Wednesday, March 24, 2010

soldiers and drugs

The military is worried about all the drugs that soldiers are taking:

Abuse of pain pills by troops concerns Pentagon

Senator Jim Webb has made comparisons to his time in Vietnam, when soldiers were mostly getting hooked on heroin.  Now it's prescription antidepressants and pain killers.

Your first reaction may be to wonder how things have changed... but I bet they haven't changed much at all.  One of the things that most people don't know about the opiates - they are some of the best antidepressants known to man, even in this modern age of Prozac.  They haven't been prescribed that way since the 1950's, because they're addictive (and somewhat dangerous).

Most likely war is a pretty depressing thing, and soldiers who can't get treatment one way will find it another way.  So they take speed on the way in, and opiates on the way out.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

"Hurry up on healthy food"

The administration is telling manufacturers to hurry up and make food more "healthy". The hidden message with this sort of prodding is that if an industry doesn't move voluntarily, they'll sic the Congress on you and make it a law.

The problem with such government meddling: it assumes that we know what 'healthy' is. Not only does the government not know what 'healthy' is, neither does Science. We have some ideas, but nutritional science should have a little more humility.

For a while now, evidence has been accumulating that we don't really understand how or even whether fats are bad for us. Thirty years ago Americans dropped butter as if it were made at Love Canal, and switched to margarine. Of course, now we know that margarine is actually worse than butter, and that the ill effects of butter were exaggerated. Similar damage was done to the reputation of Palm Oil and other saturated fats.

Conventional wisdom holds that lots of fat in the diet leads to high cholesterol and other problems. But the evidence shows otherwise:

Metabolic Syndrome
After decades of lazy 'consensus science', researchers are taking a fresh look at 'metabolic syndrome' - the very heart of the current 'obesity epidemic' - and may (once again) learn that we've been given bad advice:

A Game of Consequences?

The Food Pyramid
Another great government victory... not. The 1992 food pyramid turns out to have had a lot of problems. Of course, the 2005 pyramid is much better. We should all switch to its guidelines immediately. Not.

My Point
You should view dietary pronouncements with a healthy dose of skepticism (but no more than 1000mg daily!). It's one thing for the government to distribute dodgy information - another entirely to legislate on it. Science has a particularly bad reputation in this area - it doesn't help that food choices have a kind of 'moral' component to them. Government has no business telling people what to eat.

By the Way
If you've never tried Foie Gras, you might want to do that soon. In some parts of the U.S. (including California) it will soon be illegal.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Nerds and Diet Coke

Have you ever wondered why nerds drink so much Diet Coke? So did I.

My Diet Coke habit started in about 1986. Within a year or so, I was up to 4 liters a day, sometimes more. That's about 12 cans in a day. I drink morning, noon, and night. I knew other nerds with the Diet Coke Monkey on their backs, but didn't think much of it. Once, my friends at NASA tried to help me kick the habit, but after a few days of Head Down on the Keyboard they enthusiastically supported my return to the caffeine.

I once lived in an apartment with some other nerds, and we collected the empty 2-liter bottles. Eventually we had enough to fill the kitchen to a depth of a couple feet, like a ball pit. Good times.

When I moved to Silicon Valley 10 years ago, it made perfect sense that Diet Coke should be free to all engineers. It would be insane to do otherwise.

The first glimmer of understanding came when my wife and I were considering getting ADHD meds for our 9 year old son. We had resisted this for a long time. I started to read about the symptoms, and the drugs, and how they worked. Mostly stimulants. They have a 'paradoxical' effect of calming you down and allowing you to concentrate on things.

Then I realized that all those jokes about my 'intravenous diet coke' maybe weren't so funny. Or at least not in the same way. Wow. I had been self-medicating for ADHD for over 20 years.

Ok, so you might be wondering "Why Diet Coke? What's wrong with just Coke?" Well, at about 100 calories per can, I would have put on about 2.5 lbs per week (~100 lbs/year). I made the switch to Diet during my freshman year, in 1986.

Monday, March 1, 2010

PS3 vs Xbox 360 - the quality wars

Just realized today why there may be a huge difference in quality between the Xbox 360 and the PS3... until recently Sony was losing hundreds of dollars on each PS3 sold, while Microsoft was actually making money (about $80) per console. Of course Sony's plan is to make that back in Blu-Ray and game sales.

So think about how the incentives line up: Sony really needs the PS3 to be relatively reliable, because the last thing they want is for people to run out and buy replacements once a year - that makes it even harder for them to break even. (not to mention that it might anger customers).

On the other hand, Microsoft doesn't really care about the Red Ring of Death, since they'll make money off of the replacement box as well.

The sad news for PS3 owners - now that Sony has a newer model, they're probably losing less money - maybe even making money by now. Which means they'll have a reduced incentive toward quality. Once a console is successful, owners will be invested in the platform... if you own $1000 in games you really have no choice but to plonk down for another box.

Note: I'm deliberately ignoring the issue with the lasers going bad, I gather this is something that even Sony couldn't really do anything about. The early Blu-ray lasers just don't last very long.