Sunday, April 24, 2005

Fairly busy weekend. Went to see a bit of the 'Stunt Dance' show at the RFH. Mixed feelings about the workshops. It was absolutely great seeing the all the kids there really enjoying themselves, and generally doing better than adults. Why do you suddenly become afraid of doing a back flip when you grow up? On the other hand, you can't really do a martial arts workshop properly when you're in a crowded space full of children. Special FX show was all right, but left me more convinced than ever that I'm really priviliged to be doing Capoeira and seeing better acrobatics than those on a weekly basis.

Managed to hear all about Noah's Elle McPherson story as well and everything is now clear. (to me ;))

Saturday evening was Aroon's and Sruti's birthday party. Lots of dancing and catching up at Fuel. Plus all those great multicultural conversations you can only have in London - I remember job differences between Portugal and England and also Singaporean menĀ“s gym obsession, amongst others.

But the highlight of this weekend was definitely Jonathon Ross's interview with Robert Downey Jr. (picture above). Don't know if I should be just happy that such a sexy, intelligent, funny, cool (etc ) man exists or incredibly frustrated that I will never get to meet him. Considering his past history though, maybe he's best admired from afar so I will settle for the first option. Although, if you consider Noah has met Elle McPherson, you never know...

Friday, April 22, 2005

What are you doing reading this at work?!

Mood of the day

A new legal drug:

Emails 'pose threat to IQ'
Martin Wainwright
Friday April 22 2005
The Guardian

The distractions of constant emails, text and phone messages are a greater threat to IQ and concentration than taking cannabis, according to a survey of befuddled volunteers.
Doziness, lethargy and an increasing inability to focus reached "startling" levels in the trials by 1,100 people, who also demonstrated that emails in particular have an addictive, drug-like grip.
Respondents' minds were all over the place as they faced new questions and challenges every time an email dropped into their inbox. Productivity at work was damaged and the effect on staff who could not resist trying to juggle new messages with existing work was the equivalent, over a day, to the loss of a night's sleep.
"This is a very real and widespread phenomenon," said Glenn Wilson, a psychiatrist from King's College, London University, who carried out 80 clinical trials for TNS research, commissioned by the IT firm Hewlett Packard. The average IQ loss was measured at 10 points, more than double the four point mean fall found in studies of cannabis users.
The most damage was done, according to the survey, by the almost complete lack of discipline in handling emails. Dr Wilson and his colleagues found a compulsion to reply to each new message, leading to constant changes of direction which inevitably tired and slowed down the brain.
Manners are also going by the board, with one in five of the respondents breaking off from meals or social engagements to receive and deal with messages. Although nine out of 10 agreed that answering messages during face-to-face meetings or office conferences was rude, a third nonetheless felt that this had become "acceptable and seen as a sign of diligence and efficiency".
In fact, it is a recipe for muddled thinking and poor performance, said Dr Wilson, who also called for restraint by the two-thirds of people who check work emails out of office hours and even on holiday. He said: "Companies should encourage a more balanced and appropriate way of working."
Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Dragging on with my Materials and Methods and getting more and more annoyed with the fact that I have to write something so boring that no one will ever read. My supervisor and examiners will surely skip over that part, and the way this part has to be written, it won't be of any help to people who might carry on the work in future. Which is the only slim hope for an audience. Am beginning to get converted to the Dutch method of just binding your papers together and presenting that as your thesis, except that I don't have any papers. Oh, I have one now! So let's finish the rant and move on to something more interesting.

Here's my paper with Richard Feynman, Stephen J. Gould and Robin Penrose.

Isn't it beautiful? Diagrams and everything! As you might have guessed it's computer generated. And you've probably already read the story of the guys who created the program and how they managed to get their nonsense paper accepted for publication. And now they've got a talk accepted as well! It's going to be posted online so keep a watch-out.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Top ten

Portugal for once is on the top 10 list of an index of economic prosperity and quality of life: it's one of the countries with least deaths of children under 5 years old (5 per 1000). It's 6th in the list. The UK doesn't make it to the top 10 with 7 deaths per 1000.
If this still seems like a lot, Sierra Leone had 284 per 1000.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Thought this was interesting:

Here's a snapshot of the 10 leading killers of American men in 2002:

Rank Cause % of male deaths
1 Heart disease 28.4
2 Cancer 24.1
3 Unintentional injuries 5.8
4 Stroke 5.2
5 Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) 5.1
6 Diabetes 2.8
7 Influenza and pneumonia 2.4
8 Suicide 2.1
9 Kidney disease 1.6
10 Chronic liver disease and cirrhosis 1.5
Total 79

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2004

Those of you with a cynical view of America will be glad to know that gunshot wounds are not one of the main constituents of 'Unintentional Injuries' (3rd).
Rather, traffic accidents, poisoning (!), falls and drowning were the four main unintentional injuries.

It would be interesting to compare with other countries. Anyone have that data to hand, just add it in.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

2 - What is mental health?

This is obviously too big a question to discuss here. So the smaller issues I mean here are this kind of thing:

Is mental health dependent on the society you're part of? Could you be considered very sane by our Western world and be considered completely unhinged by a tribe of Amazon Indians living two centuries ago? (Ok, trick question).

Parallel to this, can you measure sanity by how well you perceive and fit into your society - i.e. the more you fit in and sucessful you are the more mentally healthy you are? Obviously that's the way our society in general perceives mental health - misfits are usually considered at least slightly crazy. This however has the implication that selfish people are very sane, as that's the best way to get ahead in this society (as long as you manage to fake for some people that you're really altruistic). Bur what about extremely selfish people? Surely they're not completely there? (An example used in our debate was the Nazi concentration camp guards).

And finally, are there certain actions that would define someone as mentally unhealthy just because they're against our nature (in the biological sense) as human beings, as a species? Feel free to either try and give your own answer or just add more questions!

Monday, April 04, 2005

1 - Is maths real?

So this is an old discussion and there even was a conference recently at the Royal Society where the guy said he would answer it, and then neatly sidestepped the issue. He did go on to talk about fractals and Jackson Pollock so it was interesting anyway.

Basically there are two sides:

- Mathematics is created by the human species (added to this you could say that it arises from the particular functional structure of our brain) and is used by some human cultures to describe the world around them.

- Mathematics exists in the Universe (i.e is 'real') and human beings were fortunate enough to discover it. Essential to this of course is the concept of absolute reality.

So you probably already guessed that I'm on the first side. This happened quite a while back and for some time my mother solved it for me (and passed me to to the second side) by pointing out that if Mathematics wasn't real you wouldn't have been able to put a man on the moon. That's the kind of common sense and perspective you only get if you're not a scientist.
However, if you consider approximations, you could think that there are any number of ways a being could describe the Universe that would allow him to predict it approximately enough to be able to put a man on the moon. Say colours, for example. Imagine if we had evolved to descrive the Universe and Nature in terms of colours and colour combinations rather that numbers. Quite plausible if you consider certain synesthetics. Would we still have been able to put a man on the moon?

On the second side, as I said before you have to consider that there is an absolute reality where physical laws are irrevocably linked to their mathematical description. And human beings are getting gradually closer to perceiving it.
I'm sure there are more arguments for the second side but I'm waiting for you to provide them.

Also the issue if mathematics is 'built' into our brain or not. What do you think?