Tuesday, March 31, 2015

In Like A Lamb

Squaw Valley ski resort: more dirt than snow (SF Gate photo)
Too often in life the worst happens when the margin of safety has eroded. In the fourth year of drought we needed to have a wet March, but Bay Area rainfall came up nearly empty.

The snowpack, which provides 30% of California's water supply, is "a startling 6 percent of normal, by far the lowest on record."

The news isn't all disaster:
California's biggest reservoirs have managed to hold steady despite the dismal snowpack. Shasta Lake, the state’s largest reservoir, has 74 percent of what it normally holds at this time of year. Lake Oroville, the second-largest reservoir and the most important source for the State Water Project, is carrying 67 percent of what it normally holds at this time of year.
This spring I'm putting weed fabric down instead of annuals in the flower beds. Some of the neighbors are laying artificial turf. I'm not there yet, but next year I might be.

[Update - April 1st, and not April Fool's: "Sierra Nada"]

Monday, March 30, 2015

No Quake Today

All's quiet, no quake today
For thousands of years it's been widely believed that animals can predict earthquakes. However, there's been little scientific evidence to support that theory...until now.

Animal movements dropped off significantly in the weeks prior to the 7.0 Peruvian earthquake of August, 2011:
Well ahead of the tremor, the traps recorded up to 18 animals a day, but that number began to drop off steeply as the earthquake approached. In the five days immediately before it, the traps snapped just three animals. The park’s fauna, it seems, had stopped moving around.
The leading explanation is that animals can detect electromagnetic signals from faults that are about to rupture.

In any case it can't hurt to head down to the local SPCA and adopt a furry or feathered friend. Like a smoke alarm, a rescue animal can save your life, but unlike a smoke alarm, it will love you back.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Sandwiches on Palm Sunday

The weather was much more pleasant than our last outing four months ago, but the turnout of 50 people was puzzlingly about the same. For over ten years our church has made a hot lunch for whoever shows up at the community center in Redwood City. (The lead sponsor, St. Pius Catholic Church, makes up bag lunches for diners to take home--hence the name Sandwiches on Sunday.)

Experienced observers, including some of the diners, said that the number of people who show up has been rising to 80, even as many as 100. Perhaps the start of Holy Week and events hosted by other churches had siphoned off some of the usual clientele.

Those who attended took home everything that we and St. Pius had prepared. We'll continue to prepare for larger numbers. Better too much than too little.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Not Needed That Badly

For over two decades I wore a tie to work every day. "Business casual" (tieless but neat, no T-shirts or jeans) came to be the norm around the turn of the century, and most of the inventory has never again seen the light of day. I still have to wear them for special occasions and business meetings, but my old cravats' style and silk material are increasingly dated.

Knit ties seem to be in tune with the zeitgeist [bold added].
What’s partly responsible for nudging knit ties into vogue is that their looser, more casual look makes them ideal for a looser, more casual world. They’re polished but not overdone or ostentatious—a solid advantage when more and more ties are collecting dust in the back of men’s closets.

“We’re in the situation these days where wearing a tie is a pretty big statement,” said Patrick Johnson, founder of P. Johnson Tailors, a men’s haberdashery based in Sydney, Australia. “A knit tie is a good way to wear one without the pretense that sometimes can come from a silk tie. It’s a really nice way to add matte color.”
I would be interested for aesthetic purposes and if the quality (they don't fray after a week) holds up. Nevertheless, it's difficult for me to get used to paying silk prices for knit materials. Guess I'll wait for the Asian knockoffs....

Check out these silk-like prices. From left: Tie, $230, Brioni;
Cotton Knit Tie, $275, Brunello Cucinelli; Tie, $70, Tommy Hilfiger, (WSJ photo)

Friday, March 27, 2015

Velveeta-lly Smooth

Yes, your humble observer fancies himself to be a serious student of finance but is not above juvenile references to Heinz' impending acquisition of Kraft Foods:

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Many Hands Make Light Work

I picked up three volunteers with their dishes and we headed up the hill to the Lutheran church, where four families were staying this week.

Everyone asked for second helpings of Diane's roast pork.
We recognized some of the children from January. I accompanied Edwin, 3, to the basketball hoop, where he enthusiastically heaved a ball at the regulation-height basket. Meanwhile his 4-year-old sister rode the tricycle up and down the parking lot. Their (working single) mom has her hands full.

