Friday, March 29, 2013

More Placebo effect

The Placebo effect is fairly interesting to me. I've probably blogged about it some before - but as most know it's a name given to the effect produced simply by giving people a "fake" treatment. It could be sugar pills. It could be a suggestion - like if you're told boys are expected to do better in math - they might. It could be the idea that you heard there's something in the water - and more people get sick - or even ideas of mass hysteria in cases. We seem to have a propensity to be able to "worry ourselves sick" as much as we can "expect ourselves to health." If given a placebo (fake treatment) - if the patient is told both of benefits and negative side effects - the patient will likely experience _both_ increased benefits and negative side effects of the fake treatment. Anyhow, the idea that our mental expectations influence outcomes and reality is quite interesting. And there's some data that the placebo effect is increasing over time. To the point that apparently it's becoming a problem for pharmaceutical companies when trying to show drug efficacy. Well, here's an interesting article discussion about a methodology pharmaceutical companies may start using to try to minimize the placebo effect. It sounds fishy to me, but is premised on the idea that some people may be more prone to placebos than others, and that perhaps placebo responders can be weeded out of clinical trials.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Massively Incomplete Markets

This blog post is thought provoking in an economics-sort-of-way. Why we do what we do when it's not our job. "We live in a world of Massively Incomplete Markets."

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Sounds like me - wide awake at night

I've always tended to be what is called a night owl - functioning best at night rather than in the mornings. When I should be going to bed I find myself most alert and engaged. Even when dog tired during the day I'd often find myself that same night forcing myself to go to bed just because I had to get up soon. Sometimes I'd find myself staying up to 2-3 even 4 in the morning even though I knew I had to get up in 3 or 4 hours. It wasn't insomnia - I could sleep easily - just not when I wanted to. But at night I was simply wide awake, not sleepy, and wanting to do things. If I tried to go to bed earlier I'd often just roll around until later in the morning.

Left to my own devices without a set schedule I find I'm very capable of getting completely off kilter with the normal day/night schedule. From a young age I often felt like my clock was set to 25 or 26 hour days - it's always been easy to stay up late - and generally a struggle to get going in the morning. I kind of felt like something was wrong with me because of Ben Franklin's quote about "early to bed, early to rise..."

Anyhow, I noticed this effect drastically the other day when I was draggy much of the day after about 3-4 hours of sleep. I found myself wanting to take a nap even about 12 hours after I woke up. But then I hit a certain point and it's like everything in me lights up at full go and I'm easily good for another 6-8 hours - very clear headed and motivated - and I have to force myself to go to bed just because I know I need to remembering how draggy I was during the day.

So I did a web search to investigate what may be going on. This interesting article popped up: Tired in the Morning and Awake at Night?

It says there's a thing called Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome that is characteristic of this - and it's essentially due to biological clocks being out of whack. The fancy term is Circadian rhythm sleep disorder. Now I don't think what I have is very severe, because I can still force myself to wake up whenever I need to - but again - left to my own devices I do think my body may run on abnormally long days - and I've always had groggy mornings for as long as I can remember. Apparently there's a thing called light therapy that I could try if I wanted to test things - it'd involve sitting in front of very bright lights right after waking up each day to shock my clock back into time. (I think this idea has been shown to work for overcoming jet lag also). Maybe put a flood light staring me in the face while I ride my exercise bike?

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Pump and Dump

More on Wall Street gaming the system. Rotten to the core. This story suggests that investment bank practice might involve underpricing IPOs initially - and then given allocation to the IPO to preferred specific firms, who immediately flip the stock for profits when price moves upward to match market demand. Instead of the IPO company getting the cash, it's skimmed instead by these preferred clients. In return investment banks require the preferred clients to find some way to return the favor, completing the virtuous cycle. I guess the bottom line here - is firms going to Wall Street to help them raise cash for an IPO shouldn't expect the investment bank to be in their corner, even when they're paying fees to the investment bank to do the job.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Bees like caffeine too

Just like people like caffeine in our drinks, bees seem to like caffeine in their nectar too and go back to flowers whose nectar has more caffeine. I didn't know this, but caffeine occurs naturally in plants as a poison to predators that eat them, but caffeine in smaller doses that is present in nectar seems to attract pollinators. So my question is: Are we built so that caffeine is good for us, or are we just addicted - or is a little bit of both?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Rand Paul filibuster

I normally try to stay away from political-type posts, but I was riding my exercise bike today I came across Rand Paul's filibuster over the CIA director nomination on C-Span. While I'm normally not a fan of actions like this that add to gridlock - I appreciate what Paul was doing, and hope the focus he puts on privacy and rights gains some traction. His particular focus was on the usage of drones, but the bigger argument he stressed was about privacy, rights to privacy, and the scope of personal freedom and governmental security concerns.

