Thursday, April 13, 2017

In Defense of E-Peen

E-peen stands for electronic penis. Much like how caring too much about how well endowed their penis is is ridiculous, the phrase 'e-peen' has been used pejoratively to mean somebody who is overly obsessed with looking good on the internet. Often this has to do with very vain things, like having a big house or having the most expensive computer. With computers the performance gained from upgrading to higher and higher end parts tend to be smaller and smaller despite higher costs. This is results in worse and worse price to performance but nets (usually) higher performance. This is the idea of the Law of Diminishing Returns.

I want to push back a bit on 'e-peen', especially as its used in the context of computing. Sometimes a person buys something with very low price/performance and barely higher performance. Sometimes a person may buy something with higher performance at a point where any higher performance would not be perceivable to the user. The first is a question about value and the second is a problem about OCD and possibly placebo.

We are all different. Given a sum of money we would all spend it in different ways on different things. We have different interests and where we have the same interests we vary in our comittment to those interests. Deciding whether a purchase is worth it depends on factors like frugality, wealth, income, outlook on the future, and perceived value of the object in question. Every one of these factors can be more complicated once we look closely at it. For example, frugality is determined by upbringing, social class, impulsiveness, and other aspects of one's personality. Regardless, all of these factors are subjected to irrationality and emotion to some degree. We are human after all, not machines. It is a complicated set of factors that determine a person's perception of what a good buy is.

Let's bring it closer to the actual hardware for just a moment. Graphics card A costs $700 and graphics card B costs $1200 but is 5-15% faster than graphics card A. Is it worth it? Well, that depends on many things even when looking solely at objective factors. For example, how long will it be until a new generation of graphics cards come out, rendering A and B obsolete? What are the resale values of A and B? But also, do I even need the 5-15% increase in performance or am I perfectly happy with where I am right now? Maybe I am at a framerate where a small increase in performance results in a much better experience.

People are used to the world they are in and they assume that's the way the world is. Anybody reading this blog post are probably among the top 10% of the world financially yet that doesn't register emotionally as fact. If $1200 is a lot to a person and the people the person comes in contact with then it seems absurd to spend $1200 on a graphics card. It seems like not too large of a leap then, for this type of person to attack others for being reckless with their money or simply stupid for spending that much. Still, it is a stupid leap. How many people make fun of Bill Gates for having a private jet? Yet when it comes to something much cheaper more people feel entitled to insult others. This is a problem about subjective value judgments not of objective facts.

Yet, when a person decides to smoke cigarettes, an activity known to cause cancer among a host of other issues like emphysema, it seems like an acceptable use of money. A person smoking a pack a day for 20 years will spend about $45,000. Convert that into an activity like computing which has much less of a collateral damage and that buys many generations of graphics cards and then some. A person that cares more about high end graphics is more willing to save more money to buy a high end graphics card in the first place.

When I see people getting outraged over new $1200 graphics cards displacing old $1200 graphics cards I tend to see people who never even bought such a graphics cards in the first place. Funnily enough the people who actually buy such cards understand what they were getting themselves into: An expensive card with poor price to performance which no longer becomes the best in a year's time. While graphics cards depreciate at a rate faster than objects involved in other hobbies, it is still a cheap hobby compared to many others, like home improvement or cars.

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Being obsessed with something or someone has been my way of life for half of my life. It gives me a reason to go on. After I quit Runescape and Maplestory and I was done with high school I had to do some soul searching. Being unable to concentrate in school and making that my next obsession could have been crushing. I was able to occupy myself from wandering from project to project.

I build computers not just because I want to get the best possible experience playing video games. It quickly became more than a means to an end. I have spent time planning my next build and even went so far as to make a Powerpoint slide showcasing a roadmap of computer progression. Each computer has a name and the name has a background attached to it. Dreaming about what the next build might bring and the pride and craftsmanship on a level I hope I can reach makes me joyous just at the thought of it before any work has even been done.

Even if that extra 5-15% performance improvement from graphics card B doesn't make sense objectively, subjectively it might. Sometimes we want to best and that could be from simply wanting the best or OCD. Not everything everybody does is for other people. Sometimes people do things for themselves. Often it is a complicated mixture of both. To simplify my decision to spend a significant amount of time and money to plan a computer build because it is bad price to performance is to insult me about my priorities and aspirations. I spend a ton of time worth far more than graphics card B working on Skyrim textures yet nobody calls that e-peen. It's only called e-peen if it's something others might get jealous of. Often it is a cheap shot at people who can purchase things they cannot afford, used broadly against a set of people to denigrate them for their purchases.

