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Craig Larman
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趣闻轶事


Beautiful visions of science.

If you care about prostate cancer, new research suggests you should drink pomegranate juice or eat the fruit.

Researchers say low doses of activated vitamin D and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g., Vioxx), taken together, can slow the growth of prostate cancer cells.

If you predict an hydrogen economy boom, it might be time to invest in rhenium stocks . And if you didn't know, the USA gov't is investing strategically for a hydrogen economy , and the USA stands to be a major technology provider-winner.

Here's another reason to think twice about rising CO2 levels: 95% of life on earth died as a result , 250 million years ago.

Yet another reason to eat uncooked olive oil.

I've never had the time or location-flexibility to try priceline.com . Recently i thought i'd try and started with (i thought) an unlikely extreme experiment: I asked for a 4-star hotel in London for a week at $75 a night. Got it! Hilton Kensington--good location an hotel. Normal rates start at $200/night. I'm impressed. I've also rented a car at 1/2 normal rate using wheelsabroad.com .

For 30 years, I've bought organic produce when it's relatively affordable. Not for my own health (though a study of pesticides and antibiotics in traditional farming should give pause for thought), but rather to support organic farmers, as I've felt (without strong evidence) that it's just a better, more sustainable approach. Now a recent study from Oxford indicates it's also better for biodiversity. To quote : "The organic farms were found to contain 85% more plant species, 33% more bats, 17% more spiders and 5% more birds."

Some things really inspire my sense of wonder and beauty and mystery in this universe: wave-particule duality in quantum physics, high heels, and extraordinary savant mental abilities, as in the case of Daniel Tammet . Like some other autistic savants, he can do amazing feats: recall Pi to 22,514 digits, multiply ridiculously large numbers in an instant, speak 7 languages... What is unique about Mr. Tammet is that he is the only autistic that can clearly describe his inner mental processes, and this gives us a window onto other dimensions of mind. There are several fascinating aspects of his story. One is that his powers arose after a head injury and then the onset of epilepsy. Obviously it suggests that different parts of the brain had to become engaged in "math" for example, but in ways most of us can't fathom. To quote: Since his epileptic fit, he has been able to see numbers as shapes, colours and textures. The number two, for instance, is a motion, and five is a clap of thunder. "When I multiply numbers together, I see two shapes. The image starts to change and evolve, and a third shape emerges. That's the answer. It's mental imagery. It's like maths without having to think." I think his injury+change story suggests we all have potential for such radically different mental behaviors. But more deeply, the wonder for me is that it's so "outside of the box" compared to how i do math and hints at profound wonders in our minds. It is not impossible to imagine that scientists will someday unlock a way to such transformations--without having to hit our heads against the wall.

This following science news item did not make a big splash, but I wonder if it might eventually have a profound social effect? Scientists at Temple University have discovered some relatively simple brain activity patterns in lying versus truth telling, using functional MRI. Five activated areas of the brain were found to be unique to the "lie" condition, and two areas were unique to the "truth" condition. If a larger study corroborates this, consider the implications for law enforcement and suspicious girlfriends!

If possible, fusion power solves many problems. Massive electric power from essentially a cup of seawater, with no meaningful radiation. Consider a future with limitless and very cheap electricity, almost free, everywhere. The next major milestone in this quest is the ITER reactor project, which is due to start construction soon and will be the first fusion reactor to achieve significant sustained power generation.

Cervical cancer kills about 500,000 women each year. About 70% of these cancers are caused by the HPV virus. A new vaccine has been shown to provide 100% protection against the virus.

The recently released Arctic Climate Impact Assessment is the result of a study by 300 scientists, with peer review. It endorses the prediction that all artic ocean ice may disappear during summers starting by 2060-2100, with an ocean rise btween 0.5 and 1.0 meter. It's a fact that warming is happening faster in the Artic than elsewhere. I believe changes in this region will have an impact because of a change in sunlight reflectivity (less white reflective snow/ice), a rise in sea levels as the Greenland and Artic ice sheets accelerate their melting, and because of disruptions to the thermo-haline cycle in the Gulf Stream.

