Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Good to see Google+ is now available to everyone

I read in the official google blog today that Google Plus is out of closed beta and is now offered to everyone (although I think it’s still in the beta phase). If you have a google account (for example a gmail account), you can just head to the plus web site and sign in. Then fill out a form and you will be ready to play. It is possible that the first time you enter there, you will either see a very empty slate or invites from people who may have invited you in the past. But hang on for a while and start adding people, and you will soon see the power of this new system. I am certainly looking forward to see a lot more traffic and active conversations going on in Google plus. Here is my google profile if you’d like to add me to your list of friends. Additionally, there are lists of suggested users and groups where you can add yourself by adding your profiles. Those sites are fairly self explanatory. For example, I’d suggest you to start with the group.as website.

I have found that there are three areas where google plus really shines. First, it’s a great place to find learning materials and discover new ideas. Here, it is somewhat like Twitter or following blogs. But think of it as a giant blogging platform with very complex interconnections. If you are someone who want to follow new ideas and adventurous, Google plus is a great place to hang out. Second, Google plus really shines in photos and videos and this includes it’s famous hangout sessions. Hangout sessions now allow you only to literally “hang out” with only nine others, but it is in unbelievably powerful way to interact with others. You can initiate your own hangout sessions and call in people and join in conversations, or you can find hangout sessions to go to and attend them. People have hosted music jams, tutorials, and cooking demonstrations classes in hangout sessions and it’s really a great way to utlize. Third, combining hangouts and hi resolution photos and circles, it is possible to set up remote classes and tutorial sessions to teach and educate and be educated in turn. I think this can be utilized for holding telehealth applications relatively easily and in very cost effective manner. One can hook up computers connected to fairly high speed broadband networks (fairly easily available these days almost anywhere in the world and initiate a hangout session).

Would be great to have some of you in the google plus sessions and chat. Would be great if you can drop me a line as a comment here on Google plus.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Escaped Pet Birds Are Teaching Wild Birds to Speak English across Australia writes treehugger

parrots talking photo Photo: enlewof / cc

Across parts of Australia, reports have been pouring in of strange voices chattering high in the treetops -- mysterious, non-sensical conversations in English. But while this phenomenon is certainly quite odd, its explanation isn't paranormal. It turns out that escaped pet birds, namely parrots and cockatoos, have begun teaching their wild bird counterparts a bit of the language they picked up from their time in captivity -- and, according to witnesses, that includes more than a few expletives.

Jaynia Sladek, an ornithologist from the Australian Museum, says that some birds are just natural mimickers, able to acquire new sounds based on things they hear around them. For birds kept as pets, these sounds tend to mirror human language -- but that influence doesn't cease even after said birds escape or are released back into the wild.

Once back in their natural environments, these chatty ex-pets eventually join with wild birds who, in turn, start picking up the new words and sounds. The remnants of that language also eventually gets passed along to the escaped birds' offspring, much like it does for humans.

"There's no reason why, if one comes into the flock with words, [then] another member of the flock wouldn't pick it up as well," Sladek said in an interview with Australian Geographic.

According to the report, 'Hello cockie' is one of the most commonly heard phrases feral birds are teaching in the wild, along with a host of expletives -- perhaps the last words those escapees heard after their frantic owners realized they were making a break for freedom.

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More on Chatty Birds
Bird Sound Database Contains 67000 Songs and Calls
Birds in New Zealand Developing Entirely New Songs
Real Birds Tweet on Twitter With a Peckable Keyboard (Video)

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Interesting! How about this for some practical parrot jokes?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

test note

From Evernote:

test note

test note to test if I can send something to posterous from evernote and it gets published on posterous

Friday, September 9, 2011

"The boffins and the luvvies" outlines the tension between sciences and arts

Once in a while, I come across really interesting posts from people who examine different aspects critically. This is one such where you have an interesting discussion between sciences (the "temper" if you will) and the arts. The allusion to Jobs in this article by Eric Schmidt is particularly interesting.

Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, generated headlines in the United Kingdom recently for what one major paper there called his "devastating critique" of the English education system.

His remarks came in the course of delivering the prestigious MacTaggart lecture at the Edinburgh International Television Festival. While he aimed for the most part at reassuring the high-level executives in his audience that they have nothing to fear from the coming merger of the Internet with TV, Schmidt also made a point of chastising British schools for inadequately promoting technological literacy.

