Here’s a Fad Diet For You

His body mass index went from 28.8, considered overweight, to 24.9, which is normal. He now weighs 174 pounds.

But you might expect other indicators of health would have suffered. Not so.

Haub’s “bad” cholesterol, or LDL, dropped 20 percent and his “good” cholesterol, or HDL, increased by 20 percent. He reduced the level of triglycerides, which are a form of fat, by 39 percent.

That’s from this article on Mark Haub, a nutrition professor who spent two months eating… junk food:

For 10 weeks, Mark Haub, a professor of human nutrition at Kansas State University, ate one of these sugary cakelets every three hours, instead of meals. To add variety in his steady stream of Hostess and Little Debbie snacks, Haub munched on Doritos chips, sugary cereals and Oreos, too.

…Two-thirds of his total intake came from junk food. He also took a multivitamin pill and drank a protein shake daily. And he ate vegetables, typically a can of green beans or three to four celery stalks.

I got that link from this SBM article that debunks a lot of crap folk wisdom on diet (and endorses some of it), for instance:

Avoid chemicals, preservatives, and artificial sugar. This simply an appeal to the naturalistic fallacy. It’s not possible to avoid “chemicals” in your diet; chemicals ARE your diet. The same can be said for preservatives. Salt is a preservative. Added ingredients need to be evaluated on their own merits, not avoided wholesale. The same can be said for artificial sweeteners. Reno demonizes sugar substitutes claiming they “work against you just as much as white sugar does.” Yet here is no persuasive evidence to demonstrate that artificial sweeteners are harmful, or will compromise dietary goals. The same cannot be said for sugar.

Avoid all over-processed, refined foods, especially white flour and sugar. Here’s where we finally get into some specific dietary advice. This is largely reasonable, as heavily processed foods tend to be higher in salt and calories, and may also be less nutritious. There is is very little scientific debate that whole grain products are superior to those that contain mainly white flour, which is missing the most nutritious parts of the grain. There’s also good evidence to suggest many people obtain an excessive number of calories from sugar, and from refined carbohydrates in general. However, advising that all white flour and sugar be avoided is very difficult, and there’s no reason they cannot be consumed in moderation. What matters is the overall caloric balance.

Depend on fresh fruits and vegetables for fiber, vitamins, and enzymes. Fruits and vegetables are good sources of nutrients, fiber and vitamins. but so are other foods, such as grains. Insisting on “fresh” produce is unnecessarily restrictive, as frozen or canned versions can offer the same nutritional benefits.  Enzymes are large proteins that act as catalysts for biochemical reactions throughout the body – but our body produces what we need, and digests the ones we consume.

There’s more at the link.

Kids These Days: Rap Music, Marijuana Cigarettes and High IQs

The Flynn Effect is the observation that IQ scores are increasing over time. They’re still trying to figure it out.

Flynn himself hypothesizes (plausibly) that everyday activities require more abstraction today than in earlier eras.  Demand for intelligence creates its own supply. Farmers and line workers needed to read, add and subtract, but today’s kids all figure out Facebook and Twitter.

A recent paper (pdf) provides a measurement of ability with analogies independent of IQ (with something called Ravens Matrices). And it fits.

Here is the abstract:

Secular gains in intelligence test scores have perplexed researchers since they were documented by Flynn (1984, 1987). Gains are most pronounced on abstract, so-called culture-free tests, prompting Flynn (2007) to attribute them to problem solving skills availed by scientifically advanced cultures. We propose that recent-born individuals have adopted an approach to analogy that enables them to infer higher-level relations requiring roles that are not intrinsic to the objects that constitute initial representations of items. This proposal is translated into item-specific predictions about differences between cohorts in pass rates and item-response patterns on the Raven’s Matrices, a seemingly culture-free test that registers the largest Flynn effect. Consistent with predictions, archival data reveal that individuals born around 1940 are less able to map objects at higher levels of relational abstraction than individuals born around 1990. Polytomous Rasch models verify predicted violations of measurement invariance as raw scores are found to underestimate the number of analogical rules inferred by members of the earlier cohort relative to members of the later cohort who achieve the same overall score. The work provides a plausible cognitive account of the Flynn effect, furthers understanding of the cognition of matrix reasoning, and underscores the need to consider how test-takers select item responses.

