce excellent health: diets such as the traditional Mexican, Mediterranean, Asian, and so on. All are high in consumption of plants, low in meats. And all taste good. Take a look at the food pyramids in these diets at Oldways.

But: Kafeneio warns us not to neglect the context.

Written by Leisureguy

26 August 2008 at 9:21 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health

Tobacco-control programs

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Interesting finding:

Tobacco control programs not only reduce smoking, but reduce personal health care costs as well, says new research published in PLoS Medicine by Stanton Glantz and colleagues at the University of California San Francisco. Glantz and colleagues analysed data on smoking, health care expenditures, and exposure to the recent California state tobacco control program, and compared them to data from 38 control states in the United States. Control states were those without comprehensive tobacco control programs prior to 2000 or cigarette tax increases of $0.50 or more per pack over the study period. The researchers found savings of US$86 billion in personal health care expenditure between 1989, the start of the tobacco control program, and 2004. These cost savings grew over time, reaching 7.3% in 2003-2004. The personal health care expenditure savings represented about a 50-fold return on the $1.8 billion spent on the tobacco control program during the same period. Glantz and colleagues found that 3.6 billion fewer packs of cigarettes were sold during the 5 years of the tobacco control program, which represents a loss of $9.2 billion to the tobacco industry in pre-tax cigarette sales.

These findings on cost savings are important, say the authors, because so little money has been invested in tobacco control programs despite large amounts of money generated from state tobacco taxes and legal settlements with the tobacco industry. According to the 2008 WHO report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, not a single country fully implements all key tobacco control measures. The report also states that governments around the world collect 500 times more money in tobacco taxes each year than they spend on anti-tobacco efforts. Glantz and colleagues’ study provides the first evidence that tobacco control programs can reduce health care costs, providing further justification for funding such programs.

The California Tobacco Control Program (CTCP) is a state-funded public policy intervention established in 1989 with the goal of decreasing tobacco-related diseases and deaths in California by reducing tobacco use across the state. The program is focused on adults and social norm change rather than on adolescent tobacco use prevention, on the premise that “the next generation cannot be saved without changing the generations who have already reached adulthood.”

Source: Public Library of Science

Written by Leisureguy

26 August 2008 at 9:08 am

Spiced honey popcorn

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This sounds extremely good:

Spiced Honey Popcorn

4 cups (i.e., 1 quart) popped popcorn
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup wildflower honey
1/4 t salt
1 T Matouks West Indian Hot Sauce

Preheat oven to 300º. Bring all ingredients except the popcorn to a boil in a stainless steel saucepan. When all the ingredients have boiled and come together as one, pour over the popcorn in a metal bowl and toss to coat evenly. Once the popcorn is evenly coated, lay out the mixture on a baking sheet, sprinkle with salt to taste and place in the oven for ten minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container for several days.

Written by Leisureguy

26 August 2008 at 8:44 am

Posted in Daily life

Century-old scientific finding overturned

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UPDATE: Not so straightforward. Check out this correction.

One aspect of science disconcerting to those who long for an ultimate and final truth is how continuing investigation and observation of phenomena result in new discoveries that repudiate previous findings. This is highly frustrating to some, who focus on what has been lost rather than what has been gained, but it’s the way that science works. Latest example:

A new study by research chemists at the University of Warwick has challenged a century old rule of pharmacology that defined how quickly key chemicals can pass across cell walls. The new observations of the Warwick researchers suggest that the real transport rates could be up to a hundred times slower than predicted by the century old “Overton’s Rule”. This could have major implications for the development and testing of many future drugs. Overton’s rule says that the easier it is for a chemical to dissolve in a lipid (fat) the easier and faster it will be transported into a cell. The Rule was first outlined in the 1890s by Ernst Overton of the University of Zürich. He declared that substances that dissolve in lipids pass more easily into a cell than those that dissolve in water. He then set forth an equation that predicted how fast that diffusion would happen. One of the key parameters in that equation is K which defines the lipophilicity (oil-liking nature) of the chemical. The higher the value of K, the faster the predicted cell permeation rate. For over a century, medicinal chemists have used this relationship to shape their studies and clinical trials.

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Written by Leisureguy

26 August 2008 at 8:40 am

Posted in Daily life, Medical, Science

Red-light cameras don’t work

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It’s too bad, because they seem like a good idea. But that’s why experiments are needed: to determine the difference between our understanding of the situation and its reality. Look at this post:

Red-light cameras are designed to take a picture of a car’s license plate if the driver runs a red light. These cameras are popping up in city after city as officials theorize that if drivers know they’re being watched, they’ll be less likely to run the lights. But do they work? Or is it just another way to increase city revenue from traffic tickets.

Well, according to study after study, rather than improving motorist safety, red-light cameras significantly increase crashes and therefore, raise insurance premiums. In fact, the only studies that have shown any benefit to red-light cameras were either done by the IIHS…the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, or researchers funded by them. How very strange, don’t you think?
The most recent study revealing the truth about the cameras was done by researchers at the University of South Florida College of Public Health.

“The rigorous studies clearly show red-light cameras don’t work,” said lead author Barbara Langland-Orban, professor and chair of health policy and management at the USF College of Public Health. “Instead, they increase crashes and injuries as drivers attempt to abruptly stop at camera intersections.”

Comprehensive studies from North Carolina, Virginia, and Ontario have all reported …

Continue reading, because later on you come to things like this:

Six U.S. cities have been found guilty of shortening the yellow light cycles below what is allowed by law on intersections equipped with cameras meant to catch red-light runners. Those local governments have completely ignored the safety benefit of increasing the yellow light time and decided to install red-light cameras, shorten the yellow light duration, and collect the profits instead. The cities in question include …

Written by Leisureguy

26 August 2008 at 8:33 am

“Fixing” the intelligence before invading Iraq

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Just as we have suspected:

Prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Bush administration officials exaggerated what U.S. intelligence agencies were reporting about Iraqi weapons, according to Congressional investigations. But even before that exaggeration, the intelligence reports had been skewed by an administration eager for war, according to recently declassified documents. For example, the CIA‘s white paper on “Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Program” was supposedly based on the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE). But drafts of the CIA paper existed in July 2002, “long before the NIE was even requested by Congress.” There are few differences between the early draft and final paper, mostly made “to insert more charges” about Iraqi weapons activities, “or to sharpen them. … Little of the text shows the kind of approach characteristic of intelligence analysis.” An early draft of a September 2002 British paper on Iraqi weapons shows that its claims were also made “even more somber,” suggesting that “the Bush administration and the Tony Blair government began acting in concert to build support for an invasion of Iraq two to three months earlier than previously understood.” U.S. intelligence agencies’ use of information from the anti-Saddam Hussein exile group Iraqi National Congress — and their dismissal of more reliable sources saying there were no Iraqi WMDs — “most likely flows directly from the prodding … by high levels at the Pentagon and White House,” concludes the National Security Archive.

Source: National Security Archive, August 22, 2008

Written by Leisureguy

26 August 2008 at 8:22 am

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