ramen and pickles

science, technology, and medicine served up with some tasty noodles

Monthly Archives: May 2011

Make Stuff

“TechShop is a membership-based workshop that provides members with access to tools and equipment, instruction, and a community of creative and supportive people so they can build the things they have always wanted to make.

You can think of TechShop like a fitness club, but with tools and equipment instead of exercise equipment. It is sort of like a Kinko’s for makers, or a Xerox PARC for the rest of us.”



An Overview of Compressed Sensing and Sparse Signal Recovery via L1 Minimization – videolectures.net






Natural, free refrigeration and cooling

By far, the biggest draw on electricity is cooling in refrigeration and particularly air conditioners.  However, free, simple, elegant solutions even for relatively densely populate areas have been known for centuries, pioneered by the Persians.  Why aren’t we building more of these type of buildings?





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Could Conjoined Twins Share a Mind? – NYTimes.com



I think the stuff about shared perception is probably overblown, and very likely a case of them paying attention to very subtle cues (like Clever Hans).  The article also makes the good point that they may, with time, be training themselves to ignore extra sensory cues coming from the other brain.  However, I did find the rationalization for having a reality TV show around the family surprisingly compelling.  At first it sounded like a terrible, exploitive idea, but then with some more thought it definitely seems unlikely that these girls will ever be treated ‘normally’ by new people who meet them for the first time.  People are going to give them a second glance and some are going to stare.  Increasing the world’s exposure to them can only help normalize their experience and help expose people to a greater range of human phenotype.  

Where reality shows can be incredibly beneficial for society as a whole is when they help normalize and familiarize a range of experiences and beliefs, depending on how they are done and sympathetic to their subjects as human beings.  To make this more concrete, I’ll contrast the show COPS and the show Alaska State Troopers.  Both shows are interesting and compelling in that they expose most viewers to things that are exciting and different from their daily experience.  However, COPS, produced by Fox, tends to focus on extreme events; I’m sure everyone is familiar with the stereotype of some drunk guy running naked from the police.  Although there is a lot of variability, overall, the viewer is really encouraged to think of the people arrested as ridiculous, unstable, and not deserving of respect, and the police are sort of cast in this wild west posse framework.  On the other hand, the show about Alaskan state police, incidentally produced by National Geographic, has much more respect for everyone involved, focussing instead on the police and the people they interact with as human beings, just in very different circumstances than the viewers back in the lower 48, not on the circumstances of particular crimes or extreme actions.  In the former case, there is a not so subtle message that there are large numbers of ridiculous (mostly poor and often minority) people who can’t take care of themselves and belong in custody or under supervision.  In the latter case, you are encouraged to think of people who live in Alaska and may have radically different worldviews and life experiences, but are interesting people with their own stories and experiences worth listening to.  The police are also, indirectly, cast in a much more positive light, as they are more typically shown in a slightly more professional light, doing something constructive and positive, with the weight of their time shifted away from dealing with naked drunks (although there is some of that) and more towards dealing with the challenges of the remote, dangerous environment.

Everything You Know About Fitness is a Lie??|??Men???s Journal

A somewhat sensationalist article focusing a few pet ideas, but there is some great data in there.


Howard Chang on LncRNA

Long noncoding RNAs and human disease.

Trends Cell Biol. 2011 May 5;

Authors: Wapinski O, Chang HY

A new class of transcripts, long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs), has been recently found to be pervasively transcribed in the genome. Multiple lines of evidence increasingly link mutations and dysregulations of lncRNAs to diverse human diseases. Alterations in the primary structure, secondary structure, and expression levels of lncRNAs as well as their cognate RNA-binding proteins underlie diseases ranging from neurodegeneration to cancer. Recent progress suggests that the involvement of lncRNAs in human diseases could be far more prevalent than previously appreciated. We review the evidence linking lncRNAs to diverse human diseases and highlight fundamental concepts in lncRNA biology that still need to be clarified to provide a robust framework for lncRNA genetics.

PMID: 21550244

If you are sending out an evite, think about this instead

Paperless Post is much nicer looking, and a lot less annoying than evite:


Please Your Guests by Fooling Them | Neuromarketing

Please Your Guests by Fooling Them | Neuromarketing


From NeuroMarketing Blog: Please Your Guests by Fooling Them

Imagine that you are shopping for a few bottles of wine for your next dinner party. You probably aren’t going to buy from the cheapest selections. You don’t want your guests to think you are a cheapskate, or that you have such a low opinion of them that you’d serve them plonk. Besides, you are a Neuromarketing reader, and you know that real quality aside, wines we think are expensive taste better. Most likely, you’ll move away from the cheap stuff and opt for something mid-priced. And, if your guests are particularly important to you, you may choose an even more expensive wine.

