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Tag Archives: research

  • Monsanto Is Going Organic in a Quest for the Perfect Veggie
    Monsanto is known for the genetically modified crops, but now they’re taking a different approach and cross breeding vegetables to improve them. Of course, they are using what they’ve learned from genetics to make this process faster.

    In 2006, Monsanto developed a machine called a seed chipper that quickly sorts and shaves off widely varying samples of soybean germplasm from seeds. The seed chipper lets researchers scan tiny genetic variations, just a single nucleotide, to figure out if they’ll result in plants with the traits they want—without having to take the time to let a seed grow into a plant. Monsanto computer models can actually predict inheritance patterns, meaning they can tell which desired traits will successfully be passed on. It’s breeding without breeding, plant sex in silico. In the real world, the odds of stacking 20 different characteristics into a single plant are one in 2 trillion. In nature, it can take a millennium. Monsanto can do it in just a few years.

  • The Big Sleep
    The story of the Ambien-killer-to-be

    But orexin-related work promised pharmaceutical novelty, which is extraordinarily uncommon. Most new drugs are remixes of old drugs—clever circumventions of patent protections. The last truly original medicines in neuroscience were triptans, for the treatment of migraines, introduced in the early nineteen-nineties. “The science is really what drove us,” Renger said. “To have a new target—to know the genetics of the brain’s control system and to be able to focus on that specifically to control sleep—is a pretty rare event. It’s like the thing people keep promising: you know, the ‘cancer gene.’ This was the first time there was the ‘sleep gene.’ ”

  • Why Taylor Swift is the Biggest Pop Star in the World
    An incomplete bio/promo/conversation with Taylor Swift as she prepares for her fifth studio album.
  • Far From Home
    A quick look at the life of two Filipino citizens who are immigrant workers to Dubai

    The room in which the television stands—the sala, the big family room—has over the years been wholly reinforced. The construction was done bit by bit; Teresa’s parents would tell her about it in long-distance conversations, how every few months a little more of the money Teresa wired was being funneled into repair. First the sala. Then the kitchen. Then the sleeping area, with the old bamboo mats on the floor. “Slowly by slowly,” Teresa said, “they made it stones.”

  • Cheap Words
    This is a very long article strongly biased against Amazon. I wouldn’t say it’s an attack article, but it talks about all the “little” book publishers that Amazon stepped on in its rise. If you hate Amazon, this would be a fun article to read.

This post took a long time in the making (so some of the links may be stale already!)

  • Ross Andersen & Humanity’s Deep Future
    Is AI the most risk to the future of humanity? Here’s an argument that it is. Of course, it’s quite difficult to prevent human progression into AI development…

    ‘The basic problem is that the strong realisation of most motivations is incompatible with human existence,’ Dewey told me. ‘An AI might want to do certain things with matter in order to achieve a goal, things like building giant computers, or other large-scale engineering projects. Those things might involve intermediary steps, like tearing apart the Earth to make huge solar panels. A superintelligence might not take our interests into consideration in those situations, just like we don’t take root systems or ant colonies into account when we go to construct a building.’

  • The Touch-Screen Generation
    The iPad/tablet is the TV of our parents generation. Is it healthy for kids to be occupied with an iPad instead of a TV? This article takes a look at it.

    I fell into conversation with a woman who had helped develop Montessori Letter Sounds, an app that teaches preschoolers the Montessori methods of spelling.

    She was a former Montessori teacher and a mother of four. I myself have three children who are all fans of the touch screen. What games did her kids like to play?, I asked, hoping for suggestions I could take home.

    “They don’t play all that much.”

    Really? Why not?

    “Because I don’t allow it. We have a rule of no screen time during the week,” unless it’s clearly educational.

    No screen time? None at all? That seems at the outer edge of restrictive, even by the standards of my overcontrolling parenting set.

    “On the weekends, they can play. I give them a limit of half an hour and then stop. Enough. It can be too addictive, too stimulating for the brain.”