I don't deny that it's human nature to exaggerate and to boast. My Intel CPU charts designed to chart the overclocks of various people have guidelines that must be followed for entry because I am well aware of the tendency of people to embellish their overclocks. This tendency is born out of the wish to be higher in social standing but also of the wish to be a master at a craft. Jealously can ruin a friendship but that same energy could also be used to improve oneself. It is motivation and fuel to do better next time. Of course, it is very possible to be overly jealous or boastful in a way that is disgusting and an impediment to one's or others' well being, but almost anything in excess in this world can be bad.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Brain Droppings: On Finances, Tuition, and Stocks

From now on I've decided for informal life updates to have the title "Brain Droppings". That way anybody viewing know what to expect. These posts just contain whatever has been on my mind lately and some of the facts are not researched at all.

Budgeting:

I've been fortunate to have been given several thousand dollars by my mother a few years ago. Basically I got that check and afterwards I'm on my own as far as my parents are concerned. They're not paying for college, it's up to me to pay for college with that money, or choose not to. College is a funny thing. It costs say, 30k a year for all expenses. So for two years (two since I am not accounting for general education), that's 60k. Well, I currently only have 56k. So am I rich or am I poor? Am I +56k or am I -4k?

I hear stories of people barely able to afford college. They rack up debt and they have to work part time, even full time while they studied. In both their case and mine it's not entirely clear what I'll get out of college, and whether there will be some nice job waiting for me on the other end. Me, I've been taking a break from college for now. I hear Joe Rogan about how he was living paycheck to paycheck when he was young and having a check to pay for his expenses for a year just lifted this huge weight from his shoulders. I don't know what that's really like because I've never been in those shoes before.

Some people try to romanticize the broke college life and make jokes about. I think the truth is that nobody wants to be like that. It's only notable because it was a period of growth, doing dumb things, and trying to go somewhere in life. Being broke like a college kid outside of college is not cool anymore, it's just sad. And while young adults in college try to make it seem like a hard but cool life, they probably only do it to make themselves feel better.

Earning 10k a year goes an awful long way if you don't have to pay for insurance or rent or electricity.

When it comes to buying stuff I've always had a more conservative view of things. The idea of spending every last dollar just wasn't a thing. It wasn't an option. Of course, it's easy for me to say 'never borrow, just buy when you have saved up cash' when I can basically afford whatever trinkets I want. On the other hand people have a too high expectation of what necessities of life are. You might need a phone service for your job and for internet for many odds and ends. But you don't need an AC and you don't need a heater in San Jose. I have more money than a decent amount of people already and I drive a 96' Corolla hand-me-down with two broken windows and a cracked windshield. Why? A good car is a luxury. If I spent more time in a car a better driving experience would be more appreciated of course. I drive nice and slowly and I spent about $19 per month on gas. But anyways. While a cell phone might be important and necessary for some, nobody NEEDS a high end cell phone. Personally, I bought a $25 cell phone just for listening to podcasts and for an alarm clock.

Stocks:

For many years GPUs were stuck on a 28nm process. I knew that last year would finally be the year where the process goes 16nm. Basically, I knew ahead of time that last year would have been a big year for GPUs. AMD stock grew seven-fold and Nvidia grew four-fold over the last year. Granted, with AMD it was riskier due to their finances. Had I invested all of my money I would've been at a quarter of a million dollars. Realistically if I were to invest I probably would have gained 10-20k.

I really only thought about this because a Final Fantasy Discord channel I was talking in was talking about stocks for a bit in the tech channel. It sort of lit a fire on my ass to get me to start investing and looking at money and how to manage it. My current idea is to invest in mostly Silicon Valley companies. Facebook, Google, Nvidia, AMD. Computer companies are Silicon Valley companies and are companies I tend to know a bit more well. We all know there's no way Apple or Facebook would go under next year.

While I am generally not a betting man, if the odds are sufficiently in my favor I would take up a bet. I've had beliefs that were strong enough to the point where I was willing to bet at 10 to 1 odds. My friends who would be on the other end of that bet typically declined. In all of those cases I ended up being correct. But that's neither here nor there.

On my radar: AMD's Zen processor reveal, with Nvidia and AMD GPU releases sometime in Q1-Q2 most likely. Also, Snapchat's IPO.


Look, the point here is that I'm not totally retarded. I think I'm relatively competent. I can hardcore derp and I can be a slow learner at times. But over time I can do things as well as anyone. The stock market in general is above 50/50 odds. By putting 50k in my bank I am losing money to inflation.

The way these stock services work is you pay a flat fee per transaction. This means buying a single cheap stock is a dumb idea because a huge amount of that cost will be paying the service.


Credit Cards:

Speaking of inflation, I discovered that the interest rate of credit card balance is only 0.01-0.06%. In other words, at 55k balance I would only earn $25 year after year. The amount of money required to live off of interest would be insane. $10M would only net $6000 a year.

Credit cards give cash back though. The Bank of America way is to give 1% for all purchases, 2% for groceries, and 3% for gas. I discovered the statistics tab on my bank page, and based on data from the last year that would be about $70 in cash back a year. That comes with a gain in credit score, for whenever I need it for some reason.

