Baboon metaphysics

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

Tyler Cowen cites this amusing passage about Baboon metaphysics:

In sum, monkey society is governed by the same two general rules that governed the behavior of women in so many 19th-century novels: stay loyal to your relatives (though perhaps at a distance, if they are a social impediment) but also try to ingratiate yourself with the members of high-ranking families. The two rules interact in interesting ways. For members of high-ranking matrilines, the rules of kin-based and rank-based attraction reinforce one another, whereas for the members of low-ranking families they counteract. A member of a high-ranking matriline is attracted to her kin not only because they are members of the same family but also because they are high-ranking. A member of a low-ranking family may be attracted to her kin, but she is also drawn away from them by her attraction to unrelated, higher-status individuals. As a result, high-ranking families are often more cohesive than lower-ranking ones. Or, to paraphrase Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, all high-ranking families are alike in their cohesiveness, each low-ranking family is cohesive or not, in its own way.

Alcohol Labeling

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

NPR notes that Alcohol Labeling is about to change:

Alcohol beverages are about to get a makeover. The Alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau has proposed a ruling that will require the alcohol industry to include detailed product information on the label — the amount of protein, sugar, calories and, of course, alcohol per serving.

The Great Happiness Space

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

The nightlife in Japan is surreal and — to a westerner — bewildering. The Great Happiness Spacehow Japanese is that title? — is a documentary from 2006 that explores host bars, where androgynous young men with big peroxide hair entertain young women. Get ready for some culture shock.

Come back to it later if you don’t have time now. You definitely want to get to the first “plot twist” about a half-hour in.

Human Weapon

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

I have been watching and enjoying Human Weapon on the History Channel, but two things have bothered me.

First, they pretend that after training for a few weeks, our hosts will be able to compete against a master of that particular style. The masters are clearly toying with them, sparring lightly, but the show doesn’t admit that obvious fact.

Second, while Jason Chambers is a well-trained martial artists, his football-player co-host, Bill Duff, is a meat-head. Here’s what a Canadian judoka training in Japan had to say:

Training was going really well for a long time. I felt strong, techniques were clicking, and all in all things were excellent.

Then last Wednesday people filming a show for the History Channel came to Tokai to do a show on judo.

After a four and a half hour practice, after I had cooled down and stretched, I was asked by Agemizu sensei to have a little match with one of the History Channel guys, a six foot 5 or so, 230+ lb man.

Now, knowing well that this guy was a beginner, it wouldn’t look good if I slammed this guy, so I took it easy and was just moving around, going in for techniques half-heartedly, and just kind of messing around. No one told me that this guy was going to fight me like his life depended on it.

So, long story short, after being at Tokai for well, almost a year now, and training with World Champions and the like, for the first time since my shoulder surgery, something in my shoulder popped when this oaf jerked my arm back with both his arms with all his might.

I acted like nothing happened, and got up and moved around some more with him, and at that point he started sticking his bald sweaty head in my face while pushing me straight back, and then he grabbed my leg, and I just hopped away, thinking he’d let go, but instead he football tackled me from behind.

The Obesity Fight

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

Body Mass Index, or BMI, may be a flawed measure of health and fitness, but if you look at the interactive map from The Obesity Fight, you immediately realize that all those people aren’t creeping over 30 kg/m2 by lifting weights and putting on muscle.

A War We Just Might Win

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, writing in the New York Times, call Iraq A War We Just Might Win:

Here is the most important thing Americans need to understand: We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms. As two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq, we were surprised by the gains we saw and the potential to produce not necessarily “victory” but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with.
Today, morale is high. The soldiers and marines told us they feel that they now have a superb commander in Gen. David Petraeus; they are confident in his strategy, they see real results, and they feel now they have the numbers needed to make a real difference.

Weird California

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

Weird California describes itself as “Your Travel Guide to California’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets,” and as such it lists the sites of a number of utopian communes, including the Rancho Santa Fe location of the Heaven’s Gate mass suicide of 1997.