Inside, the teenagers engaged in polite conversation, switching easily from Spanish to English as required. There were over 20 people dining together, and there wasn't a cellphone in sight. Although we were prepared to do so, the teens, unbidden, bused the plates and washed the dishes. By eight-thirty the leftovers were put away, the dishes were dried, the families had retired to their quarters, and we were headed home.

(Home and Hope is a group of 30 Peninsula synagogues and churches who provide emergency shelter to displaced families.)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

I want to say one word to you. Just one word. CRISPR

(Image from Naismith Group)
It may become one of the most significant acronyms of the 21st century--CRISPR, "clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats."

Yet it's a safe bet that not 1 in a 100 people can even tell to which area of knowledge it belongs!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Hurting Themselves More Than Others

(Image from the Guardian)
Confirming last century's news, angry people are at higher risk for health problems:
New evidence suggests people increase their risk for a heart attack more than eightfold shortly after an intensely angry episode. Anger can also help bring on strokes and irregular heartbeat, other research shows. And it may lead to sleep problems, excess eating and insulin resistance, which can help cause diabetes.
In the 1950's doctors noted that "Type A" personalities had more cardiac incidents. Characteristics of Type A are time urgency and impatience, and free-floating hostility or aggressiveness. Those of us who are on the receiving end of a Type A outburst can feel a flash of satisfaction at the problems Type A's cause themselves....until we realize that they're probably victims of their own biology.

Related--the ancients listed seven deadly sins: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, anger, envy, and pride. Known to be deleterious to physical health are gluttony and sloth, and now a third, anger, can be added to the list. Even if you don't believe in the importance of saving your soul, dear reader, overcome your sinful nature for your own health's sake.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Not the Time or Place

I've been to four different Starbucks in the past two weeks, and I've never had "Race Together" stamped on the cup.....thank goodness. (Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz wanted customers and employees to "engage in a conversation" about race.)

From personal observation about half of Starbucks customers go to a coffee house to talk, and those that do never discuss race, environment, religion, and other heavy topics, at least in a serious way. Another group is focused on their laptops, and another just wants to get their coffee and go.

Although most Starbucks customers, at least in this area, are likely sympathetic to Howard Schultz's political leanings, he overstepped. Starbucks is a sanctuary, not a debating circle. I'm glad he killed the intrusive campaign over the weekend. If it got too noisily noisome, I'd have switched to Peet's.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

But for the Grace of God

Every spring we drop off boxes of food at CALL Primrose.

On Friday the office was noisy; volunteers, recipients, and supplies crowded against each other in the small Burlingame office.

One lady waited patiently for a 10-pound bag of rice. At another desk I saw a family submit an application for services.

Having had a tough week, I left the offices with the usual feeling: my life ain't so bad.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Conglomerations of Grossness

Left: not okay to flush. Right: maybe not okay either.
As public-spirited citizens we have been careful to put cleaning wipes in the garbage and have been disposing of moistened "flushable" wipes as indicated in the name.

It turns out that flushable wipes are a product whose kinks haven't been smoothed out:
Indestructible wipes are coalescing into conglomerations of grossness that are clogging the sewers, The New York Times reports.

Often, the wipes combine with other materials, like congealed grease, to create a sort of superknot. "They're really indestructible," said Vincent Sapienza, a deputy commissioner for the city's Department of Environmental Protection. "I guess that's the purpose."
If you must have a wet tissue, carry a cup of water into the stall to moisten (biodegradable) toilet paper.

Being environmentally conscious means setting aside one's squeamishness about biological functions, touching the garbage, and range anxiety. And getting used to the smells.

Friday, March 20, 2015

"The Way Life Works"

University of North Florida coach Matthew Driscoll, on what he told his players during halftime in an NCAA tournament game against Robert Morris University [bold added]:
Between the black lines it’s about players being players.

Ballers make plays, dudes are dudes. I mean, that’s the way life works.

And I just told them, they just want it more than we do right now. There’s nothing I can change, there’s no schematic I can draw up or no special dust I can [throwing gesture].

I mean just play and be a baller.
(Final score: Robert Morris 81, UNF 77)

It's only March, but it's unlikely that you, dear reader, will either read or hear anything more profound this year.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Of Course, Water is Best

In our younger days we used to drink a lot of soda. Noticing the effect on our waistlines, we switched to sugarless brands though we did not enjoy the taste. In recent years, however, evidence has been mounting that diet sodas are harmful, often in ways that sugared sodas are not.

