Another study shows it’s better to be a bit overweight

In 1993-1994, demographic data were collected on a sample of 11,326 Canadians over the age of 25. The Cox proportional hazards model was used to determine the effect of BMI on mortality over a twelve year period. It was found that people who were overweight but not obese — BMI from 25 to 29.9 — had lower mortality than people of so-called normal weight (B.M.I. of 18.5 to 24.9).

According to an article in the New York Times:

“Overweight may not be the problem we thought it was,” said Dr. David H. Feeny, a senior investigator at Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research in Portland, Ore., and one of the authors of the study. “Overweight was protective.”

The abstract is available on-line.

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120,000 year-old microbe brought back to life

This sounds like something from a science fiction movie.

The tiny purple microbe, dubbed called [sic] Herminiimonas glaciei, lay trapped beneath nearly two miles of ice in Greenland. It took 11 months to revive it by gently warming it in an incubator.

What could possibly go wrong?

Hawthorn effect debunked

23453_lI grew up near Western Electric’s Hawthorn Works on Chicago’s West Side. Although it closed in 1984, the facility’s name lived on in the Hawthorn Effect, a kind of Heisenberg principle for the social sciences which claimed that subjects change their behavior in response to the mere fact of being observed.

The idea came from a series of industrial experiments carried out at the plant in the 1920s. Researchers found that production output increased after they raised lighting levels on an assembly line. They took another assembly line and lowered the lighting levels, and found that output increased on that line as well. The conclusion was that the change in lighting levels told the workers they were being observed, and they changed their behavior accordingly.

According to this article in the Economist, Steve Levitt (of Freakonomics fame) and colleague John List dug up the original data from these experiments and found some serious flaws in the methodology. For example, it turns out that lighting levels were always changed on Sundays. The researchers then compared Monday’s output with that of the previous Friday. But there was a natural tendency for workers to be more productive at the beginning of the week than at the end: workers were always more productive on Mondays than on Fridays. When Levitt and List reanalyzed the data to correct this effect, the Hawthorn Effect disappeared.

Computer gadget I’ve been waiting for

I have seen the future of computing: it’s a device called the Pogoplug that connects your external hard drives and USB drives to the internet, so that you can access your files from any net-connected computer. It costs only $99 and there is no monthly fee.

This is something I’ve needed for a long time. At work I have a desktop computer and a laptop that I bring with me on travel. It’s nearly impossible to keep the files on these two synchronized. There are times when I need something from my home computer as well. So what I’m going to do is buy a Pogoplug, hook up a 2 TB drive and just keep everything there. The hard drives on the local machines will contain only the operating system and programs — everything else will be maintained (in encrypted form for security) on central storage.

There are drawbacks of course. The Pogoplug works by way of servers maintained by the Pogoplug company, so if they go belly-up you have a $99 doorstop. On the other hand, at least you still have your hard drives and the data they contain!

Modeling and Simulation

Nice article in the New York Times about careers in modeling and simulation. The opening paragraph:

AS employment headlines go from grim to grimmer, it’s appropriate that one job category with expanding demand involves helping people avoid reality. Designers of computer simulations are sought in many fields to help understand complex, multifaceted phenomena that are too expensive or perilous to study in real life.

Impressions of St. Petersburg

Friends who have been to Moscow describe it as rather ugly and depressing. I don’t know if that’s true, but I found St. Petersburg to be as lively and beautiful as any European capital.

Judging by the number of expensive autos I saw on the streets, the residents have made a rapid transition to the market economy.

At my hotel they served the same breakfast every day: kasha, scrambled eggs and fat pink sausages which to my American taste buds were simple hot dogs. Not sure if this was typical but it was rather monotonous.

No surprise here, but the Russians drink a lot of vodka. On the last day of the conference there was a reception with hors d’oeuvres and cocktails. Wine and beer is de rigueur at these events, but in addition there was a bottle of vodka. No mixer either — you drink it straight from a shotglass.

One night we had dinner at a place called the Russian Vodkahouse. Every time you drank a shot, there was a waiter at your elbow offering to pour from another bottle. I drank seven shots, and never tried the same variety twice. One was flavored with horseradish! It was surprisingly good.

The women of St. Petersburg have a high standard of beauty. Enough said.

And finally, let me just add this: those czars really knew how to live.