You may recall that the cultists were dressed in identical black shirts and sweat pants and brand new black-and-white Nike tennis shoes, with purple shrouds over their dead bodies. There were two details I didn’t know though. First, their track uniforms included patches saying “Heaven’s Gate Away Team”. (That seems darkly comical.) Second, they each had their passports and $5.75 in hand.

Weird California claims that the protagonist of Mark Twain’s Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven takes his passport and $5.75 for fare to Heaven, but that’s simply not the case.

Minding the Gap in Sizing Up Sale Prices

Monday, July 30th, 2007

Minding the Gap in Sizing Up Sale Prices notes that consumers act as if low digits are farther apart than higher ones:

Students who saw ads showing a $233 skate marked down to $222 thought they were getting a larger discount than did students who saw a $199 skate marked down to $188, even though the opposite was true. The first group of students also rated themselves about 20 percent more likely to buy the skates than did the others.

Training is no guarantee of health

Monday, July 30th, 2007

Mark Sisson notes that Training is no guarantee of health:

The problem with many, if not most, age group endurance athletes is that the low-level training gets out of hand. They overtrain in their exuberance to excel at racing, and they over consume carbohydrates in an effort to stay fueled. The result is that over the years, their muscle mass, immune function, and testosterone decrease, while their cortisol, insulin and oxidative output increase (unless you work so hard that you actually exhaust the adrenals, introducing an even more disconcerting scenario). Any anti-aging doc will tell you that if you do this long enough, you will hasten, rather than retard, the aging process. Studies have shown an increase in mortality when weekly caloric expenditure exceeds 4,000.

That’s why I stopped racing and training ten years ago and why I prefer hiking, sprinting and weight-training today. But what’s a competitive type-A to do if s/he wants to kick age-group butt in Kona and NOT fade away prematurely?

Given carte blanche to take advantage of all that medicine has to offer, I would aggressively consume antioxidants during my training (10-20,000 ORAC units per day), I would increase the amount of healthy fats (omega 3-rich) in my diet to 50% of total calories and I would only consume quality complex carbohydrates during my training. In fact, I would calculate my carbohydrate requirements on a daily basis and not exceed them. I would use simple sugars (e.g., gels) during long rides and races only to the extent they are necessary. That means I would do most of my training without them, saving them for races. I would work closely with a trained anti-aging doctor to monitor my fasting glucose, fasting insulin, free and bound testosterone, liver enzymes, cortisol, DHEA, hematocrit, ferritin and other parameters.

Read the whole article.

Evolutionary algorithms now surpass human designers

Monday, July 30th, 2007

As computer power increases, and as grid computing becomes more common, evolutionary algorithms, which require testing of thousands of “offspring”, become more practical. Evolutionary algorithms now surpass human designers:

Some of these EAs are being used to come up with more exotic versions of existing technologies. Joe Sullivan at the University of Limerick in Ireland used an EA to make a USB flash memory stick that lasts far longer than those on the market today. Typically, memory sticks can be erased and rewritten about 10,000 times. Every time data is erased, residual charge is left on the storage transistors. Eventually, this builds up and prevents the memory being rewritten. Using large voltages to read, write and erase memory, and applying them for longer causes more residual charge. However, applying too little voltage for too little time could make the memory unreliable. To see if he could extend the lifetime without making the device less reliable, Sullivan created a genetic algorithm that varied the voltages and their timings. The result was a combination that meant the memory stick lasted 30 times longer.
Manos walked off with the $5000 gold prize for combining EAs with the emerging field of “holey” optical fibres (New Scientist, 12 June 1999, p 36). These are shot through with tens of micrometre-wide holes whose exact pattern controls the wavelength of light that can be beamed down them. Previously the holes were arranged in a hexagonal pattern, which has limited the range of bandwidths. That changed when Manos’s team at the University of Sydney, Australia, allowed an EA to breed exotic new hole patterns. One looked like a flower, with larger ovoids as “petals”, and doubled the fibre’s bandwidth. They have patented that fibre and founded a company to market it.

