Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

Posted on January 28, 2007  Comments (12)

Excellent articles on eating healthy but also provides a nice insight in the practice scientific inquiry: Unhappy Meals by Michael Pollan:

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. That, more or less, is the short answer to the supposedly incredibly complicated and confusing question of what we humans should eat in order to be maximally healthy.

That is the advice on how to eat more healthfully by Michael Pollan the author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma

If nutritional scientists know this, why do they do it anyway? Because a nutrient bias is built into the way science is done: scientists need individual variables they can isolate. Yet even the simplest food is a hopelessly complex thing to study, a virtual wilderness of chemical compounds, many of which exist in complex and dynamic relation to one another, and all of which together are in the process of changing from one state to another. So if you’re a nutritional scientist, you do the only thing you can do, given the tools at your disposal: break the thing down into its component parts and study those one by one, even if that means ignoring complex interactions and contexts, as well as the fact that the whole may be more than, or just different from, the sum of its parts. This is what we mean by reductionist science.

Interactions are critical in many experiments. That is why multi-factor experimentation is so important (One-Factor-at-a-Time Versus Designed Experiments) though even using these techniques the complexity of interactions provides an incredibly challenging environment.

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More Microchip Breakthroughs

Posted on January 27, 2007  Comments (2)

Intel, IBM separately reveal transistor breakthrough

In dueling announcements, Intel Corp. and International Business Machines Corp. separately say they have solved a puzzle perplexing the semiconductor industry about how to reduce energy loss in microchip transistors as the technology shrinks to the atomic scale.

Each company said it has devised a way to replace problematic but vital materials in the transistors of computer chips that have begun leaking too much electric current as the circuitry on those chips gets smaller. Technology experts said it’s the most dramatic overhaul of transistor technology for computer chips since the 1960s

The problem is that the silicon dioxide used for more than 40 years as an insulator inside transistors has been shaved so thin that an increasing amount of current is seeping through, wasting electricity and generating unnecessary heat. Intel and IBM said they have discovered a way to replace that material with various metals in parts called the gate, which turns the transistor on and off, and the gate dielectric, an insulating layer, which helps improve transistor performance and retain more energy.

Related: Intel tips high-k, metal gates for 45-nmMoore’s Law seen extended in chip breakthrough3 “Moore Generations” of Chips at OnceDelaying the Flow of Light on a Silicon Chip

The Future of the Scholarly Journal

Posted on January 26, 2007  Comments (1)

Publishing Group Hires ‘Pit Bull of PR’:

Those groups, along with many members of Congress, want to make the published results of federally financed medical research freely available to the public whose taxes funded the work — results that today are typically available only to journal subscribers or to people willing to pay expensive per-page fees.

The publishing association, which includes among its members some of the world’s biggest and most profitable scientific journals, has argued that free Internet access to the publicly funded portion of their contents would undermine their subscription bases. Lacking that income, they claim, they would not be able to do the invisible, unsung but important, work of screening out bad science and publishing and archiving the very best.

As I have said before, this information should be publicly available. The funding mechanism for peer review needs to change. If the Journals want to stay in business they need to find a way to add value that doesn’t keep public funded information from the public.

Related: Is this the end of the scholarly journal?Open Access LegislationOpen Access Engineering Journals

Waterloo’s wizards of game theory

Posted on January 26, 2007  Comments (0)

16,777,236 – That’s the number of outcomes that are possible when eight competitors each consider three strategic options.

The first step was to get executives from IBM into a room to start mapping out the game. For the math in game theory to work effectively, all players capable of influencing the game must be identified and their potential options listed and ranked. At this stage, clients are asked to draw on a wide range of personnel, since, in the case of IBM, its marketing people would likely have a different perspective on Microsoft than would its engineers. Once the group is assembled, they are asked to determine what objectives another company is likely to pursue. “Frequently they will say to us, ‘Well, we don’t know about those competitors.’ And our answer is, ‘Yes, you do,’ ” Mitchell says.

California Institute of Technology professor R. Preston McAfee, a leading game theorist who helped the U.S. government design auctions for broadband spectrum, says doubters ought to remember that game theory is a tool, not an answer. “Game theory is sometimes criticized because it doesn’t actually completely solve the problem,” McAfee says. “On the other hand, the exercise of applying game theory very often clears up things that you can dispense with—issues that aren’t salient to the decision process. Sometimes just thinking it through identifies strategies that you hadn’t thought available.”

Interesting, via: Globe and Mail on game theory

Entrepreneurial Engineers

Posted on January 26, 2007  Comments (1)

Business Leader Says Today’s Engineers Have to Be Entrepreneurial:

“Every engineer and scientist entering the job market today needs to be entrepreneurial, whether or not they plan to start their own business,” says Donna Novitsky, partner at venture capital firm Mohr Davidow Ventures and adjunct professor in the School of Engineering. “It’s no longer an optional job qualification. It’s a ticket to entry in leading companies, even for undergrads.”