  • Why Redfin, Zillow, and Trulia haven’t killed of Real Estate Brokers
    The internet hasn’t really transformed the Real Estate industry at all, broker fees are still just as expensive. Here’s a look at why.

    Economists have long been perplexed by the resilience of the real estate agent. Theory suggests that the relationship between agent and buyer or seller is far from optimal, and that conflict is often borne out in practice. At the root of the difficulty is what economists call the Principal-Agent Problem, which describes the diverging, often conflicting, interests of the principal (the customer) and the agent representing him or her. (Since agents bear much of the costs of selling a house, in the time they spend hosting open houses and touring with clients and the money they spend advertising property, they’re rewarded for pressuring clients into selling quickly and accepting suboptimal offers, or, in the case of a buyer’s agent, for allowing the client to pay too much.)

  • The Mind of a Con Man
    Another con man article, but this one is about a scientific researcher in psychology who decided to just fabricate his results. He fooled everyone for a long time, even becoming dean.

    At the end of November, the universities unveiled their final report at a joint news conference: Stapel had committed fraud in at least 55 of his papers, as well as in 10 Ph.D. dissertations written by his students. The students were not culpable, even though their work was now tarnished. The field of psychology was indicted, too, with a finding that Stapel’s fraud went undetected for so long because of “a general culture of careless, selective and uncritical handling of research and data.” If Stapel was solely to blame for making stuff up, the report stated, his peers, journal editors and reviewers of the field’s top journals were to blame for letting him get away with it. The committees identified several practices as “sloppy science” — misuse of statistics, ignoring of data that do not conform to a desired hypothesis and the pursuit of a compelling story no matter how scientifically unsupported it may be.

  • Clawback
    Apparently the price of a pound of lobster has fallen from $6 in 2005 to $2.20. With a cost of only 30% the value in 2005, why aren’t restaurant prices for lobster any cheaper?

    Studies dating back to the nineteen-forties show that when people can’t objectively evaluate a product before they buy it (as is the case with a meal) they often assume a correlation between price and quality. Since most customers don’t know what’s been happening to the wholesale price of lobster, cutting the price could send the wrong signal: people might think your lobster is inferior to that of your competitors.


Here’s a fascinating article about how self control as a child may translate into future success, or the reverse – if you don’t develop the skills of self control, you are more likely to be unsuccessful.

Mischel argues that intelligence is largely at the mercy of self-control: even the smartest kids still need to do their homework. “What we’re really measuring with the marshmallows isn’t will power or self-control,” Mischel says. “It’s much more important than that. This task forces kids to find a way to make the situation work for them. They want the second marshmallow, but how can they get it? We can’t control the world, but we can control how we think about it.”

I find articles like these, dealing with personality, very interesting. I’m not sure whether it is just an anomaly in my interests or whether it is part of a scientist’s how-things-work nature.


This article on the Social Animal from the New Yorker is the best article I’ve read in a while. It’s packed with interesting tidbits from research results.

On a mother’s attention to their babies:

Researchers at the University of Minnesota can look at attachment patterns of children at forty-two months, and predict with seventy-seven-per-cent accuracy who will graduate from high school. People who were securely attached as infants tend to have more friends at school and at summer camp. They tend to be more truthful through life, feeling less need to puff themselves up in others’ eyes.

On how we develop social intuition:

Scientists used to think that we understand each other by observing each other and building hypotheses from the accumulated data. Now it seems more likely that we are, essentially, method actors who understand others by simulating the responses we see in them.

A simple idea to improve education:

We’ve spent a generation trying to reorganize schools to make them better, but the truth is that people learn from the people they love.

On being a nerd a know-it-all:

Managers in the advertising industry gave answers that they were ninety-per-cent confident were correct. In fact, their answers were wrong sixty-one per cent of the time. People in the computer industry gave answers they thought had a ninety-five per cent chance of being right; in fact, eighty per cent of them were wrong.