English scientists have invented three of the most powerful technologies the world has ever seen, Schmidt said — photography, television, and computers — yet England has failed to maintain global leadership in any of those fields. A principal reason for that failure, he said, has been "a drift to the humanities" in the curricula of British schools. The nation lacked the expertise required to capitalize on its innovations because engineering and science education hadn't been "championed."

Schmidt added that over the past century the United Kingdom had stopped nurturing its "polymaths," meaning individuals who can successfully span the gap between science and art. The result is a distinct and hostile split among young people who position themselves on either side of that gap, and who refer unflatteringly to one another, Schmidt said he's learned, as "boffins" and "luvvies," respectively.

Given that the attention of computer executives is directed relentlessly forward, Schmidt may not have realized that he was echoing with remarkable fealty the language and logic of a debate that has been repeatedly engaged on British soil literally since the onset of the Scientific Revolution, and that has continued among American educators for more than a century.

When Francis Bacon proposed his famed scientific method in 1620 he did so with a specific agenda: to replace what he saw as the fruitless musings of the Greek philosophers with experimentation that would produce knowledge of practical use to humankind. The ancient philosophers, Bacon wrote, were "prone to talking, and incapable of generation, their wisdom being loquacious and unproductive of effects."

Bacon's call for practical science was soon taken up by a host of followers, but it was also resisted by those who felt the classic philosophers remained the fonts of true wisdom. This became known as the debate between the Ancients and the Moderns. The standard argument of the Ancients was that the Moderns could only see as far as they did because they stood "on the shoulders of giants." The Ancients also shared the conviction of their heroes that the products of techné would always threaten to become ends in themselves, overwhelming the pursuit of virtue. Among those who took up the Ancients' cause was Jonathan Swift, light-heartedly in "The Battle of the Books," more mordantly in "Gulliver's Travels."

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Despite the success of the scientific method, the ancient philosophers remained the mainstays of traditional pedagogy during the ensuing two centuries. The assault on that tradition was renewed as the Industrial Revolution flowered, notably in an 1880 lecture by Thomas Henry Huxley. Known as "Darwin's Bulldog" for his aggressive defense of evolutionary theory against its religious opponents, Huxley spoke on the occasion of the opening of Mason Science College in Birmingham, one of the first institutions of higher learning in England where the study of the natural sciences was explicitly given priority over study of the humanities. Huxley favored that shift enthusiastically. "For I hold very strongly by two convictions," he said. "The first is, that neither the discipline nor the subject-matter of classical education is of such direct value to the student of physical science as to justify the expenditure of valuable time upon either; and the second is, that for the purpose of attaining real culture, an exclusively scientific education is at least as effectual as an exclusively literary education."

The poet Matthew Arnold rose to the defense of the classics in an address at Cambridge University two years later. Huxley was mistaken, Arnold said, if he believed that educational tradition necessarily excluded the teaching of natural science. Well-educated persons will be conversant with the science of Newton as well as the philosophy of Plato — they will be, in other words, polymaths. Arnold insisted nonetheless that most people simply aren't interested in the minutia of scientific processes. What most of us hunger for, he said, is to understand beauty, meaning, and right relationship with other human beings. These were subjects in which the classic philosophers had no peers.

The most obvious predecessor to Eric Schmidt's remarks was C. P. Snow's famous "Two Cultures" speech in 1959, also delivered at Cambridge University. Snow, a physicist turned novelist, mourned the fact that "a gulf of mutual incomprehension" had developed between the world of literature and the world of science. "Thirty years ago," Snow said, "the cultures had long ceased to speak to each other: but at least they managed a kind of frozen smile across the gulf. Now the politeness has gone and they just make faces."

Snow went on to attack his literary friends for their insularity, much as Bacon had attacked the ancient Greeks for theirs. Scientists were constantly searching for discoveries that would alleviate suffering in the world, Snow said, paving the way for a brighter future. Literary types, by contrast, acted as if they "wished the future did not exist."

Although Schmidt in his speech urged the nurturance of polymaths, it was clear that he was most concerned about the science side of the equation. He mentioned with approval President Obama's proposal last June for a stimulus program that would train 10,000 new American engineers annually. For the United Kingdom's economy to thrive in the digital future, Schmidt said, its schools need to "reignite" students' interest in science and math, just as its businesses need to hire engineers at all levels, including the very top. Google has followed that policy and prospered.