My Sandy Timeline

Mid-April: I move to Hoboken, NJ with my 6-month pregnant wife and Bree and Max, my two 10-pound dogs.

Some time in May: a relatively minor storm floods our parking garage and the nearby street. WTF? Lesson: Hoboken is really bad for flooding and we live in one of the worst parts.

End of July: I sign up for an actuarial exam for the end of October AND my son is born.

October 20: “A strong ridge of high pressure parked itself over Greenland beginning on October 20, creating a “blocking ridge” that prevented the normal west-to-east flow of winds over Eastern North America. Think of the blocking ridge like a big truck parked over Greenland. Storms approaching from the west or from the south were blocked from heading to the northeast.”

Some additional background from the same link:

We expect hurricanes to move from east to west in the tropics, where the prevailing trade winds blow that direction. But the prevailing wind direction reverses at mid-latitudes, flowing predominately west-to-east, due to the spin of the Earth. Hurricanes that penetrate to about Florida’s latitude usually get caught up in these westerly winds, and are whisked northeastwards, out to sea.

Bottom line: normal no longer applies.

October 22th: Tropical Depression 18 forms.

October 24th: Now Hurricane Sandy, the storm hits Cuba hard. The possibility of a US landfall dawns on the NHC for the first time.

October 27th (Saturday): I get a mass email from my building manager saying that the area flooded even during the over-hyped Irene last year and big floods trigger the fire alarm. I reply: as in the building-wide fire alarm? Yep, he fires back, and we can’t turn it off and it’s LOUD.

Well that sews this one up, but where do we go? Here’s our criteria:

  1. Town that has a hotel that wasn’t full
  2. Oh, yeah, and isn’t on a river
  3. That hotel needs to take dogs
  4. Is near a place where I can take my exam (still studying through all this!).

I pull up the intertubes and hit the phones. The answer? Three-hour away Albany.

October 28th (Sunday): no point studying, got to pack up an infant and dogs and supplies and whatnot and hit the road. That takes most of a day. The hotel is great and guest cancellations are rolling in. Papa John’s pizza and a practice exam for me.

October 29th (Monday): Holy Cow this is for real. Glued to CNN. Albany? A brisk wind is the worst we saw. Incredible luck.

October 30th (Tuesday): Hoboken is underwater. Everything is underwater. Uh, oh, when are we going to be able to get back?

October 31st (Wednesday): I write my exam in the morning. I’m the only one sitting it since the CAS let affected folks put it off. Not for me, let’s do this. That’s four hours.

Back at the hotel it’s becoming clear, as I scarf down yet more takeout, that we’re not going home. Looks like it’s back to Canada to my in-laws’. But first someone’s got to go back to Hoboken to get our travel documents. Saddle up!

Driving down the roads I see that about one in ten gas stations in Northern New Jersey is open and each has a gigantic queue of cars at it.

You know what that means: rationing by time instead of price. Far more importantly, however, it means that overall supply is lower. Here’s Yglesias who has been covering this very well:

Chris Christie, also put out a weekend press release warning that “price gouging during a state of emergency is illegal” and that complaints would be investigated by the attorney general. Specifically, Garden State merchants are barred from raising prices more than 10 percent over their normal level during emergency conditions (New York’s anti-gouging law sets a less precise definition, barring “unconscionably extreme” increases).

