Interesting Articles: Feb 21st-27th 2006

Science: (of some form or another)
* Explaining Ice: The Answers Are Slippery (New York Times). A question nearly as basic as "why is the sky blue?" So simple a question, with such a nuanced complex answer. (Also, I love the double meaning of one quote in the article: "Textbooks are full of it.")
* A Book for People Who Love Numbers (New York Times). A fun source for data miners, with some neat examples of things already gleaned from the book.
* Is Freedom Just Another Word for Many Things to Buy? (New York Times). With a not very appropriate title, the piece summarizes some recent studies regarding the psychology of decision making and how it relates to social class and happiness. If you enjoy it, you may also enjoy the book The Paradox of Choice by the first author of the article. I recently read it and found it to be a good in-depth exploration of these issues, well supported by psychology studies and with thoughtful discussions on how it relates to American culture.

* Which Cut Is Older? (It's a Trick Question) (New York Times). More ways food producers trick us by hiding signs of freshness.

* Why Doctors So Often Get It Wrong (New York Times). An important read. Fundamentally there are too many different diseases.

Communication and Education:
* To: Subject: Why It's All About Me (New York Times). While a fairly simplistic article about e-mail in academic settings, I feel like I have to post it given all my past postings of articles about e-mail. The last two paragraphs raise interesting points.
* Science Comes to the Masses (You Want Fries With That?) (New York Times). Bringing the joys of a university to the masses.

* A World of Affordable Choices (New York Times). Look for inexpensive housing in up and coming international cities.

* A Pop Quiz on Marriage (New York Times). The answers to the quiz (quiz opens in pop-up) reveal some surprising facts. (Apologies that the ugly image-based graphic is hard to read.)

Interesting Articles: Feb 14th-20th 2006

* Maybe You're Not What You Eat (New York Times). In response to last week's study on low fat diets, a review of the history of other diets and reactions to the study.
* The Lowdown on Sweet? (New York Times). Another recent completed health study: this one shows that aspartame seems to cause a number of health troubles.
* Go With Your Gut (New York Times). Reporting on an old study that seems to imply that you absorb more nutrients from eating things you like. Happy eating! (And the piece references the relatively obscure Minnesota Starvation Study that I recently blogged about. That made me happy too.)

* The Kiss of Life (New York Times). The columnist asks and answers a very creative question: how did kissing arise?
* If Robots Ever Get Too Smart, He'll Know How to Stop Them (New York Times). Describing a humorous new book. The book's home page also includes some additional funny excerpts, as does the related article Kiss and Fell: Techniques for Dropping a 'Droid.
* Which Water Is Tastiest? , The Purity Factor (both New York Times). Two interesting articles about the phenomenon of bottled water. (The larger article, Must Be Something in the Water, -mostly about branding- to which these pieces were attached, wasn't as interesting to me.)

Interesting Articles: Feb 7th-13th 2006

Psychology, Science, Education, and Ethics: (all of these articles contain at least three of these four items!)
* Looking for the Lie (New York Times). A brief summary of lie detector technology followed by a (long) thoughtful exploration on the ethics and social implications of lying, the devices themselves, and what the world would be like if they worked.
* When Death Is on the Docket, the Moral Compass Wavers (New York Times). An exploration on how situational factors can change moral judgments.
* And for Perfect Attendance, Johnny Gets... a Car (New York Times). On giving rewards for various success metrics in school. Personally, I think these are likely to be bad ideas given the psychology research that expected rewards decrease intrinsic motivation. But I may be wrong, and small scale experimenting doesn't hurt much.
* Little Professor: Ants rank as first true animal teachers (Science News). A short study that explores not only animal learning but the definition of teaching and learning in general.

* Low-Fat Diet Does Not Cut Health Risks, Study Finds (New York Times). hmmmm...
* Computer Analysis Suggests Paintings Are Not Pollocks (New York Times). Artificial Intelligence / computer graphics meets art history. Neat. Do you trust the analysis?

Minnesota Starvation Study

Many people know what is allowed in experiments nowadays is much more restrictive than in the past. Experiments like Stanford's prison experiment would not pass muster at a university human subjects approval board. I recently stumbled upon another experiment that could not be repeated: the Minnesota Starvation Study was a military-endorsed study at the University of Minnesota in the 1940s to examine the psychology and, to some extent, the physical changes men undergo when starving. (Starvation meant cutting each participant's diet to half his usual number of calories for six months.) The reports lend themselves to slightly disturbing but quite interesting reading.

The experiment isn't discussed much on anything web accessible -it's too old-, but I did manage to find three good pieces:
* Minnesota Goes to War: The Home Front During World War II A book, pages 210-216 cover the Minnesota experiment. You probably won't be able to read all of those pages online.
* They Starved So That Others Be Better Fed (Journal of Nutrition). The first result on that link should be the article. Sadly, the images from the original article don't appear on the web page.
* Effects of Semi-Starvation (adaptation of chapter from Handbook for Treatment of Eating Disorders).