The real problem is getting such a credit card in the first place. Bank of America's ridiculous paper system means waiting 10 days for mail to come my way to figure out why I got rejected. They want me to have a secure version of the card, which requires a deposit and has a $40 yearly fee. Perhaps what I have to do is to go for it, take the hit but still come out a net positive due to cash back, and switch to the normal card once my credit score is good enough. It's pretty dumb how I have 50k+ in my bank and I've been good with my finances year after year but that is not factored in into my application.

Looking at the statistics window let me know that I was paying $5 a month on my savings account since it did not have $300 balance. Scrolling at the history showed that it was constantly fighting the $5 charge month after month and barely gaining. Here's the rub: It was getting close to the $300 requirement. So I added money into it, and now I should be fine.



And finally, the tier on credit card depends on the balance. So it's basic at 0-25k, gold at 25-50k, platinum at 50-100k, and platinum honor at 100k+. The higher the tier the better the cash back. It could go from $70 to $100 since I can't enter platinum honor territory. The issue is that my funds are not very far from 50k. If I have 56k and 3k go away for investing, that's already 53k. Minus 2k for water cooling and that's 1k left. That limits what I can do with investing.

I think the plan right now is to sign up for a better savings account, dump most of the money in there and hit platinum tier, and get a credit card going. Not having to live paycheck to paycheck I guess I didn't have that much of an incentive to stay on top of things. I see all these footnotes and terms and conditions and I just got turned off from the walls of text and jargon I had to look up.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Free Will Pt 2: Response to a Response

I made a comment 10 months ago on a Joe Rogan podcast with Sam Harris on Youtube. That podcast was about free will. I thought I could summarize what Sam was really saying in a very short format, and so I did. It's been quiet for a long time, but I got a new message from that comment thread yesterday. Nothing like that to drag me back into the fray. Let me restate my thoughts on free will here:

Anything and everything we can and will do is bound by the state of molecules in the universe before our birth. Physics does the rest. We are like a computer which reacts to inputs, doing different things depending on the state of the molecules inside the computer. What the computer will do can be predicted. If we break it down to quantum mechanics, we simply get more chaos and uncertainty, not more free will. 

We are the sum of our experiences and physiology which we get by chance. Free will is an illusion. When a brain tumor forces a man to kill his family, we understand the man is simply unlucky. Similarly, I see criminals as malfunctioning people who got the wrong environment, the wrong genetics, the wrong physical causalities that compels a person to commit the crime they did. They could not have done otherwise given those inputs. 

This doesn't mean that punishment is therefore useless. Nothing good is lost and something good is gained. We now have a basis for incredible amounts of empathy. Vengeance now makes no sense. Our goal now is to rehabilitate, not to punish for the sake of it.

The argument was that if there was no free will and humans are just products of their biology and environment then humans would be doomed to repeating the same actions over and over again. In other words, there will never be moral progress, for example.

To me the fact that humans are a product of the environment and biology (and biology ultimately being a product of physics) seems obvious. What other possible answer could there be? Even if you believe god breathes life into dust we come shooting out, we did not choose our soul. You're starting out from the premise that you are given a brain/soul/etc that you did not choose which will more or less determine everything you do or think to do.

To address the actual argument, I think humans are far too complex for us to end up repeating the same actions like a dumb computer. People are an amalgamation of a wide range of motivations, failings, and idiosyncrasies. The world is full of varied environments, and even identical twins living in the same household have different epigenetics. When we look even deeper, the twins do not have identical atomic structures, and neither is the environment exactly the same for both twins down onto the micro level. This is just a very pretentious way for me to say that there are always very small differences in everything (chaos theory).

So, everybody's atoms are different, their environments are different, and they affect other humans (such as passing on of history and past failings) to form this super complicated system that allows for so much diversity in human behavior and history. (But in some cases, it seems like history repeats itself.)

Thinking back about the computer analogy reminds me of chess engines. Strong chess engines are non-deterministic, in other words they do not always do the same move or analysis if you rewind the position again. The chess engine has no free will. It is just the interaction between lines of code and the cores of the processor. And over time differences emerge, and the position just deviates from there until we get something totally new. Imagine a chess game with idiosyncratic and error-prone humans whose actions and feelings change from day to day and hour by hour. Now imagine 7 billion people all playing this gigantic game of chess. Anything can happen.

A hypothetical posed by the commenter is as follows: If we know that murderers are simply malfunctioning people, since there is no free will it must be due to genetics or environment. Can we then start killing the person's offspring to stop future murderers?