Well, there’s good news for wine lovers on a tight budget: it turns out that expensive wine doesn’t always taste better. Peter Martin of the Canberra Times sent a link to an article he wrote with some findings that will surprise a few of you. Can you guess the one circumstance when expensive wine doesn’t beat the cheap stuff?

It turns out that the one time when cheap wine fares about as well as expensive wine is in a blind taste test. In fact, according to Peter’s article, Sunday dollars + sense: Wine experts are on to something, researchers found that on average, people enjoy expensive wines slightly less. Before you rush out the door to stock up on Two Buck Chuck for that dinner party, though, you should be aware that there are a couple of important caveats to this finding. First, the subjects were not professional wine tasters, and their tastes may be more plebeian than your own discriminating palate. Second, because they had no idea what they were tasting, it wasn’t a real-world simulation of what you or your dinner guests might experience (unless you pour your wine from a decanter or otherwise out of view).

To quote Peter’s article,

The findings suggest that if one wine costs ten times as much as another, non-experts will on average rate it 4 points lower on a 100 point scale whereas experts will rate it 7 points higher.

The experts are expert at something. But it appears not to be at predicting what you and I will like.

In fact the study suggests we will be more likely to find what we like if we use their recommendations as a guide for what to steer clear of.

The experts, in this case, were wine critics. They DID rate the much more expensive wines somewhat higher, but their ratings didn’t indicate much about how much most of us would enjoy the wine. And, as Peter notes, the wine critics were able to spot the costly wines, “although still not that much more often than by chance.” Blind taste tests often befuddle even the most experienced wine critics, as when Two Buck Chuck Chardonnay was judged to be the “Best in California” and “Best in Class” at the California State Fair wine competition.

The original research was published in the The Journal of Wine Economics: Do More Expensive Wines Taste Better?

So What About Your Dinner Party?

Let’s graphically summarize the research on wine tasting psychology. (These charts are meant to be generally indicative of the research, not quantitative representations of the findings.) First, this chart shows the effect of the wine’s label on the enjoyment of the wine. Wine that people think is more expensive tastes better, even when measured by brain scans:

Second, here’s what the the blind taste tests described in the Journal of Wine Economics showed – most people rated the cheap wines as tastier when they didn’t know what they were drinking:

So, if you are still trying to decide what to buy for your dinner party, consider your guests. If you have invited a group of wine writers and professional wine tasters, you had better spring for something that’s highly rated (and most likely more expensive). You may not enjoy the wine as much, but there’s a chance that at least some of your well-trained guests will spot the difference. And, of course, if you plop a bottle of Little Penguin in the middle of the table these experts will also know how little you paid for it.

If your guests are regular folks, however, there’s a good chance that the $5 Little Penguin cab will actually taste better to them than a $50 wine – but only if they don’t see the bottle and identify it as an inexpensive wine you can find in every supermarket. So, you have two other choices: choose a wine that seems expensive enough to make your guests find it tasty, or fool them with cheap but pleasant wine that has been disguised in some way. Pour the wine in the kitchen (leave an empty bottle of an expensive vintage on the counter in case someone wanders in unexpectedly), pour the cheap wine into an attractive crystal decanter (as a bonus, a little breathing in the decanting process will improve the taste of cheap reds), or, if you are really diabolical, transfer the cheap stuff into an empty bottle from a much more costly wine. Here’s a representation of the various ways you could serve your wine:
Theoretically, at least, your guests with typical palates will enjoy the wine most if it’s inexpensive but they think it’s expensive.

No, I don’t actually rebottle the wines I serve at dinner. But when even wine experts have difficulty separating cheap from expensive wines, and blind tests show that most people prefer the taste of cheap wines, one could rationalize that a dinner host who did that was maximizing the satisfaction of his guests. He’d be serving the wine that he knew they would find most appealing in a blind test, and further enhancing their satisfaction by convincing them that the wine was a costly vintage. Best of all, he’d have the research to prove it. Maybe we’ve discovered a new field of research: neuro-entertaining. :)