Plan your alcohol consumption

Wine - by katiew I was talking to a doctor friend about cholesterol and stuff and he mentioned some interesting facts about alcohol: drinking up to 2 units of alcohol per day is good for your health. The numbers I find on the New England Journal of Medicine site are somewhat smaller (1 unit per day) but the effect is proven:

Light-to-moderate alcohol consumption reduces the overall risk of stroke and the risk of ischemic stroke in men. The benefit is apparent with as little as one drink per week. Greater consumption, up to one drink per day, does not increase the observed benefit (NEJM)

As compared with men who consumed alcohol less than once per week, men who consumed alcohol three to four or five to seven days per week had decreased risks of myocardial infarction (NEJM)

Most of you probably knew this, but what he also said is that you can use your weekly quotum (7 to 14 units, depending on the source) in a not-evenly spread out manner. So if you do not drink during the week, you can use your full alcohol allowance over the weekend. Unfortunately, for this piece of information, I cannot find the source or study on NEJM. Darn.

Other stuff that helps: stop smoking

Alcohol consumption was associated with a small reduction in the overall risk of death in middle age (ages 35 to 69), whereas smoking approximately doubled this risk (NEJM)

and eat fish:

The n–3 fatty acids found in fish are strongly associated with a reduced risk of sudden death among men without evidence of prior cardiovascular disease. (NEJM)

So don’t be surprised next time I look angry when someone spoils my “Saumon effeuillé mariné aux trois moutardes” and white Sancerre with cigarette smoke: It’s killing me, that’s why!

Interpersonal Intelligence and Mental Violence

This is a text by Rauno Lindström that has now disappeared from its original URL. I don’t agree with all points in the text, but I store it here for easy reference. The definition of ‘interpersonal intelligence’ will remind you of “EQ“.

Arguments for the existence of a kind of intelligence which codes how a person understands the feelings, the responses, and the behavior of the others, was brought forward by Gardner (1985). He defends extensively this ability which he calls the interpersonal intelligence but he does not give any definition for it. I argue for one meaning which the definition should contain. My insight is based mainly on experience, very little on the psychological literature because I am a physicist. I try to illuminate my ideas by a few examples from everyday life. My view of the interpersonal intelligence consists of similar aspects as the social intelligence by Barnes and Sternberg (1989). They defined the social intelligence as consisting, in part, of the ability to accurately decode social information. The testees were given two tasks. First, they had to judge whether a couple pictured in a photograph was real (genuinely in a relationship) or fake (two strangers). Second, they were asked to judge which of two people in a photograph was the other’s supervisor. However, I wish to emphasize that the interpersonal intelligence does not really become apparent in the test items where the testee is to react only to the behavior of another person. In fact, testees possessing quite different interpersonal intelligences would response in a very similar way. The interpersonal intelligence becomes discernible when the testee self is involved in the matter. It shows the extent to which a person is willing to take into account the viewpoints of the other persons versus his or her own viewpoint. I think that it is possible to predict very well this kind of behavior of an individual if one has known him or her for a long time.
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A Sudoku challenge generator

When on holiday, one can kill time solving Sudoku puzzles. When one has done a dozen of those puzzles and one happens to have a wandering mind like mine, one starts wondering how those Sudoku challenges are created, and if it would be possible to describe an algorithm that can make such a scarcely filled-in 9-by-9 grid. Some sunny hours later one has a system that might work (I haven’t implemented it fully yet). For my future reference: here’s how I would do it.
REMARK: this algorithm is quite logical and as such, I seriously doubt I would be the first one to think of it. I can imagine that Sudoku puzzles are already made by the hundreds with a program that uses this or a quite similar system. I’m not claiming it’s an original ‘invention’, just a fun problem to tackle.

Step 1: take a good root grid

Let’s start with an completely valid Sudoku filled-in grid. Any one would do, I take the one that has 1-2-…-9 in the top row, and in the top left 3×3 square:
Step 1: start layout
Continue reading A Sudoku challenge generator

Lies, damned lies and Google trends

Yesterday I was browsing through my freshly arrived Tufte book “The visual display of quantitative information“. One example of “garbage in, garbage out” that he gives is the London Stock Exchange index (which went way down one year in Dec) and the solar radiation in that same year (which obviously also went down in the winter). Plotting both lines in the same graph gives the impression of correlation (Stock Exchange went down because of lack of sun).

Now take a look at this chart:
Google Trends: RSS

This seems to imply that, since the term “RSS” is more searched for than “blogs”, that RSS is more popular than this whole “blogs” thing, right?