On why you should bring a ruler to a first date:

Despite the saying about opposites attracting, people usually fall in love with people like themselves. There’s even some evidence that people tend to pick partners with noses of similar breadth to their own and eyes about the same distance apart.

Wow, I feel like I just wrote a movie trailer for an article.


When I get lazy with blogging, I just post links to some neat stuff around the web:


We’re looking for a sofa, here is what I’ve learned so far about sofa technology:

  • Quality frames are made from kiln-dried hardwood to prevent warping due to humidity changes. Examples of hardwood are oak, maple or poplar. Examples of a cheap frame material are pine, green wood and knotted wood.
  • If you get a plywood frame, there should be at least 11-13 layers of plywood
  • Springs should run front to back. Sinuous springs are the best value right now (here’s a picture of what sinuous springs look like). You might also look for the traditional “eight way hand tied” but that is expensive.
  • The material can be fake/faux leather (i.e., vinyl), bonded leather (I think also called leather match), or full grain leather.

Culled from the following reading material: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5


I was checking up my personal history at work this week, when I noticed that a patent application I had filed way back in August 2007 had its state changed to GRANTED. Wait, what did that mean? I did some more checking and found out that my patent application is now a true bonafide patent (in the US), US patent #7,761,415. Time to rip off that patent pending sticker.


I rather enjoyed reading this article titled Rest in Peas, which may strike you as unintelligible to you until you realize that it is a play on words about speech recognition, which the article is about. I considered speech recognition as one of those futuristic technologies thanks to Star Trek, but as I grew older, I realized that dictation was never going to be a “real” way to use a computer. I can just type so much quicker than I can dictate (plus it’s easier to correct mistakes).

Rest in Peas does a brief survey of the history of speech recognition, perfect for the layman, and the outlines the problem with the field.

Originally, however, speech recognition was going to lead to artificial intelligence. Computing pioneer Alan Turing suggested in 1950 that we “provide the machine with the best sense organs that money can buy, and then teach it to understand and speak English.” Over half a century later, artificial intelligence has become prerequisite to understanding speech. We have neither the chicken nor the egg.

Basically, we reached a plateau of 80% accuracy, which is not nearly enough. Imagine trying to communicate with your computer as if they were a new immigrant.

But I don’t think the field is nearly as bad as they make it out to be, there are a lot of working applications already. When you call Rogers or Bell, you already talk to a female robot which understands your rudimentary instructions, and Google has some impressive voice searching capabilities for some time. Maybe the expectation of operating computers with your voice is just too far fetched. We should focus on psychic computing instead anyways.


I came across an interesting link that said people are happy to just plan a vacation (I suppose in addition to taking the vacation). I think it’s true, except when you can’t plan it properly.

That was our issue earlier this week. We wanted to plan a vacation for March break, but because we were busy earlier this month, we probably missed the best time to plan. A bunch of airlines (Air France, KLM) were having sales but the dates we wanted were in low supply so the prices were still quite expensive. It was a waiting game until finally today, Air Canada put on a sale that was useful to us. Air Canada has had a couple of sales recently to celebrate Canada’s Olympic gold medals, like a 50% off Canadian destinations, but today’s sale was a 50% off international destinations.

We ended up booking a flight to Heathrow. It wasn’t cheap at all, but it was a lot cheaper than when I priced the same tickets earlier; and we maxed out our available time so we will be able to head to Amsterdam and Brussels as well.

So now we can actually book hotels, trains, regional flights oh my. And if we’re not happy, we can go to The Netherlands and let the researchers know.


Move over MBTI, there’s a new acronym on the block. Well, I don’t think the HBDI is as useful as the MBTI, but the Hermann Brain Dominance Instrument gives another perspective. A person is supposed to primarily think in one of the following ways:

  • Analytical
  • Sequential
  • Interpersonal
  • Imaginative

It’s not entirely obvious to partition the types of thinking into those categories so it takes a bit of thinking (but what type?) to grasp. My 30 seconds of searching didn’t find any online tests to find out my HBDI; although I have a good idea of what I should fit under.


