Friday, 29 April 2011

The relationship between effort and outcome.

I think that one of the main driving reasons people shy away from hard work is that the relationship between effort and work is non-linear. I'll give you an example.

Part of my workout is that I do half an hour on a rowing machine. Now rowing machines let you work as hard as you can, or go as slowly as you want. Now, if I were a lazier man, I think that in my half hour workout, I could put almost no effort in and manage to go about 5500m. I think I could do that easily and I'd not be short of breath at the end and I wouldn't even break a sweat. But what I tend to do, is go as hard as I can manage for the 30 minutes, and end up with a distance of about 7000m. (No laughing!)

What gets me here, is that although I am working approximately 100% harder, I am only seeing a 27% increase in the distance I go. This seems outrageously unfair.

Another example. If I do the bare minimum amount of work for a test (which I frequently do), as in attend most of the classes and get to the exam on time, I'll normally get about 60%. If I do a lot of work - I'll define this as 10 hours of studying - I'll manage 75%. So again, this huge increase in effort (10hrs compared to 0hrs) yields only a 25% increase in performance.

Obviously, if the extra effort meant a more significant improvement in results then I'd be more prepared to make the effort. But who said life was fair?

N.B. I was going to include a lovely sigmoid graph with this post, to illustrate my point, but making the graph turned out to be quite difficult (and it would only yield a small improvement in the quality of my blog post) so I decided to go for this picture of a fluffy bunny instead.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Books will beat the blues, says Philip Hensher

If you look at a guy with motor neurone disease, you can immediately see why it sucks to have the disease. You can imagine how it would affect you. And you wouldn't dream of suggesting that it was all in his head. Depression, another (albeit more common) neurological disease, is not afforded the same sympathy. And as such, people do not shy away from belittling the affliction, or dreaming up ways for the afflicted to overcome their disability.

Philip Hensher, for instance, believes that reading books will make people happier. And he implies that depression may even be caused by not reading enough. OK, well maybe he doesn't quite, but his recent column on the governments recommended amount of reading for school kids shows just the sort of ignorant and unhelpful attitude that pervades the modern psyche.

He asks:
Why shouldn't the GP, faced with an aimless, purposeless, depressed patient, not inquire "Are you reading enough?"

I'd suggest that Philip might not be 'reading enough' of the evidence-based lifestyle and medical interventions for major depression before he wades belittles the sufferers of a real and significant condition.

Besides that, though, I'm sure Phil is a lovely chap!

Friday, 22 April 2011

Blueberries are yummy

I read The Week because it amalgamates and distills the past weeks news and events down to bite size chunks which are much more palatable than reading 7-days worth of newspapers etc. I normally trust what it says because it doesn't have it's own agenda; it attempts uncouple the weeks events from the spin and speculation presented in other media. But, this week, when its science page reported a story from the Daily Fail which claimed that "Slimmers should start snacking on blueberries, as they slash the number of fat cells in the body by up to three-quarters (!), say scientists", this was my face:

The story originates from a press release (which I can't find: science-blogging n00b) from Texas Women's University where Dr. Shiwani Moghe has apparently shown that a chemical found in blueberries could prevent fat cell precursors from forming mature fat cells. Here is the abstract: Clicky!

The data are* yet to be published, but from what I can glean from the abstract, I can see that the Daily Mail's reporting of it is completely FUBAR. 

Here's what Dr. Moghe did: she cultured some cells from mouse embryos. The cells normally form fat cells (or at least cells which resemble fat cells in vitro). Then she added various amounts of blueberry extract to the culture medium (that's the juice that the cells grow in). Then she measured the rate at which the cells differentiated, the amount of fat in the cells and the rate at which they broke down the fat. Now, regardless of what her results are, its clear that this study cannot tell us what will happen to the fat cells in humans who eat blueberries.

There are a few things that I want to know before I'd encourage any portly-people up my blueberry intake. Firstly, how efficiently do out gastrointestinal tracts absorb these polyphenols? Secondly, how long do they last in our blood stream before they are metabolised or excreted? Thirdly, what concentration of polyphenols do fat cells see in vivo and how many blueberries would I have to eat to reach the concentrations that Dr. Moghe exposed her rat cell culture to? And finally, is the fat-cell precursor maturation model a good representation of how we gain weight?

And that is before we even consider whether or not the same effect would be seen in the much more complicated environment of a living organism or what other effects these polyphenols might have, especially at high doses. I'm not slating Dr. Moghe's work because it is a valid piece of research (if not very profound) , which I will read when it's published properly, but it doesn't even hint at the sort of extrapolations that the Daily Mail (and others) have hinted at: but nevertheless, these vultures will benefit from it.

A bit of a higgledy-piggledy post, I know, but hopefully I made my point. Thank you, and goodnight.

* using 'data' properly, as a plural, is one of life's little pleasures.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Audi's new slogan has a real ring to it

I can't help but wonder what it says about me, that my inaugural blog post is going to be about one of the more repulsive things I've ever seen on the internet, but nevertheless...

I was driving around earlier this afternoon and my eye was caught by this new Audi billboard (is that what we call them in England? I don't know...) which bears more than a little bit of a resemblance to Goatse. If you're unaware of what Goatse is, then trust me when I say that ignorance is bliss...And maybe it is just a coincidence, or it could be a graphic designer having fun, or maybe Baroness Susan Greenfield is right and the internet is affecting our subconscious minds. Who knows?

I didn't have a camera at the time but I made sure I had one in my car for the next time I went out and I snapped it... you're probably thinking that I could have just found the image on the Audi website, but it's not there. I sort of hope that somebody at Audi has noticed the gaffe and is quickly backpedaling.

I'm definitely not the first person to notice this, Count Libido seems to have pipped me to the post but I still thought that this might be worth pointing out.

And thus concludes my entry into the world of blogging.

See you soon.