Well, no. We can, but we shouldn't. We don't know if the cause of the murder was due to genetics or the environment or some vague mixture of the two which we cannot untangle. Obviously if the problem is environmental killing the baby is as dumb as killing yourself to prevent cancer. We also don't know that the murder gene will pass on and manifest in the same way to their offspring. Ideally we would rehabilitate criminals but the world is not ideal and we do not have the time, resources, or means to fix criminals. 'Rehabilitation' can very well involve punishment, it's just that punishment for the sake of vengeance makes little sense. It may very well be that a child will respond to a scolding or grounding after being caught with his hand in the cookie jar, for example. So when I mentioned 'rehabilitation' I don't always mean a life of free food and Xbox inside the same room all day. The question is what gives the best results, but who the hell knows?

There is also a social cost of killing off offspring even if we knew they would grow up to be problematic. There is always a cost when you break the social order. A great example is brought up by Sam Harris himself in another podcast. We know that donating a kidney or some bone marrow won't kill you but can very well save the life of somebody. Yet, doctors do not suddenly grab patients and forcibly cut their kidney out. Why? Because there is a cost to society when you live in such uncertainty. If you can just kill children that are in high risk areas then not only you do inevitably murder innocent babies that would have grown up to be innocent, you end up with a world where we trust the culling of humans based on some people's judgement. That is the world where babies are torn from their mother's hands due to the baby failing some sort of test. A simple, straight utilitarian viewpoint fails because the world is not simple.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Some Thoughts I've Been Having Lately

Gay Marriage, Bestiality, & Pedophilia Pt II

I was watching Louis Rossman's stream (he runs a board repair shop somewhere on the east coast), where he was dissecting the newest Macbook "pro". The discussion touched on gay rights for a bit. We have that classical baker problem, right? Should somebody be able to deny service to a gay person if it goes against their religious beliefs? Some people believe they should purely on a freedom perspective... people should have the right to deny service to anybody for any reason, just like how the customer gets to rant about it online and try to bankrupt the business. Louis replied by saying that he thought that's just not a good idea. Would denying service to somebody because they are gay make the world a better or a worse place, he asked. When it comes to gays, my favorite thing to say is my own made up line: Sex preference is like coffee preference. Why people care about by coffee preference is beyond me.

Then the conversation touched on bestiality and pedophilia. Obviously, the chatbox wasn't the perfect place to discuss these matters deeply. To me the answer is obvious. Bestiality is sex of another animal, and there is no consent. So it's a no go. Pedophilia is not molestation and molestation is not rape. Let's not get our terms twisted here.

I've talked about this in the past. I don't believe in free will. A person was unlucky enough to be born with the environment, brain chemistry, alignment of synapses, that causes a person to like what they like. Most people are into the opposite sex. Some are into the same sex. Some are into old people. Some are into children. Raping or molesting old people is not okay, and okay, we can make the argument that doing the same type of crime on a child is worse.

But the assumption here is that anybody that is into children molests children? Because that's just a stupid thing to say. Of course there are people into children that recognize rape and molestation are not okay, and many of them struggle with the guilt their entire lives. It's a paraphilia with no upsides.

By banning pedophilia you are banning thoughts and preferences and that doesn't sit right with me for more than one reason.

By banning molestation and rape of children (as if it wasn't already) we are saying no to these things when there is no consent (and, a strong case can be made that no consent could even be given in this particular case, which is in some ways similar to bestiality).

Finally, molestation and bestiality are not the same as gay sex. The slippery slope argument here is just ridiculous. First think about the gay sex issue on its own. Then when we have the time we can think about how society should deal with bestiality and 'pedophilia'. I can do the reverse-slope argument: Anything not strictly by the book sex leads a slippery slope into gay sex, then pedophilia, then bestiality, then the entire world goes to hell because Satan wins.

What a great argument, no?

My Next Computer Build (Named Undelwalt)


I still haven't decided whether I want to do a custom loop for my next build yet. If I'm going to do a custom loop, I'm going all out. I see little reason to get the inconveniences of a custom loop without reaping its main benefit: the best performance. But that would mean maybe a $1,000 project depending on how it is done. Water cooling is its own seperate world and there are many choices and places to go wrong. Specifically for me, the choice is between a mora (external thingy with a lot of radiators mounted) or a more expensive, some ways elegant, some ways less elegant, traditional radiator setup in my case. My case wasn't designed for serious water cooling, it was designed for serious air cooling (it's even in the name of the case). I don't even know what case to get for triple 480mm radiators, and how I'm going to feed it only the coolest air. A mora would help bypass those issues, but something about it doesn't sit right with me... It's more about quantity over quality, which admittedly is not really a problem when all that really matters in the end of measurable performance.

At any rate, I don't want to name my next computer Undelwalt if it features no custom loop. There is no HBM for Pascal, and no custom loop? Comon, sure, upgrade, but it is not worthy of that name.