It irks me that when shopping in Asia markets (i.e., markets within Asia), you have to bargain a heck of a lot in order to not be ripped off. Whenever I ask the price of something, I have to be ready to do some mental math to come up with an offering price. Maybe it is just unbelievable to my Canadian sensibilities that someone would be willing to sell something below 50% of the “sale” price (although at least my Chinese sensibilities and dealings with Rogers et al realize that there can be some unbelievable margins in industries).

It is fascinating though, that this game is built into shopping in certain cultures. While I know it happens in Chinese culture, I somewhat associated my knowledge with my background. Although it is not surprising that this also occurs in societies where there is a large gap between rich and poor (especially if the rich are transient). Here are some observations of bargaining from other countries:

* Ethiopia: 0.7 with 2 rounds
* Argentina: no less than 0.9 and 1 round.
* Canada: 1 and 0
* Uganda: 0.5 and 4 rounds
* Liberia: 0.1 and 8 rounds
* Morocco: 0.001 and upwards of 754 rounds (including mint tea).

Based on my trip to China in 2006, where I blogged that you had to start at 20% of the price for clothing; for certain things in China it looks like 0.2 with 2 rounds.

I wonder if growing gap between the rich and poor in the USA will bring more bargaining into American culture (and are cancellations/retentions an example of bargaining?)


I got the H1N1 shot earlier this week. It’s the first time I’ve gotten a flu shot, although I doubt I will get the seasonal flu shot this year. The catalyst to getting the shot is because we’re going away on vacation and don’t want to deal with 105°C fever or blurry vision.

There has been a lot of talk about the dangers of a vaccine and whether it is worthwhile to get it: there is mercury in it, you can die from it, etc. I found that this visualization of the risks and percentages associated with the vaccine was useful. Some interesting statistics:

  • The efficacy of the vaccine is only ~45%
  • There is less mercury in the shot than in a salmon fillet
  • There is only a 14:1 chance of getting Swine Flu

Although I’m not sure about the last number. There must be a lot of personal factors that affect one’s chances, such as social contact and cleaniness habits. Well if you’re average then you only have a 7% chance of getting it (and only 3.5% if you’ve had the shot).


I was all excited about taking this multiple intelligence quiz to see what type of person I was, hoping that it would be like the Myers-Briggs test. Well this is what I found out about myself.

In the end, this test fails where every test like this fails. The sample size is small and the questions have some form of interpretation to them. So if your intelligence doesn’t happen to exhibit itself in the wide swaths of personality that each of the 40 questions cover, then you will get a poor measurement of oneself. But hey, isn’t it fun when these quizzes validates your sense of yourself?

I’m code f2lf6xd48595dv , what’s yours?


What sort of headline is Kevin Is Not a Name – It’s a Diagnosis!??? A good enough headline to make me click it! If you dig deep into the eventual story, there was some research to say that 2000 elementary teachers were surveyed and they found that “Non-traditional names such as Chantal, Mandy, Angelina, Kevin, Justin and Maurice, on the other hand, are associated with weak performance and bad behaviour.

Doh.

Good thing that this survey was done in Germany so I am only a weak performing and badly behaving German.


Whenever I fly, I buy a magazine. A week ago, I hung out at Chapters to pick one up. Typically I try to go for some current affairs magazine such as The New Yorker, Atlantic, Wired etc, but usually I have already read one or two of the articles online. I haven’t been reading as much recently, but the articles in the current affairs didn’t end up interesting me.

Instead I picked up Scientific American Mind which is a bi-monthly devoted to sciences of the mind (e.g., mental illness). I was surprised by this pick myself, but when I flipped through it, all the feature articles were interesting to me (especially an article about perfectionism, and another about how our brain processes music, and why it affects us).