(Image from usefultips4u.com)
A study was conducted on people over 65, and the effects were pronounced [bold added]:
People who reported not drinking diet soda gained an average of 0.8 inches in waist circumference over the nine-year period compared to 1.83 inches for occasional diet soda drinkers and more than three inches for people who drank diet soda every day, according to the results online March 17 in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

The authors had taken other factors like physical activity, diabetes and smoking into account.

"It cannot be explained by the calories," said Dr. Francisco Lopez-Jimenez of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, who was not involved in the study.

Another possibility is that there is a real causal relationship at the molecular level....Diet sodas are very acidic, moreso even than acid rain, and the acidity or the artificial sweeteners may have a direct impact on things like gut microbes, which influence how we absorb nutrients.
Conclusion: science is confirming what our gut is saying---if you must drink soda, drink the sugared, better-tasting versions. You'll enjoy it more and cause less harm to your health.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Not a Huge Fan

A(nother) home-repair saga that took six months to complete but finally only a few hours to resolve. A 35-year-old bathroom fan began to rattle last year, and your hubris-infused handyman hied himself to Home Depot to pick up a replacement. All of the new fans were too big; cutting of ceilings and ducting, all beyond my skillset, would be required. I dampened the sound as best as I could and hoped for the best.

Last week the decibels rose until the fan sounded like an unmuffled car engine. I went back to HD as a last hope before calling a contractor. No luck, the fan selections all were the same, until....I spoke to an older worker.

The new motor is quiet, more powerful, and only $15.
John said he was sure that HD had replacement motors, though neither of us could see one. He went back to the warehouse and returned empty-handed. Finally, he got on his knees and rummaged around the bottom shelf (HD's shelves go back several feet) and voila(!) found a boxed motor. We opened the box and compared it to the old rattler. All the screwholes and wires looked to be in the same places, a perfect fit! And so it was.

Comments on hardware stores:
1) Always bring the old parts for comparison. It saves a lot of running back and forth.
2) Always seek out the older guys for advice. Some of them, like John, have even worked the same problem that you have.
3) The cost of contractors is so high that it's usually worth it to invest a few bucks (even up to $100) on parts and attempt the fix yourself. There's a good chance of failing, but the risk-reward ratio is huge. Just don't make the problem worse.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Courage of His Convictions

Chris Borland (sfgate.com photo)
24-year-old 49er linebacker Chris Borland made the national news when he retired from professional football yesterday. His worries about the long-range effects of repetitive head trauma overrode the benefits of a contract that would have paid him $2.32 million over the next three years, not to mention the fame of being the starting linebacker following Patrick Willis' retirement last week.

Chris Borland has generally received praise for assessing imperfect data in light of his priorities, then making a rational cost-benefit choice. Undoubtedly the fact that he came from a well-off family and has the smarts and finances to pursue a masters degree played a part in his decision.

Neurologists monitor Stanford
football players with high-tech
mouth guards (ktvu.com photo)
Research by Stanford University, though in its early stages, buttresses Chris Borland's analysis.
What happens when you shake the brain like a snow globe? Though no one knows for sure, a prevailing theory is that the brain's connective cables, or axons, get stretched to the point where they may fray or break. If enough of these wires are damaged, the resulting loss of connectivity may cause the symptoms of concussion, explains Michael Zeineh, assistant professor of radiology. Sub-concussive events may not injure enough axons at the same time to cause overt symptoms, but with hundreds or thousands of repeated blows to the head, the cumulative damage may prove to be significant.

Gerald Grant, associate professor of neurosurgery and chief of pediatric neurosurgery, treats concussed patients at Stanford and works with [bioengineering Professor David] Camarillo, providing neurocognitive testing of athletes. He can confirm that some patients never fully recover from one or more concussions: "They're never the same. Their personality is different. Their lives are totally changed."
We are disappointed that Chris Borland won't be seen in a 49er uniform, but we have to admire him for the courage of his convictions.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Agendas Barely Hidden

One of the Internet's beneficial developments is the review of products and services by users. Many people, including your humble observer, always try to check out what people are saying about a restaurant, contractor, appliance, etc. before making a purchase.

(Image from legalreputations.com)
Of course, if there are only a few ratings--and they are extremely positive or negative--we become suspicious about whether it originated from a friend, relative, owner, or rival.

Yale professor Judith Chevalier looked at hotel ratings [bold added]:
The researchers hypothesized that people who work in owner-operated hotels are more likely to write fake reviews than people who work in big hotel companies....fake reviews are easier to post on TripAdvisor (which lets anyone post) than on Expedia (which only allows reviews from people who’ve booked a room through the site).