Temperature

So... we don't really feel temperature, right. We feel the rate in which heat is transferred from one object to the other. That's why a metal plate feels colder than a plastic plate at room temperature. The metal conducts heat away from us faster. In room temperature they would be at the same temperature, which is room temperature. If we put an ice cube on both plates, the ice cube would melt faster on the metal plate despite feeling colder to the touch because it transfers heat to the ice cube faster than the plastic one.

Then I'm thinking about my hands. They feel so cold. Surely if it's as cold as my senses are telling me it is, I would have a frostbite. Given what I know, my cold hands must be pretty warm. But they don't feel that way. My brain is screaming 'SO YOUR HANDS MUST BE A GOOD THERMAL CONDUCTOR BRUH'.

How is it, that when I game my armpits are hot but my hands are freezing cold? RIP intelligent design.

Intelligence vs Kindness

Several years ago I valued reason, logic, intelligence, education a whole lot. To me it was almost the primary judge of a person's worth as a human being. Over time some of my views have mellowed out a bit. If everybody thought and acted the way I did, then the world would be kind of a shitty place. The world needs some people willing to help others and do charity work.

Books

To finish off my collection of Skyrim books, I will purchase the third volume of The Skyrim Library (and skipping the Skyrim Special Edition Guide Collector's Edition since my older guide is the same, just with a different cover and bookmark). It's $1.40 off the $25 price required to get free shipping from Amazon for books though. I think I will buy Nick Bostrom's Superintelligence... This is the book I've heard Elon Musk read when it comes to fears about AI. Sam Harris said he got the impetus to look into it from Elon, and I've heard CGP Grey read the book too.

Just by purchasing the book and telling the world about it I get the satisfaction of reading the book without ever opening it. ;)

Intelligence and Judging of Others

Look, different people have very different opinions about my intelligence and worth as a human being. Really. A good example was with the whole religion thing. There were people who sent me some pretty angry hate mail. On the other hand, there was a guy who was beyond impressed that I wrote a book about religion... Surely he didn't believe in a god, but if he did, it felt like it would be me.

But okay, I already digressed. I don't need to be super duper genius to judge somebody to be less intelligent or reasonable than I am. Sure, it is easy to see one subject in which one is unreasonable and be tempted to judge their entire character based on that. But some people you know well enough to pass a judgement on. We judge people all the time. If it's not consciously (wow you are a saint), then unconsciously. It's just that, on occasion I have the balls and the honesty to tell somebody what I really think about them when I feel it is important. Now, I'm not going to turn my blog into a place where I rail against people I've had disagreements with, don't worry. I won't even offer details here.

I'm just saying. To illustrate my point I will just use IQ, and just pretend IQ is the perfect measure of intelligence for the sake of argument. If a guy is 80 IQ and I am 100 IQ, I can see that the other guy is dumb. Both below average and below my intelligence. But I don't need to be 140 IQ to see that 80 IQ guy is not all that bright.

Does this mean I will treat the 80 IQ guy like garbage? Of course not. I just probably won't value his opinions on some matters as much as the other people I know. Or, if I find his opinions to be so stupid as to be toxic, I will just not bring up or refuse to discuss some type of topics.

When somebody calls me arrogant for saying I think I am smarter than they are, they are really saying that they are smarter than I think they are. That's really all there is to it. I'm sure we could find people we both agree are morons, and get no pushback for saying so and so is dumb. The reason one the former makes me arrogant and the latter doesn't is because the guy being told he's not smart or as smart as he think he is is insulted and doesn't feel the same way about himself.

Do I ask for agreement? No. Feel free to disagree. And if so and so Mr. 80 IQ thinks I'm the 80 IQ guy then great, I didn't want to talk about hard topics with him in the first place (albeit for the reverse reason, but hell, it all works out).

I'm being exceptionally blunt here because I feel like it right now. And after reading this some will probably still think I'm an arrogant asshole.

Again: We all judge people. Some just have the honesty to say what they think when the time comes. And while I am blunt here I will try to be more... euphemistic... nice... etc, to try not to get the other guy to be pissed off at me. The fact that I even have to tell somebody what I think about them when it comes to this, often is a negative indicator of their awareness level.

Other Stuff
Meh. Thanksgiving was a disaster, but I managed to get home without being stranded in the middle of nowhere, so that's good. I bought some jeans for like $15 from JCP because my pants were all disintegrating. I read a bit about spin wash cycles, permanent press, and other stuff...

Skyrim SE is still coming along. It seems clear that it is the future. I'm seeing others working on a project with a somewhat similar to mine (take pictures of every texture in the game to compare texture packs). Makes my project feel... not special, lol.

FF15 comes out this week. I hope my crush on Luna won't be destroyed by oddly inhuman dialogue that is in Kingsglaive. Cliched, cheesy, bad dialogue makes me cringe, so I hope to see some compelling stories.