Few noticed a telling moment in Schmidt's talk that — unintentionally, I'm sure — put a somewhat different spin on that message. It came just after he'd been introduced, when he departed from his written script to mention the news of Steve Jobs' resignation. What he said may have confused his audience, since he referred to a section of his speech he hadn't yet delivered, the section in which he talked about the need to nurture polymaths who could bridge the gap between art and science. Jobs, Schmidt said, "was the only person I've ever known who has been able to actually merge the two worlds completely, with an artist's eye as well as the definition of what great engineering is ... From my perspective that's the perfect example of the kind of union we should see in the future in other companies and other collaborations."

Schmidt, who holds a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering and a masters and Ph.D in computer science, didn't mention that Jobs had hardly followed a boffins' standard career path, having dropped out of one of America's most artsy liberal arts colleges to seek enlightenment in India. The moment was telling because it provoked an unavoidable comparison between Schmidt's workmanlike presentation in Edinburgh and the fabled charisma of Jobs, and also between the creative imagination that Jobs brought to Apple's products and the incredibly powerful but ultimately mechanical algorithms that drive the Google juggernaut.

Schmidt's description of Jobs as the only person he'd ever known who completely merged the worlds of technology and art testifies to the difficulty of achieving such a merger. This is not to say that creativity doesn't exist at every level of technical enterprise. Technology is art — sometimes good, sometimes not so good — just as art is technique. And of course the argument can be made that technology advances rather than retards the humanities in countless ways.

Nonetheless, the tension between what Hannah Arendt described as the vita activa and the vita contemplativa is a constant in our personal as well our professional lives. Like Schmidt, we long for a harmonious mixture of the two. The evidence over the centuries suggests the struggle will be ongoing.

Schmidt's full MacTaggart lecture is available in the following video. His aside about Steve Jobs begins at the 9:11 mark. His critique of the UK education system begins at 41:49.

Associated illustration on home and category pages: Science clip art by Vintage Collective, on Flickr


Thursday, September 8, 2011

How "headline writers, health-beat journalists, editors embarrass themselves en masse"

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Headline writers, health-beat journalists, editors embarrass themselves en masse

You'd think reading the health sections of our mass media would go some way towards prolonging your life. But you should think twice. A horrible disease is being spread by health reporters. Their crime is spreading false information in an attempt to attract eyeballs.

Note the most read article on Yahoo! News the other day:


A lot of people clicked on the link that proclaimed: "Too much TV may take years off your life."

The article dutifully reported the findings of an Australian study: that "people who averaged six hours a day of TV lived, on average, nearly five years less than people who watched no TV." Also, that "For every hour of television watched after age 25, lifespan fell by 22 minutes." These were almost direct quotations from the scholarly paper.

By the fourth sentence, the reporter informed us: But other experts cautioned that the study did not show that TV watching caused people to die sooner, only that there was an association between watching lots of TV and a shorter lifespan. For the next few sentences, the reporter allowed these experts to tell us why correlation is not causation.

And yet, the reporter, the headline writer and the editor persisted in telling readers "too much TV may take years off your life".


Such mischief is not limited to Yahoo!  Here's Time magazine with an even more ridiculous headline:


And taking the prize was AOL/HuffingtonPost:


This above headline is frankly embarrassing. According to the study, each hour of TV after age 25 is associated with 22 minutes lower lifespan. Each additional hour of TV is associated with a higher risk of death. But how did this finding morph into (just) one hour of TV could shorten one's life? Turn this around. Would doing just 1 hour of exercise in one's lifetime prolong one's life?

And the ailment has already crossed the Atlantic. Here is the Independent (UK):


If the writer has read the paper, he will note that in the sample, only 1% of the people reported watching 6 hours a day or more. In fact, across all age groups (25 and over), the average number of hours of TV viewing was 1.5-2.5 hours per day. So the statement about 6 hours a day is useless for 99% of the population.


Here are some other pertinent information from the study ignored by the media:

  • Every finding in the study just marginally passed the minimum standard of statistical evidence required for publication in a scholarly journal. For example, the reported 22 minutes decline in lifespan had a margin of error of 21.5 minutes.
  • Also, that 22 minutes difference come from an extreme-to-extreme comparison. It's the heaviest 1% of TV watchers versus those who don't watch any TV at all.
  • What is a plausible link between TV watching and "all-cause mortality" (death by any reason)"? Is the hypothesis that electromagnetic waves are harmful? that excessive violence is harmful? that high-decibel screaming makes us sick? The researchers did not speculate at all. They did bring up smoking as a comparable risk factor, which I find puzzling since the biochemical link between smoking and death is pretty clear by contrast.