The bipartisan indignation is heartening, but there’s one problem. These laws are hideously misguided. Stopping price hikes during disasters may sound like a way to help people, but all it does is exacerbate shortages and complicate preparedness

And more:

But when it comes to things like gasoline and bottled water, neither the short-term nor the long-term supplies are genuinely fixed. Transportation routes into the area have been severely disrupted and many gas stations’ supplies are hard to access due to power outages, but it’s not impossible to transport this fuel from where it is into people’s cars and generators. It’s just much more annoying and difficult than usual. But the possibility of windfall profits is exactly the lure we need to get people to start making extraordinary efforts to get more fuel to the people who need it. There are things people will do to sell gasoline for $10 a gallon that they won’t do to sell gasoline for $3.40 a gallon (note that in Norway this is what gas costs all the time) and that’s what we need.

Power lines were down everywhere and electrical crews were working away. Roads were closed, though, and it took forever to get back to Hoboken. Eventually I had to park about a mile away and, now under the cover of darkness, run into town with my rubber boots, flashlight and backpack.

Very post-apocalyptic.

The phone networks were overloaded so there were definitely people around. You could see refugees sitting in cars charging their devices before going back up to, I dunno, play angry birds by candlelight, I suppose. The gold standard of disaster certifications is of course an on-location broadcast by Anderson Cooper, which happened while I was there! I didn’t see AC360 himself, though.

Anyway, got my stuff and booted it back to the car. Back to Albany by 11pm. Phew. what a day.

November 1st: quick check of the newswires. Still flooded. Ok, back in the car for 8 hours to Canada!

Post Scripts:

The insurance loss is getting picked at 10-20bn, which should put this after Katrina and Andrew as the third most costly hurricane in US history. That’s probably about right. There’s also a debate about whether hurricane deductibles (higher than normal storm deductibles) are going to apply to this “Post-Tropical Cyclone”. See here for example.

There is also a debate about the role of FEMA in these kinds of disasters. Here is an interesting point (via MR):

We’ve nationalized so many of the events over the last few decades that the federal government is involved in virtually every disaster that happens. And that’s not the way it’s supposed to be. It stresses FEMA unnecessarily. And it allows states to shift costs from themselves to other states, while defunding their own emergency management because Uncle Sam is going to pay. That’s not good for anyone.

When FEMA’s operational tempo is 100-plus disasters a year, it’s always having to do stuff. There’s not enough time to truly prepare for a catastrophic event. Time is a finite quantity. And when you’re spending time and money on 100-plus declarations, or over 200 last year, that taxes the system. It takes away time you could be spending getting ready for the big stuff.

…I think another issue is some people see the failed response to Hurricane Andrew as the reason George H.W. Bush lost Florida to Clinton. So now, you have presidents who are very concerned about the potential impact, from an election standpoint, of disasters. That created an incentive to nationalize things.

Finally, here’s a statistical wrap-up (great image at the link):

Death toll: 160 (88 in the U.S., 54 in Haiti, 11 in Cuba)

Damage estimates: $10 – $55 billion

Power outages: 8.5 million U.S. customers, 2nd most for a natural disaster behind the 1993 blizzard (10 million)

Maximum U.S. sustained winds: 69 mph at Westerly, RI

Peak U.S. wind gusts: 90 mph at Islip, NY and Tompkinsville, NJ

Maximum U.S. storm surge: 9.45′, Bergen Point, NJ 9:24 pm EDT October 29, 2012

Maximum U.S. Storm Tide: 14.60′, Bergen Point, NJ, 9:24 pm EDT October 29, 2012

Maximum wave height: 33.1′ at the buoy east of Cape Hatteras, NC (2nd highest: 32.5′ at the Entrance to New York Harbor)

Maximum U.S. rainfall: 12.55″, Easton, MD

Maximum snowfall: 36″, Richwood, WV

Minimum pressure: 945.5 mb, Atlantic City, NJ at 7:24 pm EST, October 29, 2012. This is the lowest pressure measured in the U.S., at any location north of Cape Hatteras, NC (previous record: 946 mb in the 1938 hurricane on Long Island, NY)

Destructive potential of storm surge: 5.8 on a scale of 0 to 6, highest of any hurricane observed since 1969. Previous record: 5.6 on a scale of 0 to 6, set during Hurricane Isabel of 2003.