I hope to finish the Skyrim texture project by Feburary 2017. First I want to finish my The Last Remnant hard mode playthrough. After Skyrim SE I will play some Fallout 4 DLC, Skyrim SE (SURPRISE YOU CAN ACTUALLY PLAY THE GAME INSTEAD OF JUST MODDING IT!!!)... And my next task, returning to Mugen testing, this time running many shorter matches more akin to a chess rating list. That way I can tally how much A wins over B and have that affect elo rating.

What am I going to do with school? Hell if I know. Let's not think about that right now.

If I keep typing, everything is going to go downhill from here so let's stop.

Buh bye.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Early Thoughts on the Male Contraception Shot


Some early thoughts about the 'male birth control shot':

-It seems to me that all articles fail to describe notable details in the trial.

-There were 320 participants. Only 20 of them (6.25%) left the trial due to actual adverse effects of the drug. 8 of them withdrew for more than one reason.

-It is easier for me to see just how feminists and anti-feminists end up in this hellhole together. Reading again and again stuff like how men don't get it, men are babies, men are too fragile for office, medicine is inherently sexist, it makes it easy to make it feel like I'm the one being accused. In some cases these people clarify which men they are talking about, but for some I can't help wonder if they're talking about all men. On the other hand, I went to the Blue Pill subreddit and saw some ridiculous BS too, like 'men don't get pregnant, why should they have to worry about contraception, any side effect is too much'.

-In March an independent committee established by WHO/RHR and CONRAD determined that the risks reported outweighed the harms in the study. I wonder what that actually means. Can they just do another study later on? How easy would that process be?

-To my understanding, it is the job of the participants to report all side effects, even side effects that might not even have to do with the drug. Reporting acne is not the same as complaining about acne and crying about it to mommie. And it's unclear how severe their problems were.

-It's unclear to me what 'severe' acne or libido increase even means. Acne can vary from normal to disfiguring. Although, I have to wonder just how high libido one's libido has to be for it to be 'severe'.

-One person in the study committed suicide. Study finds this was probably not due to the drug.

-A 'nonfatal serious adverse effect' was depression for one person, rated as probably related. In the past I've had the displeasure of encountering a person who got super triggered at me for talking about suicide and depression in a slightly slack way, Telling this guy to 'suck it up' might be dangerous for his mental health. But to be fair, this is an isolated incidence even though it was rated as serious.

-In another one of these types of cases, a man got tachycardia with paroxysmal atrial fibrillation, rated as possibly related.

-Finally, the last 'nonfatal serious adverse effect' was a guy who attempted suicide, rated as 'probably related'. Did you read this in the media? No, I don't think so.

-According to the study, a person has not recovered fertility after 4 years. 8 of the participants took over a year. This is a serious side effect that needs to be noted.

-75% of men responded positively to the survey and said they would give this method of contraception a shot. The person writing the results of the study thinks this supports further development of this contraception approach. I agree. Clearly most men like it.

-In the end I think the person who can avoid pregnancy the easiest ought to do the contraception, be it the male or the female. Of course, I'm not going to tell people how to have sex. A couple should discuss together what they want. Maybe they want to mix the shot with the pill.

-It is not beyond the drug companies' morals to try to leverage social justice/accusations of sexism to try to get a drug passed. Not to say that it is being done here. But it seems people oversimplify the science behind drugs. For example, calling Flianserin 'female viagra' and denying it from store shelves sounds like a possible case of sexism but close inspection of the data shows why it was not allowed.

-Were there possible serious side effects due to the drug? Yes. Were there probably babies? Yes, some of the men in the trial were probably wusses. But they were the minority. I wish I had more details to judge more accurately, but I do not. Then again, neither do the people ranting on FB.

-The figure quoted is a 4% chance of failure. It's unclear exactly what the 4% figure means. If each use there is a 4% chance of failure then the contraceptive method is terrible. More likely it's 4% failure rate when used over a typical year. Jury's out on what a 'typical year' means.

-My final question is this: What percentage of females left studies regarding the pill due to side effects? We know what this study showed that 5% of men left the study due to side effects without specific information on how bad the side effects where. What of females in a similar situation? Surely we need data from both sides to see if there's even a problem here. Without adequate data it seems people are reading headlines (or even articles, albeit terrible ones) and believing what they want to believe without no further investigation.

-My conclusion is that I don't know, and more data is needed. While it is true that some men do need to be reminded of the problems (and even the benefits) of the pill, I got that after the first post and scrolling more and more I only see that with some angry voices and very little specifics on the study. Remember, the angrier both sides get, the less both sides listen to each other. I have a cool head right now and it really is the best way to go when discussing these issues. Plus, it sucks to comment on studies without reading it first (although everyone is guilty of that, including me). If Healthcare Triage makes a video on this topic I will post an update later as necessary.