They found that owner-operated hotels have more positive reviews on TripAdvisor, relative to Expedia, than company-owned hotels—and the competitors of owner-operated hotels have more negative reviews.
1) Trust Expedia reviews more than TripAdvisor's.
2) Don't automatically switch your reservation from the Big Chain to the small bed-and-breakfast because of a cursory glance at the ratings. Dig deeper.
3) Revelation: you can't always trust what you read on the Internet.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

1 + 1 ≠ 3, or 2 Even

An Indian bride walked out of the wedding when her husband-to-be couldn't perform a simple addition.
the bride posed the following math problem to the man she was due to wed: 15 + 6 = ?

The groom answered 17, and the bride fled. The groom’s family tried to get her back, but she refused to marry someone who couldn’t add.
A cascade of calumnies has rained upon the ditched groom by a lazy media that accepts this story at face value. There are alternative explanations:
  • "I use a computer for all calculations, that is, unless you want me to do the taxes by hand."
  • "In my family questions are given in base 10 and answers are given in base 14."
  • "How do I get out of marrying someone who gives a math test before her wedding?"
  • "You're bringing 15 people to live with the 6 of us?"
  • In the United States half the math PhD's are Indian and the other half are Chinese. An Indian guy who can't do arithmetic? C'mon!!
  • But seriously, math provides a reason for the recent pickiness exhibited by Indian brides:
    India has 37 million more men than women....As of 2011, there were 940 Indian women for every 1,000 men.

    Saturday, March 14, 2015

    Happy Pi Day

    (Image from calculushumor.com)
    Today is "Pi day," so-called because 3-14-15 represents the first five digits of Pi, the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter. Only an obsessive-compulsive would point out that 3-14-16 would be closer to Pi, 9 being the number after 5 in the sequence.

    I can't remember phone numbers---or even four-digit passcodes---but embedded in deep long-term memory are the first nine digits of Pi, 3.14159265. How irrational!

    Friday, March 13, 2015

    A Humbling Thought

    The leading theories about Earth mass extinction events are [bold added]
    collisions between Earth and an asteroid or comet, and extended periods of massive volcanism.
    Our sun crosses the dark matter plane (nature.com)
    A number of scientists have proposed a third, albeit related explanation: the sun periodically passes through a "dark matter" disk that causes gravitational disruptions that trigger volcanoes and/or a rain of comets.
    Dark matter is stuff whose nature remains unknown. It is more than five times as abundant as the familiar matter that atoms are made of, but tends to interact with atomic matter only through gravity.
    The existence of dark matter has been theorized to explain astronomical phenomena, but dark matter has so far not been directly observed. Whether a DM disk bisects the Milky Way and whether the solar system crosses this disk and causes mass extinctions piles speculation upon speculation. Nevertheless....

    The ancients knew about the sun, moon, stars, and planets but were completely wrong about how they all fit together. A humbling thought, because if our theories barely take into account a substance that is "five times [as] abundant" as regular matter, then we may have only touched the surface of how the universe really works.

    Thursday, March 12, 2015

    In the House

    The ahi special with California-avocado roll.
    San Francisco abounds with excellent restaurants that I've never tried or even heard of. One of these is the House, my friend's favorite (I guess we're not that close).

    We had time to spare, so we hoofed uphill to North Beach from the Financial District. Reviewers say that it's tough to get a table, but perhaps that's only true for dinner. On this Wednesday at 1 p.m. we were seated immediately.

    The House may have an ordinary-sounding name, but the Asian-fusion combinations were inspired and very pretty to look at. I really must get back to the City more often....

    Per the Huffington Post (2012):
    San Francisco is far and away the place to be for eating out.

    Not only did San Francisco come in as number one with the most restaurants per capita, no other city even came close. At 39.3 restaurants per 10,000 households, San Francisco has nearly 50 percent more relative restaurants than the second place city.

    Wednesday, March 11, 2015

    A Great Ride

    Few documents need to be retained.
    Retiring from full-time employment several years ago, I have had no regrets. Nevertheless, I was saddened by the closing this month of the San Francisco office where I worked for 20 years. The event took no one by surprise; the sale of its major line of business ten years ago, plus the hiring of new employees elsewhere, had revealed senior management's thinking (and, BTW, played no small part in my own decision-making).

    Home offices don't have this view.
    Most of the 28 remaining employees---at one time the number was 300---are well situated with new jobs, retirement and severance benefits, and/or contract extensions. Those with the latter will work from home and commute as needed to the Chicago headquarters.