Diameter of tropical storm-force winds at landfall: 945 miles

Diameter of ocean with 12′ seas at landfall: 1500 miles

Nectar of the Sows

Slate on Milk:

There are no written records from the period when humans invented agriculture, but if there were, they would tell a tale of woe. Agriculture, in Jared Diamond’s phrase, was the “worst mistake in human history.” The previous system of nourishment—hunting and gathering—had all but guaranteed a healthy diet, as it was defined by variety. But it made us a rootless species of nomads. Agriculture offered stability. It also transformed nature into a machine for cranking out human beings, though there was a cost. Once humans began to rely on the few crops that we knew how to grow reliably, our collective health collapsed. The remains of the first Neolithic farmers show clear signs of dramatic tooth decay, anemia, and low bone-density. Average height dropped by about 5 inches, while infant mortality rose. Diseases of deficiency like scurvy, rickets, beriberi, and pellagra were serious problems that would have been totally perplexing. We are still reeling from the change: Heart disease, diabetes, alcoholism, celiac disease, and perhaps even acne are direct results of the switch to agriculture.

The plot is still fuzzy, but we know a few things: The rise of civilization coincided with a strange twist in our evolutionary history. We became, in the coinage of one paleoanthropologist, “mampires” who feed on the fluids of other animals. Western civilization, which is twinned with agriculture, seems to have required milk to begin functioning. No one can say why. We know much less than we think about why we eat what we do. The puzzle is not merely academic. If we knew more, we might learn something about why our relationship to food can be so strange.

Math Problem Few Know Exists Solved. Nobody Understands Solution (yet?)

Nature has the scoop:

The usually quiet world of mathematics is abuzz with a claim that one of the most important problems in number theory has been solved.

Mathematician Shinichi Mochizuki of Kyoto University in Japan has released a 500-page proof of the abc conjecture, which proposes a relationship between whole numbers — a ‘Diophantine’ problem.

And this:

Conrad says that the work “uses a huge number of insights that are going to take a long time to be digested by the community”. The proof is spread across four long papers1–4, each of which rests on earlier long papers. “It can require a huge investment of time to understand a long and sophisticated proof, so the willingness by others to do this rests not only on the importance of the announcement but also on the track record of the authors,” Conrad explains.

Mochizuki’s track record certainly makes the effort worthwhile. “He has proved extremely deep theorems in the past, and is very thorough in his writing, so that provides a lot of confidence,” says Conrad. And he adds that the pay-off would be more than a matter of simply verifying the claim. “The exciting aspect is not just that the conjecture may have now been solved, but that the techniques and insights he must have had to introduce should be very powerful tools for solving future problems in number theory.”

Here are some other fun tidbits. About the mathematician quoted in the article:

I personally know Brian Conrad (quoted in article). He has an encyclopedic knowledge of algebraic number theory and algebraic geometry, I would say that he’s in the top ten people worldwide who could reasonably assess whether Mochizuki’s proof is correct. And he has a great nose for bullshit, and little patience for it.
He is taking this claim seriously. He doesn’t necessarily believe it’s correct (presumably he’s a bit careful in what he says to the press), but he seems to think it has a shot, and is worth paying attention to.

Here’s the author’s wikipedia page (the days of prodigies sweeping the profession are clearly over).