A bit ago, I read about a neat study where lilacs were planted since 1965, and it was found that they’ve been blooming up to two weeks earlier now. The conclusion they drew from this is that climate change has been causing this change.

Well one example, or correlation isn’t really evidence; because this weekend, we went to High Park to see the cherry blossoms; on the exact same weekend that we went last year (they are only in bloom for about a week).

We had driven past High Park the week before (and the one before that), but trees weren’t even budding yet! We actually drove through High Park to make sure, and it was really busy! Every time I’ve been there recently, it’s always been busy (i.e. no parking spots), so this weekend, we decided to go early (relatively). We arrived at 11 and the parking lot was already full!

It was still a good idea to come early though, because the forecast called for rain in the afternoon. With the sun, there was nice contrast between the green grass and blue sky, but really, the cherry blossoms aren’t as pretty as magnolia blossoms!


I bought this book in Japan for the flight home last year, but as it turns out Pauline started reading it and I didn’t get a chance to read it! So on this trip to NYC, I brought it along as my reading material.

I was really disappointed by this book. The book can be summed up in one line: Don’t act with a negative bias towards other people. There I just saved you two hours of your time. I was further disappointed at how the book was “written”. It was a conversation between two people (i.e., a senior VP and a VP), where the VP had just joined Zagrum from a competitor and had to learn the Zagrum system (and secret to success). I couldn’t get into this storybook/conversational style of the writing at all.

The most interesting thing about this book is that it was authored by The Arbinger Institute rather than a single person. With that in mind, the story made sense; they created a fictional situation to describe their research.


My mental model of traffic on the highway tells me that trucks are the reason that highways are slow, but they’re also very helpful in helping the traffic flow. The latter is somewhat validated by using ants to research traffic flow.

In the latest findings, published in the February issue of the Journal of Experimental Biology, Dussutour’s team found that ants leaving the colony automatically gave right-of-way to those returning with food. Of the returning ants, some were empty-mandibled — but rather than passing their leaf-carrying, slow-moving brethren, they gathered in clusters and moved behind them.

This seemingly counterintuitive strategy — when stuck behind a slow-moving truck, are you content to slow down? — actually saved them time.

Now if drivers would just stop weaving around trucks and changing lanes, traffic wouldn’t be as bad. Though, that’s as likely to happen as everyone following the trucks.


My gas mileage has been getting progressively worse this winter, and thanks to Fuelly I’ve been getting depressed because of it. I have only low gas prices to prevent me from slitting my fuel lines. I’ve bottomed out at 8.3L/100km one time!

I was curious why my gas mileage had decreased so much in the winter months since it wasn’t a car maintenance issue. I did some experiments and I’m pretty positive that turning on the heater (I usually just leave it in the middle or slightly to the heat side) decreases my gas mileage by almost 0.5 L/100km! I didn’t use my heater or ventilation (where possible) and my gas mileage is back in the high 7s again!

Now I just have to figure out why it’s not in the high 6s.


A year and a bit ago, I noticed an interesting pattern in how gas stations set their prices. Since then, the gas stations have reverted back to their normal pattern of setting one price per day. So I’ve been trying to find a method to fill up when it’s the cheapest.

Lately, I’ve been trying to predict the price of gas at the stations based on the cost of a barrel of crude. There is some empirical correlation here because whenever gas peaks, there are stories in the news saying that the price per barrel has reached an all time high. But does this relationship hold when the price of gas is not at an extreme?

I set to find out the answer, using a spreadsheet to track the price of crude futures against the local gas prices. A long documentary short, I got tired of having to input the numbers every day and writing spreadsheet formulas to summarize my data. I can only say that it seems that the price changes do track together, although I had one odd week where the gas stations seemed to purposely go against the trend.