    I went back to the office to say a last goodbye to former co-workers. (We'll probably see each other again, but it will be under different circumstances, and, well, one never knows.) Long forgotten were the specifics of individual deals that at the time seemed vitally important. What we did remember were moments spent together---amusing, ironic, celebratory, intense, and sad. We didn't realize it at the time, but it was a great ride.

    Tuesday, March 10, 2015

    The Long and Short of It

    Optimal moisture retention is not
    always the goal (vippeextensions.com)
    Last year Dr. David Hu of the Georgia Institute of Technology made an eye-opening discovery [bold added]:
    no matter what species of mammal he examined (and he studied 22 of them), the length of its [eye]lashes was on average a third of the width of its eye.
    A good scientist doesn't stop with the observation. He asks why:
    he and his team built a small wind tunnel, and also models of eyes that could have their ersatz lashes swapped for ones of different lengths. Using these, they studied airflow around and through the lashes, how that affected evaporation from the model eye's cornea, and also how many particles (in the form of dust-sized drops of coloured water) settled on the cornea's surface. They then used fluid mechanics to try to work out what was going on.

    Nature has, it turns out, arrived at the optimum eyelash length to keep the cornea moist and dust-free. By reducing air flow over the cornea, eyelashes create a boundary layer of slow-moving air. That stops dust getting through, and also promotes water retention, since moisture is not blown away. Up to a point, the boundary layer grows thicker as the lashes grow longer. But long lashes also act as a funnel, channelling moving air into the eye and disrupting the protective layer. The thickest boundary layer comes when there is a one-to-three ratio between lash length and eye width.
    If lashes are longer or shorter than one-third the eye-width, the eyes dry out....math found in nature that's not as meaningful as the golden mean or Fibonacci sequence, but certainly less mysterious.

    Monday, March 09, 2015

    Rescued from San Quentin

    The beach at San Quentin village 
    We visited the lady who runs a guinea-pig rescue service in San Quentin. She has a view overlooking the beach, where swimmers frolicked in San Francisco Bay.

    (The beauty of San Quentin village stands in sharp contrast to the infamous prison, home to the largest death row in the United States.)

    There were six potential companions for our female, who has been alone since December.

    Five GPs mingle on the upper deck
    A four-year-old long-hair named Pumpkin seemed suitable--they didn't fight after two hours together in close quarters.

    Pumpkin is now ensconced in her own cage in the guinea pig room; as a precaution against infection or incompatible behavior, we will keep them separate for a week. It's early, but the results are promising.

    Sunday, March 08, 2015

    Springing Quietly Forward

    We moved the clocks forward last night. Arising at 7 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time and anticipating a busy day, I went to early service.

    The air was cool and grey, and the waters were placid. Only a few ducks were about.

    People, noise, and traffic would come later in the afternoon to color the surroundings.

    Saturday, March 07, 2015

    Just In Time

    (HenryPayne.com cartoon)
    This development synchronizes with my personal timeline [bold added]:
    The [McKinsey] study, compiled after interviews with dozens of industry officials, predicts mass adoption of auto-piloted vehicles beginning in about 15 years and initial implementations early next decade.
    At their current rate of deterioration, 2030 is about when night vision and reflexes will become so inadequate that your humble observer--if he's still around--will have to turn in his car keys.

    "Home, Jeeves Robbie!"

    Friday, March 06, 2015

    A Measure of Men's Minds

    Apple is up 67% over the past 12 months, the DJIA only 8.5%
    The Dow Jones Industrial Average needed Apple more than Apple needed the Dow. Adding the most valuable company in the world to the DJIA was a long-overdue move [bold added]
    The move, announced this morning, arguably should have occurred last June, when Apple (ticker: AAPL ) made a seven-for-one stock split and therefore paved its way for inclusion in the index.

    The 119-year-old Dow industrials still use a simple price weighting in calculating the index’s value, meaning the highest-priced stocks carry the highest weighting, regardless of their market value. The S&P 500 and most other indexes are weighted by market value. Apple is far and away the largest U.S. company by market value, having passed the $700 billion mark (a record) last month.
    The Dow ceased long ago to be an accurate indicator of the performance of the overall stock market. For instance,Visa (current price $269.34) will have more than twice the weighting of Apple (price $126.60) in the DJIA at 9.4% and 4.4%, respectively, though AAPL is 3.5 times more valuable than V.

    When someone, even a finance professional, asks "How did the market do today?" she most likely is enquiring about the oldest market index, the original version of which was created in 1896. Relevance is not scientific, after all, but a measure of men's minds.