-The link to the summary of the study is here: http://press.endocrine.org/doi/pdf/10.1210/jc.2016-2141

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Scientific Studies and Journalism


You've probably seen those headlines: Latest study shows eggs are good for you. Latest study shows eggs are bad for you. Cell phones might cause cancer. Scientists discover a way to make plastic out of pollution. These headlines are confusing because it seems like the scientific community can't make up its mind about anything, with contradictory information every other day. Many of the touted miracles and breakthroughs don't ever show up in the real world.

What this is is a symptom of terrible journalism... Journalism so bad, many of the writers of those types of articles should be fired. While the readers are stumbling around, confused and distrusting of science with all its seemingly abundant contradictions, the writers of those articles are busy trying to get clicks and eyeballs on their content. While it frustrates me that people who read these articles can't see past them or ask any basic and relevant questions, I don't really blame them. Science is complicated. If it weren't, we could all be scientists. People don't have the time to look at the specifics of every study, and even if they wanted to they often have to pay to have access to the studies. Not only do people need a background in the particular field that is being studied, they also need to understand how studies work in general. That's not even considering the dogmas people hold about many subjects and just plain irrationality. And boy, those things are in no short supply.

Let's explore the many ways words and sentences can trick you into believing things that are not true when it comes to medicine.

'The World Health Organization has categorized processed meats as a group 1 carcinogen, the same category as tobacco.'

One has to ask, what exactly does 'group 1 carcinogen' even mean? It's normal to assume the worst. The WHO uses the IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) system. There is a difference between 'hazard' and 'risk'. The former explains the likelihood that something can give cancer while the latter tells us the intensity of the effects from a given thing. The categories from IARC for cancer hazard are as follows: definite, probable, possible, don't know, probably not. The fact that processed meats and tobacco are both considered to be definitely carcinogenic does not tell us how much of an impact those things actually have. It just tells us the link between those things and cancer are believed to be strong. Also in the 'definite' category are things like alcohol, sunlight, birth-control pills, and Chinese-styled salted fish. Nobody recommends never stepping outside. There isn't a worldwide ban on birth-control pills. It takes a lots of sun over time or a ridiculous amount of birth-control pills to get cancer. It doesn't take that much tobacco to have a seriously negative impact on your health.

Another problem with the bacon hysteria is on the purported 18% risk of cancer for consuming processed meats like bacon. 18% risk of cancer for consuming how much bacon? It turns out consuming 2 sticks of bacon a day, every day, has an 18% relative risk for colorectal cancer. The 18% figure headlines like to stick in your face is relative risk. The chance of getting colorectal cancer over your lifetime is about 5%. An 18% relative risk brings that up to 0.05*1.18 or 5.9% chance of getting colorectal cancer over your lifetime. That is an absolute risk increase of about 0.9%. In other words, the risk is very small. That's not to say that people should go heavy on the bacon of course. Cancer is not the only ailment a person can have. Obesity or high blood pressure are problems too. It's probably not a good idea to eat a lot of processed meats all the time.

'Study finds video games increase aggression'.

What is 'aggression'? When I lose in a video game, I get angry. Being angry makes me aggressive. I also get angry at people that can't drive or people who can't read a study before jumping to conclusions. Also somewhat relevant is that fact that the latest study does not nullify all of the older studies. A positive study also doesn't 'cancel out' a negative study. The specifics of the studies matter. Even if all of the studies hold up to scrutiny, the objective viewpoint is to consider it as what it is: contradictory data in a debatable field of study. I understand that people don't like nuance or uncertainty, but that is reality much of the time.

'Latest study finds that mice and rats exposed to cell phone radiation have an increased risk of brain and heart cancers.'

If you have been keeping up with the latest news, you probably know which study I am referencing here.  This is the study published in March done by the US government where 2,000 rats and mice were subjected to signals modulated to GSMA and GSM standards at 900 and 1200mhz frequencies. After two years, the researchers report a 'low incidence' of brain and heart cancers. (The data has not been released.) Not surprisingly, people who believed cell phones caused cancer jumped onto this study without actually reading it.

To first state the obvious: Mice and rats are not humans. Studies that are done on mice cannot be directly ported over to humans, otherwise nobody would ever do human trials. Let's assume the results of rat studies are directly comparable to human studies for the sake of argument though. Following the results of this study, female humans are immune to cell phone radiation, whereas males need to be careful. You will get more brain and heart cancers, but you will also live longer. (But only if you use the cell phone to talk to your friends for nine hours a day to get the full benefit!)

The rats in the study also did not behave normally. The type of cancers the radiation-doused mice received were typical of older mice of that species. Since the control mice (the ones that got no radiation) died early, they might have gotten the same cancers had they lived long enough. This study also wasn't peer reviewed. Well, technically picking out the peers you want to review your study is peer review in that the people are your peers and they reviewed it, but that is not the peer review people typically mean when it comes to science. When published to a pre-publication site, it got hammered.