And here is the abstract for the first of the papers (I hope my TeX rendering works with all this bizarro notation):

Abstract. The present paper is the first in a series of four papers, the goal of which is to establish an arithmetic version of Teichm¨uller theory for number fields equipped with an elliptic curve — which we refer to as “inter-universal Teichm¨uller theory” — by applying the theory of semi-graphs of anabelioids,
Frobenioids, the ´etale theta function, and log-shells developed in earlier papers by the author. We begin by fixing what we call “initial Θ-data”, which consists of an elliptic curve EF over a number field F, and a prime number l ≥ 5, as well as some other technical data satisfying certain technical properties. This data determines various hyperbolic orbicurves that are related via finite ´etale coverings to the once-punctured elliptic curve XF determined by EF . These finite ´etale coverings admit various symmetry properties arising from the additive and multiplicative structures on the ring Fl = Z/lZ acting on the l-torsion points of the elliptic curve.

We then construct “Θ±ell NF-Hodge theaters” associated to the given Θ-data. These Θ±ell NF-Hodge theaters may be thought of as miniature models of conventional scheme theory in which the two underlying combinatorial dimensions of a number field — which may be thought of as corresponding to the additive and multiplicative structures of a ring or, alternatively, to the group of units and value group of a local field associated to the number field — are, in some sense, “dismantled” or “disentangled” from one another. All Θ±ell NF-Hodge theaters are isomorphic to one another, but may also be related to one another by means of a “Θ-link”, which relates certain Frobenioid-theoretic portions of one Θ±ell NF-Hodge theater to another is a fashion that is not compatible with the respective conventional ring/scheme theory structures. In particular, it is a highly nontrivial problem to relate the ring structures on either side of the Θ-link to one another. This will be achieved, up to certain “relatively mild indeterminacies”, in future papers in the series by applying the absolute anabelian geometry developed in earlier papers by the author. The resulting description of an “alien ring structure” [associated, say, to the domain of the Θ-link] in terms of a given ring structure [associated, say, to the codomain of the Θ-link] will be applied in the final paper of the series to obtain results in diophantine geometry. Finally, we discuss certain technical results concerning profinite conjugates of decomposition and inertia groups in the tempered fundamental group of a p-adic hyperbolic curve that will be of use in the development of the theory of the present series of papers, but are also of independent interest.

Well, about time!

A Chiropractor Goes to Damascus

Much has been written (and published on this site) about the implausibility of chiropractic vertebral subluxation theory which proposes that a vertebral subluxation complex or a spinal joint dysfunction “may affect organ system function and general health.” Associated chiropractic gimmickry that might be harmful as well as a waste of time and money should be also be brought to the attention of concerned consumers. As a chiropractor (retired) who has renounced subluxation theory, it might be helpful to share my concerns about some dubious chiropractic methods that are foisted upon an unsuspecting public, unchallenged in the market place.

From the always awesome Science-Based Medicine.

Today In “Holy Freaking Cow”

A bioengineer and geneticist at Harvard’s Wyss Institute have successfully stored 5.5 petabits of data — around 700 terabytes — in a single gram of DNA, smashing the previous DNA data density record by a thousand times.

Scientists have been eyeing up DNA as a potential storage medium for a long time, for three very good reasons: It’s incredibly dense (you can store one bit per base, and a base is only a few atoms large); it’s volumetric (beaker) rather than planar (hard disk); and it’s incredibly stable — where other bleeding-edge storage mediums need to be kept in sub-zero vacuums, DNA can survive for hundreds of thousands of years in a box in your garage.

Here’s more.

Self-Driving Cars Approach? Doubt It.

Geekdom is a-flutter over Google’s self-driving car project.

Google announced a new phase of its self-driving car project Tuesday. The test vehicles, of which there are “about a dozen on the road at any given time,” have so far logged 300,000 miles of road testing without a single accident under computer control. In the next phase of testing, team members will start commuting to work solo, with the robot at the wheel.

Google also showed off a new vehicle type added to the program, the Lexus RX450h SUV. Now that the self-driving car software is comfortable in a variety of traffic conditions, the next phase will test snowy roads, temporary construction signals and other unusual terrain.

More here. Via MR under a very optimistic headline. An optimism I don’t share, unfortunately, but not because of the technology.