    Thursday, March 05, 2015

    Nothing Like They Envisioned

    (Image from telegraphcrossfit.com)
    Physicist and science writer Michio Kaku, on why predictions of the paperless office and the demise of business travel (in favor of teleconferencing) did not come to pass:
    The Cave Man Principle: our wants, dreams, personalities, and desires have probably not changed much in 100,000 years. We probably still think like our caveman ancestors. -----Physics of the Future
    We need to touch the hard copy and "don't trust the electrons floating in our computer screen." We glean more information from face-to-face encounters where we can read body language, and, as long as it's not uncomfortable, will pay a steep price to go to live concerts and athletic events.

    But scientific advancement doesn't bring only sweetness and enlightenment:
    Unless we change our basic personality, we can expect that the power of entertainment, tabloid gossip, and social networking will increase, not decrease, in the future.
    Technology magnifies the ability to satisfy all desires---the sublime, the primitive, and the ridiculous.

    Humankind may well be creating heaven on earth, but without transforming human nature it will be nothing like the heaven that the ancients envisioned.

    Wednesday, March 04, 2015

    Afternoon Venture

    It was the first time since November that I had ventured into the hills.

    The leg was pain-free but still weak. It took 2 hours and 20 minutes to trudge 6 miles up and down the inclines. Several times I almost slipped.

    Next time I'll bring the walking stick.

    Normally this brook would be flowing fiercely. Unless heavy
    storms rescue the situation, water could be rationed this year.

    Tuesday, March 03, 2015

    Advancements in Brain Science

    Gout and Alzheimer's
    My genetic predisposition to gout has a silver lining; gout correlates with a lower incidence of Alzheimer's disease. In a study covering nearly 300,000 British patients over five years
    Those with gout, whether they were being treated for the condition or not, had a 24 percent lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

    The reason for the connection is unclear. But gout is caused by excessive levels of uric acid in the blood, and previous studies have suggested that uric acid protects against oxidative stress. This may play a role in limiting neuron degeneration.
    (WSJ illustration)
    Finger-fiddling and Creativity
    Certain kinds of hand movements have an impact on cognitive functioning, improving focus or sparking fresh thinking or faster learning, according to several recent studies.

    Manipulating a smooth stone or a string of beads that are pleasing or soothing to touch can evoke “the timeless, ancient human practice of meditative ritual” and screen out extraneous stimuli.
    The generations that preceded ours didn't have the technological tools, but they were arguably better thinkers. Perhaps it was because they were always fiddling with cigarettes, matches, lighters, and smoking paraphernalia.

    Elder Sex and Cognition
    Older men and women who were satisfied with their sexual relationships and considered sexuality an essential component of aging performed better on tests of cognitive function than those who felt sexuality and intimacy were unimportant.
    The Dutch study covered 1,747 men and women, average age 71.

    Yes, dear, my gerontologist prescribes daily treatment.

    Monday, March 02, 2015

    "Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future"---Bohr

    (Photo from salon.com)
    Sports and political prognosticator par excellence Nate Silver, on why making sports predictions is much easier than making predictions in other areas, such as economics or politics:
    Sports has awesome data: "I mean data that’s accurate, precise and subjected to rigorous quality control." Also, it's extensive; in baseball's case the statistics go back over a hundred years.

    "When the recession hit in December 2007 — the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression — most economists didn’t believe we were in one at all."

    In sports "rules are explicit and...we know a lot about causality." Nate Silver contrasts sports with the real-world example of earthquake prediction, where the causes are not well-known. In trying to determine correlations "there are a billion possible relationships in geology’s historical data, [and] you’ll come up with a thousand million-to-one coincidences on the basis of chance alone."

    Sports offers fast feedback and clear marks of success. If sports tactics are working, results show up nearly instantaneously. In contrast one most wait four years to test Presidential election strategies.
    Big data is the management fad du jour because it has yielded impressive results in non-sports areas. But non-technicians often underestimate the work necessary to screen, organize, and analyze the information.

    Prediction: when big data doesn't produce miraculous insights--as it often won't because not everyone is as skilled as Nate Silver--expect disappointment.

    Sunday, March 01, 2015

    Hoping to be Average

    An American born today has a projected average lifespan 20 full years longer than one born in 1925.
    Dad was born in 1925 and will be celebrating his 90th birthday in June. He doesn't have any great-grandchildren yet, but if they do come along science says that they'll live to at least 110!

    (OK, ok, one shouldn't extrapolate from a single data point, but it wouldn't be the first time that I've misused math to give me the answer I want.)