If I have the chance, I'd do a survey of those journalists who published these articles to find out what proportion of them stopped watching TV to gain those extra minutes of life.




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Is it not possible that sicker people are watching TV cause they are unable to do anything else? The results from this study appear to be coincidence at best. Nice job.

Posted by: Jonathan | 08/20/2011 at 09:06 AM


It seems really common for people who are, at least on some explicit and conscious level, aware that correlation isn't causation to take correlation as "maybe causation", whatever that means.

Posted by: DavidC | 08/20/2011 at 04:44 PM


From the abstract "Compared with persons who watch no TV, those who spend a lifetime average of 6 h/day watching TV can expect to live 4.8 years (95% UI: 11 days to 10.4 years) less. " UI is uncertainty interval which I assume is the same as a confidence interval, so it isn't a very convincing study.

It all seems fairly pointless. There is a link between physical inactivity and obesity, and a link between obesity and lifespan. As its fairly reasonable to expect that TV watching cuts into time for physical activity, then there will be a correlation.

Posted by: Ken | 08/21/2011 at 01:21 AM

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I think it's a very pertinent observation. Perhaps journalists writing on health topics should consider taking courses in epidemiology and health sciences.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Sad to learn of the death of Michael Hart

Tim O'Reilly (@timoreilly)
8/09/11 12:02 PM
#ebook pioneer Michael Hart, founder of the Gutenberg Project, died yesterday http://t.co/ErIq0Q1 Anyone who's read a book online owes him

Sent from my iPad

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Access to High Level Clinical Protocols do not influence trainee knowledge about mechanical ventilation


Context Clinical protocols are associated with improved patient outcomes; however, they may negatively affect medical education by removing trainees from clinical decision making.

Objective To study the relationship between critical care training with mechanical ventilation protocols and subsequent knowledge about ventilator management.

Design, Setting, and Participants A retrospective cohort equivalence study, linking a national survey of mechanical ventilation protocol availability in accredited US pulmonary and critical care fellowship programs with knowledge about mechanical ventilation among first-time examinees of the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) Critical Care Medicine Certification Examination in 2008 and 2009. Exposure to protocols was defined as high intensity if an examinee's training intensive care unit had 2 or more protocols for at least 3 years and as low intensity if 0 or 1 protocol.

Main Outcome Measures Knowledge, measured by performance on examination questions specific to mechanical ventilation management, calculated as a mechanical ventilation score using item response theory. The score is standardized to a mean (SD) of 500 (100), and a clinically important difference is defined as 25. Variables included in adjusted analyses were birth country, residency training country, and overall first-attempt score on the ABIM Internal Medicine Certification Examination.

Results Ninety of 129 programs (70%) responded to the survey. Seventy-seven programs (86%) had protocols for ventilation liberation, 66 (73%) for sedation management, and 54 (60%) for lung-protective ventilation at the time of the survey. Eighty-eight (98%) of these programs had trainees who completed the ABIM Critical Care Medicine Certification Examination, totaling 553 examinees. Of these 88 programs, 27 (31%) had 0 protocols, 19 (22%) had 1 protocol, 24 (27%) had 2 protocols, and 18 (20%) had 3 protocols for at least 3 years. Forty-two programs (48%) were classified as high intensity and 46 (52%) as low intensity, with 304 trainees (55%) and 249 trainees (45%), respectively. In bivariable analysis, no difference in mean scores was observed in high-intensity (497; 95% CI, 486-507) vs low-intensity programs (497; 95% CI, 485-509). Mean difference was 0 (95% CI, –16 to 16), with a positive value indicating a higher score in the high-intensity group. In multivariable analyses, no association of training was observed in a high-intensity program with mechanical ventilation score (adjusted mean difference, −5.36; 95% CI, –20.7 to 10.0).

Conclusion Among first-time ABIM Critical Care Medicine Certification Examination examinees, training in a high-intensity ventilator protocol environment compared with a low-intensity environment was not associated with worse performance on examination questions about mechanical ventilation management.

Just read this in this week's special issue on medical education in JAMA. This is an interesting study while the specifics of this study will still need to be discussed (something I plan to write more in myblog here), I think for now it's fair that it is an interesting finding from the larger perspective that existence of protocols do not necessarily influence someone's decision making skills. At UC, we are developing our own simulations and I thought this would be a good study to discuss further.