I’ve been reading a bit about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) as a form of understanding my personality. I understand myself pretty well, but I was curious about how I could be classified. The Wikipedia page on MBTI is a good introduction, but it’s not completely clear what each of the classifications mean. I found this page to be much more descriptive and I can classify myself as a INTJ.

The first letter stands for whether you are Extravertive or Introvertive. The second letter determines how you perceive things, either through Sensing or iNtuition. The third describes whether your form judgements through Thinking or Feeling and the finally letter determines whether your attitude is Judgemental or Perceiving. Note that there are specific definitions for these words with respect to MBTI that are slightly different from the regular definitions.

Initially for some of the types, I couldn’t pick one or the other. But further reading the characteristics, I’m not confident that I do belong to the particular classification. I won’t go into how I reached my classification, but it’s an interesting exercise I recommend.


Reading is my excuse for travelling, and so it was good that I had an opportunity to go travelling to Vancouver recently as I have been working on this book for a year without making progress.

I originally bought The Making of Intelligence by Ken Richardson because I was fascinated with the gap between the rational intelligence of humans and the instinctive intelligence of animals. What is it that separates us from monkeys and allows us to write poetry instead of squabbling over bananas? I was hoping for examples of animal intelligence and its differences as well as a discussion of how we (as humans) think. Failing that, I was hoping for a discussion on how humans think. Unfortunately neither of these happened.

The book discussed a lot about the measurement of intelligence, such as the (in)validity of IQ tests, and briefly on how we might be more intelligent than animals. It discussed everything in scientific/research terms and felt very much like reading a survey of intelligence papers. That was, I think, the main reason why it was so boring. I’m not a researcher in this field and was only looking for some cursory knowledge, which the book was not written for. I have a habit of wanting to finish the books I start, which seems to me like a bad habit in certain situations, and I think this was one of them.


Before Karaoke on Saturday, Ben, Victor x 2 and I went to I Maid Cafe. I have to shamelessly admit that it was I who suggested to go there because after having blogged about it and seeing everyone go, I wanted to see for myself what the waitresses the maids it was like.

IMC is your typical HK style restaurant, and if anything is slightly cheaper than the surrounding area. There’s nothing to complain about, nor to complement about their food. The decor is simplistic, black/white and slightly upscale (what’s with all the new Chinese restaurants sporting leather chairs nowadays?). The service was great (ahem), but maybe it was because we were the only table there on a Saturday evening. Not to say that it has no business, by the time we left at 9ish, it was full.

Now of course I know you are anxiously waiting to read my review of the waitresses themselves, because that is the whole point of going to this restaurant right? Actually, I think while the restaurant my draw more pervs and otaku, I think that it may alienate a lot of potential customers who don’t want to seem as though they are going to a restaurant just to be served by french maids. In fact, I didn’t think it was all that special. Sure the waitresses were wearing costumes, but they weren’t particularly hotter than at any other restaurant, nor were the maid costumes particularly revealing. I think this is just an Asian version of Hooters, and by that I mean for the Asian waitresses that couldn’t get a job there ;).


I end up deleting say 75% of the photos that I take of Pauline, not because she’s not beautiful or that I’m a bad photographer (Ok maybe 25% of the time I screw up), but because she always ends up blinking exactly when I take the picture. It’s uncanny, written into her X-gene like a mutant power. Although instead of being one of those useful talents like telekinesis, it’s a rather annoying skill.

I bring this up because there’s an article floating around the web about the optimal number of pictures to take so no one’s blinking. The researchers in Australia suggest that you should take the number of people in the group and divide by 2 or 3 (depending on the light). So for portraits, that would be half or a third of a shot? Not really reasonable — especially with Pauline’s latent abilities.

My solution is much simpler, now instead of the 1..2..3..*CLICK*, I do a 1..2.*CLICK*. Also the side effect is that I may get some weird candid shots. Although now that I have mentioned my secret online, I suppose I should do a 1..*CLICK* and mix it up a bit.