I'd thought about this for a while - especially as it regards to terrorism and post 9-11 realities. I was particularly concerned about things like wire-taping, holding suspects indefinitely without charges, enhanced interrogation techniques / torture, and just the general framework of how you adapt to real and dangerous asymmetrical threats while still maintaining a free and open society.

I believe it was Newt Gingrich who I saw speaking about this quite a while back - and he proposed a dual law enforcement system with a "wall" between it and the normal law enforcement system. I could be misattributing to Gingrich, but I liked the model proposed where certain asymmetric threats like terrorism are prosecuted under a different set of laws - outside of the normal judicial system. Additionally, if increased surveilence is needed - it should be very clearly and restrictively defined as to how any data collected can be used so that this type of surveilance does not turn into "fishing" expeditions for other agendas. For example: with drones it would probably be easy for law enforcement to track any of us 24 hours a day for our entire lives, and use NSA data to sneak into all of our phone conversations, and probably eventually at some point have so many microphones set up that even just basic conversations we have everyday are captured somewhere. Facial recognition technology is being employed in places already to identify people, and as technology gets better anonymity in public is going to be greatly reduced.

When I've talked to friends about this, worrying about computerized monitoring of phone calls (is it so crazy to be concerned given the ability of computers to mass translate speech now?), they say "well, if you're not doing anything wrong what are you worried about?". The thing is that the people in power running those systems don't always use them the way they're supposed to. For example, Martin Luther King had has reportedly had a 17,000 page FBI file and had running wiretaps on him from 1958 until his death. Any chance info uncovered was used improperly to intimidate and put leverage on him? Or, Richard Nixon and staff utilized wiretaps to find information on political enemies and this ultimately led to his resignation. So the question to me isn't whether we should be concerned about privacy - I think it's pretty clear we should assume that those in power have a tough time respecting privacy when it's inconvenient to do so. As a result it makes sense to me to say that if this power to invade privacy is going to exist, very clear rules about how this power is used need to be designed.

If this requires a constitutional amendment, the so be it (it'd probably be a good national debate to have) but we've seen cases such as the Rico statute where the law is modified to see a pattern of behavior as constitution a criminal enterprise - and this in particular was used to target mafia crime families. It addressed how do you prosecute an enterprise that exists, but those running the enterprise only give orders - but never carry out the crime themselves? This sounds alot like the the asymmetrical aspects of terrorism where you have certain leaders who incite or command dangerous activity, but don't carry out the activity themselves. To me it would seem cleaner if we would have a constitutional amendment clarifying how we deal with these types of situations where it seems some basic rights like Rand Paul mentions are potentially being infringed - especially the right to privacy. I don't think there's any way to stop what technology is going to be able to do in the future, but we can carve out how that technology can and cannot be used and how it relates to civil rights.

edit: Gail Collins had a good op-ed in the NYTimes about this filibuster also.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Superbugs and Antibiotic resistance

Scientific American has been running a series of articles on antibiotic resistance recently. Here's a good Here's a good blog post building on that conversation.. quote: "Until there are restrictions on antibiotic use—saving them as a national security treasure—and requirements to use them judiciously, we will never control antibiotic resistance."

Friday, March 1, 2013

Harmonic Series Guitar

I was reading some stuff about the derivation of musical scales - the math behind why things sound the way they do - and came upon the harmonic series.

The harmonic series mathematically is the series (a sum) like this:   1+1/2 + 1/3 + 1/4+1/5 +.... +1/n up to infinity.  In nature there are natural resonances in vibrating objects (like a guitar string, or organ pipe) that are these ratios of the string or pipe's length, so there's thinking these resonances may be related to why musical scales sound good to us.

From the "A Mind For Madness" Blog, this blogger (that ties the harmonic series to musical overtones and discusses the idea that perhaps the musical scales used have their "musical-ness" due to their relationship to this natural resonant properties that's expressed in the harmonic series. I first read about this idea on his blog, so I'll give credit there, although it's entirely possible this idea may be out there elsewhere.

 Vocalist showing the harmonic overtone capabilities in his voice - kindof freaky right?

Now obviously, from the above video you can tell that the resonances don't tie directly the current dominant equal tempered musical scale that we have, but there are many resonances that happen right on the musical scale where we have musical notes.  The 7 note in this video (click link) really stands out as being foreign to our current musical scale, but most of other note positions are familiar.

Hear the harmonic scale in action. Here's guitarist Dante Rosati who's composed a piece of music using the harmonic scale.  It's definitely different, but something foreign it's still quite cohesive and even a bit hypnotic if you ask me.  Pretty cool stuff.