Other prizewinners used EAs to do what humans already do, but faster. Pierre Legrand and colleagues at the University of Bordeaux 2, France, developed an evolutionary system to configure the electrodes for cochlear implants. Up to 22 electrodes on the auditory nerve let cochlear implants restore lost hearing, but the voltages and timings of the signals applied to them are highly individual, requiring much adjustment for speech to be audible. Legrand’s team took just one-and-a-half days to configure an optimal pattern for one patient whose doctors had not succeeded in 10 years.

Not content with aiming for top results however, another group of researchers is using EAs to produce designs that dodge patents on rival inventions. Koza took a 1-metre-tall, Wi-Fi antenna made by Cisco and attempted to create another that did a better job without infringing Cisco’s patent. He used an EA that bred antennas by comparing offspring with how the Cisco patent works and weeding out ones that worked similarly. “Our genetic program engineered around the existing patent and created a novel design that didn’t infringe it,” says Koza. Not only would this allow a company to save money on licensing fees, the new design was also itself patentable.

Scientists excited by Indonesian-caught coelacanth

Monday, July 30th, 2007

Scientists excited by Indonesian-caught coelacanth:

“It was an enormous fish. It had phosphorescent green eyes and legs. If I had pulled it up during the night, I would have been afraid and I would have thrown it back in,” he exclaims.

Coelacanths, closely related to lungfish, usually live at depths of 200-1,000 metres (656-3,200 feet). They can grow up to two metres (6.5 feet) in length and weigh as much as 91 kilogrammes (200 pounds).

Lahama, 48, has fished since he was 10 years old, like his father and his grandfather before him. But he was unlikely to have ever run into this “living fossil” species, as scientists have dubbed the enigmatic fish.

Lahama’s catch, 1.3 metres long and weighing 50 kilograms (110 pounds) was only the second ever captured alive in Asia. The first was caught in 1998, also off Manado.

That catch astonished ichtyologists, who until then had been convinced that the last coelacanths were found only off eastern Africa, mainly in the Commoros archipelago. They had been thought to have died out around the time dinosaurs became extinct, until one was found there in 1938.

Their fossil records date back more than 360 million years and suggest that the fish has changed little over that period.

Lahama, who had never even heard of the fish, initially thought of selling his white-spotted catch.

“Considering his weight, I said to myself, this will fetch a good price.”

Returning to port, he showed it off to the most senior fisherman, who became alarmed.

“It is a fish which has legs — it should be given back to the water. It will bring us misfortune,” he told him. But the unsuperstitious Lahama decided to keep it.

After spending 30 minutes out of water, the fish, still alive, was placed in a netted pool in front of a restaurant at the edge of the sea. It survived for 17 hours.

The local fisheries authorities filmed the fish swimming in the metre-deep pool, capturing invaluable images as the species had only previously been recorded in caves at great depths.

Once dead, the fish was frozen.

After the fisherman was interviewed, French, Japanese and Indonesian scientists working with the French Institute for Development and Research carried out an autopsy on the coelacanth. Genetic analysis is to follow.

The site of capture, so close to the beach and from a depth of 105 metres, had intrigued the scientists. Does the Indonesian coelacanth live in shallower waters than its cousin in the Commoros?

Lahama’s fish is to be preserved and will be displayed in a museum in Manado.

New Approach To Eliminating Allergies, Asthma, Developed By Hebrew University Ph.D. Student

Monday, July 30th, 2007

New Approach To Eliminating Allergies, Asthma, Developed By Hebrew University Ph.D. Student:

Bachelet has identified a receptor protein on mast cells, termed CD300a. This receptor has a prominent negative effect on mast cell activity, virtually shutting down the cell from unleashing allergic responses. Unfortunately, CD300a is widely found throughout the immune system, and simply targeting it could result in undesired, overall immune suppression with serious consequences, as can happen with steroids.