And this is exactly what was written in It was cited by, who -to their credit- added the wise remark that:

To be honest, I do think that RSS is as important as I said above, but in terms of use frequency it’s also got the semantic advantage of only having one tense. People will write about and search for blogs, blog and blogging for example – but RSS is a one-term wonder.

Continue reading Lies, damned lies and Google trends

BMI is not perfect

Lena B, my favourite
I’ve written a post on the BMI (Body Mass Index) of the candidates for Germany’s next Top Model and I have been mentally bugged ever since. Not by images of thin girls, but by the formula of BMI: weight(kg) / length(m) ^ 2. Why the square of the length?

If it were weight/length you can attach a mental image to that: if you took horizontal slices of the body, how much would a 1m high slice weigh? For weight/length³ you can have an image too: kg/m³ or density of the body. But BMI is kg/m² or something like ‘pressure’ (multiply it with gravity 9.81 m/s² and you get the unit of pressure: Newton/m² or ‘Pascal’).
Continue reading BMI is not perfect

ShockAbsorber: Baywatch and science

Joey from “Friends“, as we all know, is very interested in bio-mechanics, certainly the topic of female movement on beaches:

Nicole EggertCHANDLER: So ah, whatcha watching?
JOEY: Baywatch.
CHANDLER: What’s it about?
JOEY: Lifeguards.
CHANDLER: Well, it sounds kinda stupid… Who’s she?
JOEY: Nicole Eggert. You’ll like her.
CHANDLER: Wow! Look at them run.
JOEY: They do that a lot.
(from The One With the Flashback)

ShockAbsorber - sports bra simulatorThe UK bra brand ShockAbsorber took it one step further and actually teamed up with Portsmouth University to explore the exact dynamics of chest movement during sports activity. Whoever said science was dull?

Teaming up with Portsmouth University
In 2004, we joined forces with Portsmouth University to update and expand our original research into breast movement during exercise. Established in 1992, the Sports Science Department has an impressive track record of research.
The results
Analysing the movement of a C cup, it was found that wearing no bra resulted in a 3D bounce of up to 6.7cm, compared to 6.4cm for a normal bra and 3.4cm when wearing a Shock Absorber.
Conclusion: Shock Absorber reduces 3D bounce by up to 74% (A cup; B989 style)

They used the results to create the Bounce-o-meter: simulate breast movement for any cup size with and without sports bra. Joey would have loved it. One thing you notice when playing with the parameters: horseriding with a C-cup is a bad idea without the proper support. We live to learn.



Automated initial image tagging: Ojos Inc

What meta-data do we have for the average digital picture we take:


a filename, typically autogenerated by the camera (e.g. “DSC0009”) or chosen at the moment of import (e.g. “Trip to Portugal 001” or “Aug2005_001”)
a filedate, which probably correponds to the date the picture landed on the hard disk
EXIF information: date of image capture, camera brand and model, aperture, … (maybe in the future also geo-location from a built-in GPS)


a title and a description: in free text
an group/set/album name: typically less than 10 words
tags or labels: the ideal search criteria, typically added by the owner
geo coordinates: the new craze on Pixagogo (who then also add the city name as a tag), so the pictures can be mapped on Google Maps

If the human-added metadata is missing, there is hardly a way to find the picture through Google Images or Flickr. What if there could be an software that analyzes a picture and automatically adds relevant metadata to a picture?

Munjal Shah, onetime cofounder of the auction services firm Andale, finally let slip on his new blog what he’s been working on since leaving last year (…) In other words, his startup, tentatively named Ojos (Spanish for “eyes”), is creating a new way to search and organize photos.
(…) he revealed the key technologies behind Ojos: face and text recognition. (…) The other key: You can assign tags, or keywords, to one photo and the service will automatically append that tag to other photos of the same people.

I wonder if it also could be used to recognize familiar archetypes/icons like: a house, an sunset, an iPod, a Ferrari…

On his own blog, Shah writes:

I think Flickr’s tag based system is just super (in fact I love it), but I wanted all of my photos on there, I wanted them all tagged, and I didn’t want to spend hundreds of hours doing it. So being the lazy engineers that we are, we thought maybe we can at least auto-tag some of the faces and names.

Ho John Lee states on his blog that the technology should be offered as a web service, not as yet another photo storage site. He has a point, and I can see also it working in a technology licensing model: let Flickr or Pixagogo run it locally and let them pay per million pictures treated. Anyway, it will be interesting to see where this company goes.
(via John)


Biometric spielerei: Applied Minds

Reading this article on Applied Minds sure brings back memories:

Co-founder Danny Hillis escorts me down a hallway that dead-ends into an old-fashioned red phone booth. The phone rings. He places receiver to ear.
The blue moon jumps over the purple sky,” he says, and hangs up.
Suddenly, the booth becomes a door, swinging out to reveal a vast, open room filled with engineers, gadgets and big ideas.
from Applied Minds Think Remarkably (Wired)

I remember Maarten, Henry, Frederik and me, in the early days of Keyware (in 1998, I think), preparing a demo for Walter Debrouwer‘s Riverland company. The latter wanted to impress his prospective client BP, and so he wanted a biometric access control to his ‘labs’.