Jan 28th 2006: Inner Richmond Eat and Walk

In alternating overcast, drizzling, and raining weather, some friends and I walked much of the inner Richmond district in San Francisco, up and down Clement street from 2nd to Park Presidio (13th or so). It was the Chinese New Year and the Richmond district is a wonderfully diverse district with a large Chinese population. We thought it would be a nice excuse to walk and nosh some dim sum and Chinese bakery snacks. And indeed it was.

We shared a bunch of dim sum items, including:
* Shu mai. (Some places even had chicken shu mai, but these were pretty intense balls of meat. Mostly we had pork, which was actually milder.)
* Dumplings. Shrimp dumplings were good but unexciting. Shark's fin dumplings (I know, I know, we shouldn't eat shark's fin, but I don't know how much shark's fin went into them or whether it was real at all) were definitely good. Also quite good were the shrimp and leek dumplings.
* BBQ Pork Buns. Always good.
* Bamboo leaf (shaped into a triangle) filled with sticky rice and meat. (I hadn't tried these before.) The one we tried was really dense, like a whole meal compressed into a tight ball.
* Fun kuo. I hadn't seen this before and most places didn't serve them, but we finally decided to order them and they were very good. Dumplings filled with pork and some nuts.
* Congee (Chinese porridge). As always, warm and filling.
* Green onion buns. (Made with ham - would you believe it?) Like a mild onion cinnamon twist (without cinnamon).
* Sesame balls. Amazing, agonizingly sweet.
* Mooncake cookies. Also very sweet, but less oily and scary.
* Coconut peanut bun. Soft, and the flavors worked fairly well together.
* "Banana"/rice cake. A simple but good yellow cake traditionally eaten at this holiday.

All in a all, a good and wet day with friends, regardless of whether one counts the food.

Research Can Be Easy, according to recent Science News articles

I read some Science News issues in quick succession recently and found a few articles, despite the disparities in topics, hit a common theme for me. (Warning: articles may require a subscription.)

* Where steel-belted radials go to die. Researchers used computers to analyze satellite photographs to identify tire dumping grounds, finding some new (not previously known ones).

* Old drug, new trick. The relevant part:

Golub's group is developing a database of how each Food and Drug Administration–approved drug affects the activity, or expression, of about 22,000 human genes.
Researchers already know how gene expression changes in many forms of cancer. By comparing the information on a particular cancer with the gene-expression effects of the entire medical armamentarium, they can potentially identify new therapeutic pairings, Armstrong says.

* Counting on technology to count elephants. Instead of sending people out into the field to spend a lot of time to trying to find and track elephants in order to estimate elephant population, researchers have discovered that computers can do a fairly decent job of identify the sound of elephant footfalls (distinguishing them from the sound of other animals walking) and generate a population estimate that way.

* Estimating a temblor's strength on the fly. Researchers learned that an earthquake's final magnitude can be reasonably accurately estimated from the first seconds of a quake, enabling an earlier warning system.

What do all these articles have in common? Scientists have used simple computer algorithms (mostly machine learning and data mining ones) to solve useful previously unsolved or unexplored problems.

Interesting Articles: Jan 10th-Feb 6th 2006

* Holding Loved One's Hand Can Calm Jittery Neurons (New York Times). Awwww. But they don't think about the causality issue: maybe those people that are so affected by such a touch are the ones that tend to get married?
* When Bad People Are Punished, Men Smile (but Women Don't) (New York Times). An interesting gender difference. Cause? Who knows.
* Bright Lights, Big Cancer (New York Times). In short, keeping a normal sleeping schedule (sleeping at night) helps fight cancer.

* It May Look Authentic; Here's How to Tell It Isn't (New York Times). On the power of photoshop to manipulate science. It's disturbing that journals need to try to prevent this.
* 'No Messages on This Server,' and Other Lessons of Our Time (New York Times). On e-mail, a complementary piece to the article I previously posted. Here, the author seems to have mixed feelings but is trying to convince himself of the rightness of a particular side.

* (New York Times). A few humorous anecdotes. The first two stories and the last one are the best.

* My Week as a Waiter (New York Times). The New York Times food critic learns how hard it is to be a waiter. Frankly, I'm surprised so many of these difficulties seemed surprising to him. Hadn't he thought about a waiter's life and how he's treated them in the past?
* What's cookin' at the White House? (CNN). Neat piece of reporting on how the current chef at the White House works and how cooking at the White House is different than cooking anywhere else.

* If You Give a Congressman a Cookie (New York Times). Puts forth a thoughtful view about law and order and congressional rules in the legislature and how it effects congressional ethics.

Commentary on State of the Union addresses (in general):
* Song of Myself (New York Times). On the history of the State of the Union and its ego-focus.
* The State of the Union Is Unreal (New York Times). On the history of the State of the Union and its frequently misleading nature.