Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Is it hard to manipulate an MRI?

This morning I heard in the news that people were using MRI to detect lies. Experiments were conducted and MRI was compared with regular lie detectors. Under the experimental design, brain images showed relative (and statistically significantly) more activities when a person was trying to formulate a lie. I can't help thinking about how hard it would be to "pump" activities into my head when I try to lie. To me, it is definitely harder to manipulate my pulse in order to manipulate the regular lie detectors.

Monday, February 27, 2006


It is said in the news that China is "set to spend billions on wireless upgrade". China already has the biggest wireless market in the world. It is also reported that there were 59 million new subscription last year alone. So, it is only natural that China spent more money upgrading the network, which has led to heated competition among global telecommunications companies.

I have several reactions to this piece of news:

1) Does the number, 59 millions of new subscriptions, took into account the special cultural event, "super girl" (equivalent to American Idol in US)? In US, viewers vote online. In China, viewers vote by text messaging using cell phones. There was also a limit of 6 votes per phone numbers. Thus, loyal fans will buy prepaid cellular phone numbers and plans to boost votes for their idols. The TV event attacted tens of millions votes per show. One can imagine how many new wireless service subscriptions can result from this nationwide event.

2) For a one-per-user sort of services like wireless services, where each regular (not fans of some TV reality competitions) user only needs one count, marketing models probably also consider the saturation of the market in a fixed population. I wonder whether there is something called "beware of fixed population extrapolation" in this field of research.

3) This also reminded me of the differences between the wireless markets in China and in US. In China, people upgrade their cellphone far more frequent than people in US. This could leads to different marketing modelling.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Better, felt psychologically

Instance #1: Recently I put a small humidifier in my office. Andrew commented the other day that this sort of things only make one feel good psychologically.

Instance #2: Due to my teaching schedule, I have more time to visit the gym this semester. After a couple of visits, I feel good even though I don't think the effects should be so immediate.

After these instances, I kept thinking about how naive our minds are. So easy to fall for such "traps" of fake goodness. Then I changed my mind. Simply because that for both instances, I, or my brain, was the one that fell for such mirage of improvement, there is a little bit resistance inside of me to accept that feeling good psychologically is a bad thing. Is there any "feeling good" not psychological? Feeling better is an improvement mentally, right? Most people are judgmental about themselves. They can, somehow, stand outside themselves, and criticize what is wrong with them. You know, on all kinds things, clothes, diet, working styles, etc. Whenever we initiate changes in our lives, we tend to feel better before any "real" physical effects kick in. But, isn't happiness the most precious thing in modern life? Maybe, we should say that these changes first take effects on one's mental health, if those are not their only effects.

So in some way, for both my instances, I (an entity in both physical and mental sense) did get better.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Harvard's Summers Resigns

(From Harvard Website)
It was in the news yesterday and it is definitely in the news today. Reading about his presidency in today's WSJ article, I learned so much more about him than his unfortunate comment on women in science. Even for that comment, I was not upset about him. He is not the reason for the realitiy. On the contrary, he has become part of the reason that may lead to a change. (Hopefully, a better one). In the WSJ article, it says "in the end, he [Summers] failed to appreciate the cultural differences between the hierarchical structure of the federal government and the more collaborative atmosphere of academia."

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Think less and be happy!

From this week in Science:
Dijksterhuis et al. (p. 1005; see the news story by Miller) show that deliberate thinking about simple decisions (such as buy-ing a shampoo) does yield choices that are judged to be more satisfying than those made with little thought, as expected. However, as the decisions become complex (more expensive items with many characteristics, such as cars), better decisions and happier ones come from not attending to the choices but allowing one's unconscious to sift through the many permutations for the optimal combination.
This reminded me of my student years. After each exam, I would think back of how I did. The more mistakes I could recall, the worse I felt about that exam, and the better the grade turned out to be.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Diet or no diet: a dilemma for the food industry

Today I read a very interesting paragraph in WSJ:

"Big food companies often are late-comers to diet fads, which tend bubble up through popular books and personal recommendations. Food makers, are, by their nature, predisposed to want people to eat more, as embodied by the classic Lay's potato-chip slogan, 'Bet you can't just eat one!'