What I’m worried about is whether our society is genuinely capable of putting the most lethal weapon on earth in the hands of AI.

Remember that the auto liability insurance market is the largest in the world by an order of magnitude. This is so because everyone who can drive has the power to maim and destroy a lot of property and life around him/her. Auto insurance works because agents have control over their actions and are responsible for those consequences. Each person pays premium.

Who pays when Google’s driver hits a schoolbus full of children and sends it rolling down a cliff? What if Google’s driving algorithm isn’t at fault but a court pins the blame anyway? Remember Google’s car need never cause an accident for people to scream “Skynet!” and pull the plug.

Like with Kickstarter, Google’s car will only truly be tested when someone gets effed over. You tell me how long Kicktarter will last when someone commits genuine fraud and everyone’s confdience evaporates. Caveat Emptor? Yeah right.

It is our liability system (which mostly reflects an underlying extreme risk aversion) that will probably kill these technologies.

Exam Day

Today I write an exam. It was originally scheduled for last Friday but my wife went into labor a few days before and I had to move it (using my laptop in the delivery room three hours before my son was born. Wife, incandescent with rage from pain: “WTF are you doing on your computer?!”).

Anyway, the exam isn’t until 5pm so I’ve got some time for a little sharpening up. And of course I turn to Barker:

If you can’t get in a full night’s sleep, you can still improve the ability of your brain to synthesize new information by taking a nap. In a study funded by NASA, David Dinges, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and a team of researchers found that letting astronauts sleep for as little as fifteen minutes markedly improved their cognitive performance.

The challenges that the brain had grappled with during the daytime replayed in the mind as the subject went to sleep… (S)ubjects who spent more time dreaming about the game demonstrated a greater improvement in their skills the next time they played than those whose brains hadn’t relived its experiences during sleep.

Ugh, I slept horribly last night because I strained an abdominal muscle playing soccer yesterday. I’m actually convinced it’s a studying injury triggered by the running around. Ok, nap today, got it.

Here’s some more interesting stuff:

Dement— one of the premier researchers in the history of sleep science who you may remember from an earlier chapter— received a commission from a company that had recently built a prototype of a high-tech mattress. Inside of it, warm air flowed through billions of tiny, ceramic beads. The end result was the feeling of a cushion built out of heated mud.“Everyone in our lab agreed that it was the most comfortable bed they had ever lain on,” Dement later noted. The company that hired him asked Dement to determine how well people slept on its product, which was expected to retail for several-thousand dollars, compared with a conventional mattress. To make the final result more dramatic, Dement decided to include a third option in his study: sleeping on a concrete floor with no padding. Volunteers gamely spent a night on each of the three, and Dement’s team later evaluated the results. “We were absolutely flabbergasted,” he wrote. There were no significant differences in the quality of a volunteer’s sleep or the total number of hours spent sleeping on the three surfaces.

A bit surprising, actually. I’ve slept on all manner of mattresses and agree that they probably don’t matter up to a point (I actually think that a concrete floor is better than a lot of soft mattresses out there). But wouldn’t the psychological effect alone of sleeping on a concrete floor make people uncomfortable? Questionable science!

Violence in America

I saw this interesting chart suggesting violence in the US is on the decline (original image here):

This is via Krugman who doesn’t hesitate to grind his political ax a bit:

And that’s one reason I find all these laments about declining values among non-elite Americans hard to take seriously. If things like single parenthood were as bad as they say, how can social pathologies have declined so much?

Ugh, I say, politics and sociology. What a mess!

So I thought I’d like to tickle a bias of mine with the graph, too. Notice that the trend is the same in all OECD countries? They’re dwarfed by the scale of the US data. Oh, the statistical tricks we can play!

For a quick and dirty analysis, let’s just see what the demographics of the era have looked like (source):

You’ll see that society is aging pretty remarkably since the 70s. Common to almost all OECD countries.

Angry youngsters killing each other!