Hydrogen-based (fuel cell) electric power systems could be the dominant next-generation solution, but cheap, clean creation of hydrogen is critical. There is promising research in both biomass systems and now, solar-powered photocatalytic cells coated with a nano-crystalline; it is converting 8% of sunlight energy to hydrogen. When it reaches 10%, it starts to get commercially very interesting. Another leader, in the fuel cell market, is a company from Vancouver (where I lived for many years), Ballard Power Systems.

What would you think if you saw a press release that said that physicists had some evidence that the speed of light was actually significantly different than they originally thought? Something similar has happened in the world of biology and genetics: The rate of change of genetic mutation from generation to generation (which is applied to many estimates) appears to be faster.

I found this fascinating: Did you know that after World War I, after so many million males had been killed, that for some time women in the related countries gave birth to significantly more males than females? As though nature had a way to re-balance. How could that work? Recent research (I can't find the link now...) shows that women are less likely to give birth to males when there is stress, probably because males were more of an evolutionary risk (more likely to get killed). The relationship to the WWI story doesn't make sense yet, but broadly it suggests links between a women's perception of the environment and sex selection.

I recently got a very useful laptop backpack for world travellers: the APC TravelPower Backpack. It contains, built-in, all the integrated electronics for recharging your devices: laptop, mobile phone, PDA, etc. Supports AC 110-240v input, and DC 15-20V output. Has adapters for different countries, car plug, airplane plug, and a USB charging port. Brilliant!

Eat what you want, but it has always struck me as odd when someone says a vegetarian diet is unhealthy--that one needs to eat meat. Research shows that vegetarians visit hospital 22% less often, and spend a shorter time there. More important: To quote a major British Medical Association study (BMA Report, 4.11, 1986) conducted over 10 years with thousands of matched people in veg and non-veg groups: "Vegetarians have lower rates of obesity, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, large bowel disorders, cancers and gall stones."And the more recent Oxford study of 11,000 people over 13 years (Brit. Med. Journal, 1994, 308); conclusion: "lower rates of cancer and heart disease amongst vegetarians and 20 per cent lower premature mortality."(i.e., they live longer).

Eating antioxidant foods (or supplements) to reduce oxidation (heck, let's just admit we're rusting to death)  is associated with lower rates of cancers, heart disease, and Alzheimer's. A recent USDA study clarifies the most effective foods. Among fruits, cranberries and blueberries are highest (drinking juice from also works). Among vegetables (including legumes), beans are highest (lentils, etc., which are staples of protein in a vegetarian diet), and Russet potatoes. Among spices, ground cloves, ground cinnamon and oregano.

June 16, 2004 is a milestone date: Report that deterministic teleportation of quantum states of two separated atoms was achieved, in two experiments. Has implications for future-generation quantum computing that will make today's supercomputers look like an abacus. As demonstrated in these teleportation experiments (known theoretically since Einstein and Schrodinger), you can create two entangled quantum systems (e.g., two atoms), send them to opposite ends of the universe -- 100,000,000 trillion trillion light years apart -- and if you read or manipulate one of these atoms, the other atom at the other end of the universe will immediately be changed as well. How is this wonderfully bizarre fact explained by physicists? The most common is the many-worlds interpretation: that there are an infinite (or near-infinite) set of co-existing similar universes which exist in parallel at the same space and time. I sometimes think high-school science should start with this stuff, rather than the usual drill, to help inspire young people to how wondrous and bizarre the universe is -- and that science can be.

Another milestone: On June 21, 2004 the great Burt Rutan's first private-enterprise manned flight into space happened on SpaceShipOne. The software connection? Financed by Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft.