But given Americans' obsessions with their waistlines, diet foods are one of the faster growing areas of the otherwise slack food business. As a result, companies from Nestle SA to Unilever and Kraft Foods Inc. are trying to get ahead of the game by creating their food fad. They have experimented with special starches, new types of fiber and a process that occurs in the small intestine called the 'ideal brake mechanism.' The goal: Create products that dieters will buy more of in order to eat less."

Monday, February 13, 2006

The battle between histograms and tables

In the guideline for contributors of a biomedical journal:
"Histograms should not be used to present data that can be captured easily in text or small tables, as they take up much more space."

Thursday, February 09, 2006

An example on my efforts in research

Today, in order to change a manuscript of mine to the format required by the journal, I spent more than two hours with LaTeX trying to figure it out.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

How many of your former students did you meet in the GYM today?

Today I went to the Dodge gym of Columbia, during the day. This is one of the benefits I have earned by finishing all my teaching last semester. I believe it has been years since the last time I went to the gym, in the middle of a day, on a weekday, during an academic year.

I think I definitely saw at least four of my former students. That reminded me of one time when I said one can estimate how many students one has taught by the number of former students one meets on a brief walk on campus during a weekday or in a local restaurant during the weekend. Of course, such an estimation asks for extra information such as how many students actually walk on campus and how many students go to local restaurants during weekend.

For me, those numbers have been greater than zero almost with probability one. :) But, four on a brief visit to GYM?! That surprised me. Then I remembered the fact that a lot of former w1111 project groups wanted to do their data collection in the GYM until at one point I "banned" that topic.

Oh, I thought, so they did go to gym themselves.

In the unforeseeable future, when I have time, I will spend fixed amount of time at different locations on campus, at a same grid of times of the day, on a same selection of days of the week, to see how the number of former students met varies across campus. Variables to control are estimated traffic flow and outdoor weather.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Recent Papers on HapMap project

  1. HapMap project website
  2. (10/28/2005) McVean G, CCA Spencer, R Chaix (2005) Perspectives on human genetic variation from the HapMap project. PLoS Genetics 1:e54
  3. (10/24/2005) Perlegen Scientists Genotype 4.6 million SNPs in Phase 2 of the HapMap Project Using Array-based TechnologiesPerlegen’s David Cox discusses [an easy-to-read reality check of the HapMap project]
  4. (05/10/2001) Reich et al. (2001) Linkage disequilibrium in the human genome. Nature 411:199-204.[Empirical results on the inter-marker LD patterns w.r.t physical distances]
  5. (09/20/1995) Risch, N and B Devlin (1995) A comparison of linkage disequilibrium measures for fine-scale mapping. Genomics. 29:311-22.

It IS harder to get research support from federal agencies

From Columbia’s FY 2005 Externally Sponsored Research Report
"Competing sponsored project awards decreased approximately 17% from Fiscal Year 2004 ... Awards from federal sources decreased by 20%; non-federal awards decreased by more than 1%."

Friday, February 03, 2006

Restaurant inspection results from NYC Dept. Health

It is not like that we will stop going to our favorite dinning locales because of these results. But it is good to know where exactly they have problems with.

Accepted genetically

During a meeting on Wednesday, one collaborator of mine happily reported that she was expecting a baby. After we all congratulated her and discussed that it was a good time to have a baby (year of dog, good luck, etc). She also mentioned she had been going through all kinds of genetic testing and was waiting for a whole-genome microarray results, for deletions and insertions stuff. We were joking about how this baby has been on the frontiers of research in her (it's a girl) mom's field, even before her birth. My collaborator joked that she would tell her baby years later that "you went through all kinds of tests before you were finally accepted!".