Sunday, March 28, 2010

Charlie Brooker .... on newspapers

"... I don't want to get out of my head: that's where I live.

In summary: if I've learned anything, it's that I don't much care for mood-altering substances. But I'm not afraid of them either. With one exception.

It's perhaps the biggest threat to the nation's mental wellbeing, yet it's freely available on every street – for pennies. The dealers claim it expands the mind and bolsters the intellect: users experience an initial rush of emotion (often euphoria or rage), followed by what they believe is a state of enhanced awareness. Tragically this "awareness" is a delusion. As they grow increasingly detached from reality, heavy users often exhibit impaired decision-making abilities, becoming paranoid, agitated and quick to anger. In extreme cases they've even been known to form mobs and attack people. Technically it's called "a newspaper", although it's better known by one of its many "street names", such as "The Currant Bun" or "The Mail" or "The Grauniad" (see me – Ed).

In its purest form, a newspaper consists of a collection of facts which, in controlled circumstances, can actively improve knowledge. Unfortunately, facts are expensive, so to save costs and drive up sales, unscrupulous dealers often "cut" the basic contents with cheaper material, such as wild opinion, bullshit, empty hysteria, reheated press releases, advertorial padding and photographs of Lady Gaga with her bum hanging out. The hapless user has little or no concept of the toxicity of the end product: they digest the contents in good faith, only to pay the price later when they find themselves raging incoherently in pubs, or – increasingly – on internet messageboards."

Charlie's weekly rant is one of the best things on the net.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Film: Universal Soldier 3

Van Damme and Lundren ... it's a re-match:

Hell yeah

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Film: Shutter Island

You did who with a what now? Shutter Island is all rather confusing. The film is well crafted but it's overly too long and the ending is better in memory than the actual experience. Shame.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Vitamin D and Influenza

This study is pretty interesting.

'Dr John Oxford, professor of virology at Queen Mary School of Medicine, London, said: “This is a timely study. It will be noticed by scientists. It fits in with the seasonal pattern of flu. There is an increasing background of solid science that makes the vitamin D story credible. But this study needs to be replicated. If it is confirmed we might think of giving vitamin D at the same time as we vaccinate.”

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Film: Predators, Wall Street 2

- This evening was a toss up between Green Zone and Shutter Island. We thought we'd catch Green Zone first, as Shutter Island splits the crowd in a big way - somebody on the train today was singing it's praises, while reviews in other corners of the globe have been less than glowing. Green Zone is fantastic and much recommended, with Matt Damon in fine 'good guy' mode. The only downside is the 'shaky camera' mode, but it's pretty darn realistic.

- Elsewhere, I am happy to report that the new 'Predators' film looks like it is reverting back to the original format. Director Robert Rodriguez is at the helm, and there are some notable names amongst the cast, including Lawrence Fishburne and Adrian Brody. Bring it.

- Also, the Wall Street 2 trailer has a great scene in it: Gordon Gekko comes of out prison and he is issued with his belongings, which include a proper 1980's brick mobile. I'm really not a fan of Shia Le Beouf, but I'll watch it anyway.

Book: Derren Brown's Tricks of the Mind

Derren Brown's book just came through the post and I can't wait to get stuck in.

I also need to get around to blogging about some great books that I've recently read (Logic of Life by Tim Harford, and Bad Science by Ben Goldacre), but it's hard to find the time between work and studying accountancy (the beans don't count themselves, you know!). Indeed, this year even Don Quixote will be set aside ... these are the dark times!

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Vitamin D the miracle cure?

The new observation of the vitamin's role in T cell activation could have many implications, including vaccine development (in helping the body to recognize new pathogens) and organ transplant (by discouraging the immune system from attacking a new organ), Geisler noted. Additionally, he added, it "could help us to combat infectious diseases and global epidemics."
From SciAm.

I'm probably jinxing it, but this is the first winter where I haven't caught a mild cold and I wonder if it's the magical vitamin D that has been coming to my rescue. A day or two before I catch a cold, I usually experience a few body shivers, which and historically these have a been a pretty reliable precursor to the onset of a cold. I've still had these shivers - about five times through this winter - but not once did I go on to develop a cold. Too many variables are at work here, and it could well be a placebo effect, but I have an inkling the vitamin D has provided me with an extra jacket of resistance.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Economics in one lesson

via Mankiw (via someone else)

Vitamin D causes cancer?