The Tipping Point has many good stories. One of my favorites (I like irony)  is about religion students at a famous Divinity School who, in a secret experiment, were asked to write a Bible sermon on "The Good Samaritan." Then they were told to present it in Building X in 15  minutes time, which required them to rush across the grounds of the campus. An actor played the role of a sick man lying on the ground, in distress, on their path to deliver their sermon. None of the busy "divinity" students bothered to stop to help him!

Another story from the Tipping Point of relevance to software developers is the "no broken windows" story of how crime rates dramatically dropped in New York City. This led to naming the excellent Don't Live with Broken Windows software engineering principle, promoted by the Pragmatic Programmers, that I encourage myself and others to follow.

Electronic paper (AKA digital paper or digital ink) is going to be huge someday a revolution in how we read. The ability to roll or fold up arbitrarily large sheets of thin, robust display "paper" (with wireless Internet) that you can stick in your pocket will spell the beginning of the end for paper newspapers and magazines, and eventually, books. Perhaps within 20-40 years. Therefore, although this particular product from E-Ink may or may not succeed, I consider it a milestone.

Mice consistently fed less calories than average have lower cancer rates, and a  25% increase in lifespan (normal avg. is 24 mo.). According to the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, mice are the smartest creatures on our planet, being hyperdimensional geniuses who leak into our dimensions. Mice have manipulated medical science to focus on curing them of diseases and make them even smarter!

A recent study of about 5,000 people showed that those taking a combination of both vitamins C and E (e.g., 1000mg of C, 1000 IU of E) were 78% less likely to show signs of Alzheimer's than those not taking the combination. There was no improvement if only one was taken; the combination was important. That's a very significant effect, easily applied.

Green tea seems to be ridiculously good for you. A recent study showed strong results that drinking it reduced the risk of prostate cancer in men by 2/3! That is an extraordinarily strong effect. A key active chemical is Epigallocatechin Gallate (EGCG) and there is now evidence EGCG stops HIV binding to cells. A variety of studies show it is correlated with lower rates of various cancers, reduces the risk of  rheumatoid arthritis and lowers cholesterol levels.

In addition to research showing that taking acetyl-L-carnitine and alpha-lipoic acid is associated with improved cognitive function, new research shows that the protein creatine (used by body builders) is associated with improved memory and intelligence.

The amazing Willow bark drug that Hippocrates used. You probably know that regular low doses (81 mg) of acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin) reduces stroke and heart disease risk. New research in a large study shows it reduces by 2/3 (which is miracle-level) the risk of mouth and throat cancer if taken just once a week. Ditto in another "landmark" discovery that it's been shown to significantly reduce the risk of colon and rectal cancer, the 2nd leading cause of cancer death. Interestingly, the low 81 mg dose was more effective than a 325 mg dose.

Fact: the body has an internal clock. Not just the 24-hour-ish cycle, but shorter growth/rest cycles too. Until this year, scientists did not know the mechanism. Now they do. There is a special protein in every cell whose two ends are different shapes. Every 12 minutes it flips over, and the reorientation of the ends causes new effects. A husband and wife research team made the discovery after 40 years of investigation, and proved it by lengthening the 12-minute cycle, and consequently altering all other cycles in the test organisms. This is really basic stuff, and has implications for many treatments: jet-lag, ...

Excellent cancer news out of Wales recently: researchers have found the mechanism by which breast cancer is transmitted to other parts of the body, and a preventative solution using tight-junction molecules that seals the cancer and stops it spreading. This may have profound implications for treating other cancers as well.

This just in from the cold fusion department: Hydrinos. The botton line is that it is claimed to be a way to generate energy based on a different theory of quantum mechanics, in which electrons are like bubble clouds that can be shrunk, releasing energy in the extreme ultraviolet (black light) spectrum. You may think this is hockum, but the scientist Randell Mills publishes in peer-reviewed journals, and NASA recently completed a hands-on investigation of his work and repeated his experiments--and NASA sees an energy effect as well.

Finally, the intelligent convergence of toast, Java, and TCP/IP. I knew computers were useful for something.


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