In order to overcome this problem, Bachelet and his research colleague, Ariel Munitz, have designed a small, synthetic, antibody fragment that has the unusual ability of recognizing two targets simultaneously — the receptor CD300a and a mast cell-specific marker. Thus, the antibody targets CD300a only on the surface of mast cells, avoiding suppression of other immune cells. This antibody potently eliminated four different types of allergic diseases in mice. Moreover, when mice suffering from severe chronic asthma received the antibody in nose drops, they completely reverted to normal, healthy mice in less than two months.

This pioneering project, termed RECEPTRA, presents a novel therapeutic strategy for acute and chronic allergic diseases, and is currently being licensed through Yissum, the Hebrew University’s technology transfer company, to pharmaceutical companies for further development and eventual clinical trials.

Bad Credit, Bad Driver

Sunday, July 29th, 2007

In Bad Credit, Bad Driver, Alex Tabarrok looks at a recent summary, by Luke Froeb at Management R&D, of a recent FTC study:

Some states ban the use of credit scores to price auto insurance in part because African-Americans and Hispanics tend to have lower (worse) credit scores and thus pay higher auto insurance rates. The brute facts, however, are that credit scores are good predictors of auto claims.

Dan Klein also weighs in with his defense of credit reporting.

Read the comments to see lots of emotional name-calling and poor argumentation.

Sex for the motherland

Sunday, July 29th, 2007

Critics call the organization the Putinjugend, and it is exhorting young Russians to have sex for the motherland:

Remember the mammoths, say the clean-cut organisers at the youth camp’s mass wedding. “They became extinct because they did not have enough sex. That must not happen to Russia”.

Obediently, couples move to a special section of dormitory tents arranged in a heart-shape and called the Love Oasis, where they can start procreating for the motherland.

With its relentlessly upbeat tone, bizarre ideas and tight control, it sounds like a weird indoctrination session for a phoney religious cult.

But this organisation — known as “Nashi”, meaning “Ours” — is youth movement run by Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin that has become a central part of Russian political life.

Nashi’s annual camp, 200 miles outside Moscow, is attended by 10,000 uniformed youngsters and involves two weeks of lectures and physical fitness.

Attendance is monitored via compulsory electronic badges and anyone who misses three events is expelled. So are drinkers; alcohol is banned. But sex is encouraged, and condoms are nowhere on sale.

Bizarrely, young women are encouraged to hand in thongs and other skimpy underwear – supposedly a cause of sterility – and given more wholesome and substantial undergarments.

Twenty-five couples marry at the start of the camp’s first week and ten more at the start of the second. These mass weddings, the ultimate expression of devotion to the motherland, are legal and conducted by a civil official.

Attempting to raise Russia’s dismally low birthrate even by eccentric-seeming means might be understandable. Certainly, the country’s demographic outlook is dire. The hard-drinking, hardsmoking and disease-ridden population is set to plunge by a million a year in the next decade.

But the real aim of the youth camp – and the 100,000-strong movement behind it – is not to improve Russia’s demographic profile, but to attack democracy.

Under Mr Putin, Russia is sliding into fascism, with state control of the economy, media, politics and society becoming increasingly heavy-handed. And Nashi, along with other similar youth movements, such as ‘Young Guard’, and ‘Young Russia’, is in the forefront of the charge.

Sumo Champ Seeks to Slim Down

Sunday, July 29th, 2007

NPR notes that the “World” Sumo Champ Seeks to Slim Down:

Champion sumo wrestler Emanuel “Tiny” Yarbrough hopes to qualify for the Olympic judo team next year. So he’s gone on a diet. The 6-foot-8 athlete’s goal is to drop 200 pounds, from 752 to a fighting 550.

Old-schhool MMA fans will remember Manny’s quick loss to Keith Hackney in UFC 3.

The “World” Sumo Championship is an amateur competition that excludes all the “real” sumo wrestlers from Japan.

Interestingly, he couldn’t compete in wrestling, even at his goal weight, because the wrestling weight classes don’t include an open-ended super heavyweight class; the max weight is 120 kg (265 pounds).