Strong words. A great resource mentioned in the article Stanford Technology Ventures Program Educators Corner, includes a large number of podcasts and short (2 – 10 minute video webcasts):

Stanford Technology Ventures Program (STVP) Educators Corner is a free online archive of entrepreneurship resources for teaching and learning. The mission of the project is to support and encourage faculty around the world who teach entrepreneurship to future scientists and engineers, as well as those in management and other disciplines.

Related: entrepreneurship, engineering schools and the economydirectory of engineering webcast librariesGoogle Tech Talks #3

Feedback Within the Context of Systems Theory

Posted on January 25, 2007  Comments (0)

Good read – Lengthening the Feedback Loop: A History of Feedback Within the Context of Systems Theory by Julia Evans:

Once you start looking for feedback loops, you see them everywhere. As I write this, my refrigerator clicks on, reminding me that negative feedback from its thermostat is responsible for keeping my food from spoiling.

The purpose of this paper is to show how feedback developed from an engineering principle to part of a unifying theory that helps to shape the way we look at the world. I will trace the concept of feedback through history within the broader framework of systems theory, and demonstrate how it is being applied to business, economics, and society at large.

via: Agile Management

Related: Systems Thinking blog posts from our management blogarticles by Russell Ackoff

Webcasts by Chemistry and Physics Nobel Laureates

Posted on January 25, 2007  Comments (2)

Designed to inspire the next generation of engineers and scientists, The Honeywell – Nobel Initiative establishes a forum for students worldwide to learn directly from Nobel Laureates in Chemistry and Physics.

The Honeywell – Nobel Initiative includes a large number of short podcasts by Nobel prize winners, such as:

Leon Lederman explains that there is a flaw in current quantum theory. He describes how the Higgs particle would provide information to refine the theory…

Steven Chu describes how he and other scientists use lasers to manipulate atoms in order to answer fundamental questions in quantum physics…

The temperature of the earth is increasing. Mario Molina discusses the consequences of this phenomenon caused by human activity…

Students must be taught the value of science at an early age. Richard Schrock considers helping students to appreciate the contributions of science and to inspire…

The site is pretty and the videos are excellent but once again they offer an example of a site that fails to follow basic web usability practices. You can’t link to the location of these collections of webcasts easily. If you have trouble finding them, which I image some will – click on the links to “video lab.”

Related: Directory of Science and Engineering WebcastsEngineering Talks from Googleposts tagged as podcasts/webcasts2006 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

The Dynamics of Crowd Disasters: An Empirical Study

Posted on January 25, 2007  Comments (0)

New Jamarat Bridge Saudi Arabia

Interesting paper – The Dynamics of Crowd Disasters: An Empirical Study (also see the supplemental materials). Systems thinking allowed the engineers to design a solution that wasn’t about enforcing the existing rules more but changing the system so that the causes of the most serious problems are eliminated.

analysis of unique recordings of the Muslim pilgrimage in Mina/Makkah, Saudi Arabia. It suggests that high-density flows can turn “turbulent” and cause people to fall. The occuring eruptions of pressure release bear analogies with earthquakes and are de facto uncontrollable.

entrance of the previous Jamarat Bridge, where upto 3 million Muslims perform the stoning ritual within 24 hours.
On the 12th day of Hajj, about 2/3 of the pilgrims executed lapidation even within 7 hours.

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Video Game Designers Use Statistics

Posted on January 25, 2007  Comments (0)

Here is another article on working in the gaming field – Statistically Speaking, It’s Probably a Good Game: Probability for Game Designers:

Being a designer in this day and age requires a pretty wide variety of skills. Designers are the generalists of the development team, needing to bridge the gap between Art and Engineering, competently communicating with each other.

Related: Want to be a Computer Game Programmer?Science and Engineering Careers

via: Video Game Designers Use Statistics

RNA interference webcast

Posted on January 24, 2007  Comments (2)

If you are like me, it might take awhile to understand all that is said, it is packed with information.

via: Video of RNAi in action

Related: The Inner Life of a Cell, Animation2006 Nobel Prize in Physiology or MedicineScientists discover new class of RNAscience webcast posts

How The Brain Rewires Itself

Posted on January 24, 2007  Comments (2)

How The Brain Rewires Itself:

The finding was in line with a growing number of discoveries at the time showing that greater use of a particular muscle causes the brain to devote more cortical real estate to it. But Pascual-Leone did not stop there. He extended the experiment by having another group of volunteers merely think about practicing the piano exercise. They played the simple piece of music in their head, holding their hands still while imagining how they would move their fingers. Then they too sat beneath the TMS coil.

When the scientists compared the TMS data on the two groups–those who actually tickled the ivories and those who only imagined doing so–they glimpsed a revolutionary idea about the brain: the ability of mere thought to alter the physical structure and function of our gray matter.

Related: Feed your Newborn NeuronsBrain Research on Sea SlugsHow the Brain Resolves SightOliver Sacks podcast