We hacked something together with a hastily purchased badge-reader-annex-intercom, linked to a PC’s soundcard, running the first beta demo of our speaker authentication software (based on a Lernout & Hauspie technology). I think we even added the Visionics (now Identix) face recognition software we licensed, linked to a QuickCam webcam. So the system would recognize your face, recognize your voice while you pronounce your passphrase and then let you in when it was sure enough it was actually you. Wonderful when it works. And when it doesn’t, you can always explain about false rejection, false acceptance, and equal error rate. Maarten and me even wrote a white paper on the subject, but I can’t find that document back, only references (PDF) to it.

Frederik is now at Vasco, Maarten is at Imec, Henry has set up Broncoway. But I have no idea what happened to Veronique, An, Anke, Rudy and the lovely Julia. Maybe it’s time for a reunion.


Know Your (Metric) Limits

From Wired – July 2004:

The universe comes in a box. It’s a big box, and you almost never see the walls, but its boundaries are immovable – the speed of light, gravity, the way atoms interact. Even if time and space are unlimited and illimitable, physics, chemistry, and biology dictate maxima and minima in the universe. Like the strict meter and structure of a sonnet, they make the final product all the more beautiful. – Adam Rogers

5 billion Years – Maximum time Earth has left.

That’s when the sun goes red giant and expands past Earth’s orbit.

5.4 * 10-44 seconds – Shortest possible time.

Any shorter and quantum mechanics can’t tell whether events are simultaneous.

1.419 * 1026 meter (15 billion light-years) – Maximum distance we can see.

The universe is about 15 billion years old – this is light’s travel time.

1.6256 * 10-35 meter (6.4 * 10-34 inches) – Shortest possible distance.

Planck length: any shorter and quantum mechanics can’t tell between here and there.

34.92 km (21.7 miles) – Maximum height of a mountain on Earth.

Uplift reaches equilibrium with pressure at the base.

3.048 * 10-7 m (1.2 * 10-5 inches) – Minimum size of an actively growing cell.

Free-living cells need room for a full genome, proteins, and guts.

130 m (427 feet) – Maximum height for a tree on Earth.

Gravity overcomes surface tension in the plant’s circulatory system.

265 – Minimum number of protein-coding genes for life.

As seen in the smallest known single-cell organism.

200 million years – Maximum age of sub-oceanic crust.

Older than that: it cools, becomes denser, and “subducts” back into magma.

-273.15 ° Celsius (-459.67 ° Fahrenheit) – Minimum possible temperature.

Heat is a function of molecular motion, which stops at absolute zero.

338 km/h (210 MPH) – Maximum wind speed for an Earth hurricane.

A storm can acquire only so much energy from the sea.

0.24 second – Minimum delay of a signal sent via geosynchronous satellite.

It’s light speed up 35.600 km (22.300 miles), and back down.

430.000 Mbps – Maximum speed to record data to magnetic media.

Bits won’t flip reliably with a pulse under 2.3 picoseconds.

100 Tbps – Maximum information bandwidth over optical fiber.

Higher power levels mash signals together.

1051 operations per second – Maximum computational power.

Quantum rules won’t let the ideal 1-liter, 1-kilogram laptop crunch data any faster.

Contributors: Sunny Bains, Thomas Hayden, Greta Lorge, Michael Myser, and Boyce Rensberger / Sources: Fire in the Mind: Science, Faith, and the Search for Order (Knopf, 1995); Institute for Genomic Research; Lucent Technologies; MIT; NASA; National Institute of Standards and Technology; Nature; UC Berkeley; Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; Yale

via Andrew Ferguson and


Instant Ken and Barbie: Melanotan to the rescue

Thus a drug called melanotan (…), which was developed as an analogue of this hormone to promote a natural tan as protection against skin cancer, was found to have the side effect of dramatically increasing libido in men and women during clinical trials. Female rats increased their rate of copulation by 300% after a dose of melanotan, and 80% men suffering from impotence reported getting normal erections after taking this drug. Melanotan also inhibits appetite by suppressing the action of the hunger center of the hypothalamus. So it makes you tanned, thin and horny – which is why it is sometimes called the “Ken and Barbie drug.”

Now let’s see how long it takes before I get my first “Herbal Melanotan” spam mail.

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