I thought we might never see vitamin D associated with negative outcomes but the day has arrived. Here we have a report linking vitamin D with skin cancer:

'In a small study, researchers at Henry Ford and Wayne State University found elevated levels of Vitamin D enzymes and proteins in cancerous tissue taken from 10 patients compared to normal skin tissue taken from them.'

'The 10 patients enrolled in the study were diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma and ranged in age from 43 to 83. All had biopsies taken of cancerous tissue and surrounding normal skin tissue. Researchers found a 10-fold increase in Vitamin D enzyme levels and a two-fold increase in Vitamin D protein levels.'
Alas, it looks like the sample size in this study is way too small to draw any meaningful conclusions. What is more, if these skin cancers were caused by being in the sun for excessive periods in the first place, then one would surely expect to see extremely high vitamin D levels.

For now, I'm going to keep taking the tablets because the perceived benefits outweigh the perceived risks. I say this even though I suspect that while I think vitamin D could be vital in preventing osteoperosis, etc, the fact that it is correlated with so many conditions does make me wonder if it more of a marker of ill-health than a causal factor.

These studies
might shed a bit more light on the matter, when they are published.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

A few bits on nutirition

Here are a few quotes that I pulled from three recent studies on Medline. They look at meal size, cholesterol and saturated fat, and how they relate to chronic heart disease (CHD), and they are all contrary to public opinion:

'Meal-frequency regimens are classified into two major forms: 1) feasting, i.e., consuming all energy needs in one meal/day, and 2) nibbling, i.e., consuming all energy needs in three, six, nine, 12, or 17 regimented meals/day. Whether one meal pattern, feasting or nibbling, is more effective at improving indicators of CHD risk than the other, remains unresolved.'

'Several recent studies have shed additional light on the specific interplay between dietary cholesterol and cardiovascular health risk. It is evident that the dynamics of cholesterol homeostasis, and of development of CHD, are extremely complex and multifactorial. In summary, the earlier purported adverse relationship between dietary cholesterol and heart disease risk was likely largely over-exaggerated.'

'A meta-analysis of prospective epidemiologic studies showed that there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD or CVD.'

ACCA bean counters diary - F1, F2, F3

Bean Counters Diary

This highly technical, precision perfect chart maps out how I felt about the first three ACCA exams. The higher line goes, the harder I found the module.

The black line is the F1 Introduction to Business exam. It was a sure thing from the off.

The blue line is the F2 Financial Accounting exam. I had a terrible lecturer for this paper (shockingly bad) and like several of the other people in the class, I starting to truly doubt whether I could stomach two years of this painful, mind-numbing misery. I couldn't throw in the towel at the first hurdle, so I decided to give it a fair bash and, luckily for me, about a week before the exam the penny dropped and I saw the light - the perseverence paid off as it all came together.

F3 is the Management Accounting paper. A decent lecturer and a good level of prep and revision
meant that I didn't feel anywhere near as uncomfortable about this paper as I did with F3. It gets a bit sticky in the middle but if you don't let yourself get drawn into the complexities, it's pitched as just about the right level. Despite scoring quite low in the actual exam relative to F3, I felt most comfortable with the material in this module.

So far, studying for the ACCA has been mostly about putting the hours in, churning thorugh the mire, and waiting for the penny to drop in terms of understanding. You keep on at it, and eventually things click together.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Russ Roberts on the science of economics

I concur with his every world:

'... We have the same problems in economics. The economy is a complex system, our data are imperfect and our models inevitably fail to account for all the interactions.

The bottom line is that we should expect less of economists. Economics is a powerful tool, a lens for organizing one's thinking about the complexity of the world around us. That should be enough. We should be honest about what we know, what we don't know and what we may never know. Admitting that publicly is the first step toward respectability.'

Looks like a Zoolander sequel is on the way

... start practising your 'blue steel'.