Also worth noting is that the cell phone has a real value. What absolute risk of cancer one is willing to tolerate for a given activity varies for each person. But if you are really worried about non-ionizing radiation, you should probably be more scared about the giant nuclear reactor people often get exposed to, causing a cancer that will kill about 10,000 people in the US alone. It fires both ionizing and non-ionizing radiation. You meet it every time you go outside. It's called the sun.

'Study finds an 87% increased risk for autism for babies who's mothers took anti-depressants during pregnancy.'

As you might guess, that 87% figure is a relative risk increase. The risk of getting an autistic baby is about 1%. That makes the absolute risk increase a little bit less than 1%. There are other things to consider. Maybe the anti-depressants aren't the cause, it's the depression or the things depressed mothers have to go through. Maybe abstaining from anti-depressants will cause harms elsewhere (like self-harm). Everybody has heard of the phrase, 'correlation is not causation'. However, most people don't seem to believe it. They sure don't act like they do. Sometimes looking at a link between two things is not enough to get the full story. The world is more complicated than that.

There are two types of studies: observational studies and experimental studies. Cohort and case control studies are studies that look at some group of people and in an attempt to look for correlations. On the other hand, a randomized controlled trial is an experimental study. They both have strengths and weaknesses. RCTs are expensive and have a smaller sample size than observational studies. If people are studying a rare phenomenon, it would be hard to gather a large enough group of people for RCTs to show anything. If the thing studied takes a long time to show results, then it would be extremely time consuming to follow people over the years. It's also unethical to do some RCTs on humans. However, RCTs are still the golden standard of research today. People are gathered randomly, with one group given a control (for example, a placebo) and another given the real pill. RCTs are not prone to many of the confounding factors of cohort studies. If we look at people's life expectancy on or off heart medication who have hypertension, we might not be controlling for factors like race, age, ethnicity, sex, socioeconomic status, or other factors. People who take medication might simply be the type of people who are more sick to begin with or are more willing to exercise or eat right.

There are many possible confounding factors for a study. Even if a study is done correctly, the conclusions one draws from a study may be incorrect. We have to consider sample size, correlation vs causation, and whether the study is directly applicable to humans. Mouse studies are not the same thing as human studies. My point about sample size might seem like useless ranting, but in fact it is a huge problem when it comes to studies on diet. The sample size of many diet studies is downright shameful. For example, one of the commonly quoted studies for the anti-artificial-sweeteners crowd is a study looking at people and their gut bacteria. Turns out, the study randomly took 7 people and dosed them with FDA's maximum allowed levels of saccharide for six days straight. This is the type of studies we are dealing with: Groups of less than 10 people, often with little control. A study is only as good as how well it's done. A meta-analysis (analysis of many studies) is only as good as the studies included for the analysis.

Science is very complicated and it takes a decent background in a particular field to be able to make heads or tails of a study by oneself. I totally understand why people would fall for a bacon scare headline. But many people I have met over the years seem to believe they are the experts on diet and exercise. When I challenge their beliefs and invite them to sit down with me and look at the studies regarding to our debate, they always turn it down. Many people are underqualified and overconfident, which is classic Dunning-Kruger. They want to have their worldview reinforced, not challenged.

Most of the blame goes to the science communicators: the people writing the headlines and articles online and in print. These people are paid to write factually correct information and to whip up informed opinions about various issues. The burden of crafting a headline that doesn't cause misconceptions to the person who only reads headlines is on the journalists. Unfortunately it seems like many of them are either intentionally incompetent or helplessly incompetent.

I was on a subreddit called 'Futurology' a couple of months ago. This is a subreddit that contains many posts about new and exciting headlines about the latest scientific 'breakthroughs'. One of the threads was about solar panels which generate electricity from falling raindrops. The headline sounded promising until we start to crunch the numbers on the efficiency penalty for developing such a solar panel. The amount of raindrops required for the solar panel to produce enough electricity to match a typical solar panel would be about 2 trillion drops per square meter, continuously. One commenter posted that future solar panels are almost guaranteed to be the type that can generate electricity from raindrops. To which I responded:

Will and might are two very different things. Many things start out inefficient and end up inefficient. Science is a graveyard of dead ideas. People remember the hits and forget the misses. All that has to happen for this predicted future to never happen is for people to find a better way of getting power that doesn't involve raindrops. I'm not in the business of predicting the future for a good reason. Plenty of sensationalist headlines with little real world benefits to show for it just makes people doubt science.

Many, many things are interesting and promising lines of research. But we should always be candid about the current obstacles that scientists face and how far they are from achieving what they want. Just saying 'future solar panels will be like this this and this' means either the person writing the headline is pointing to something so obvious as to render the headline useless, or the person is being sure of things they cannot be sure about.


Finally, I leave you with a segment from John Oliver about scientific studies. (Note: This is not a random video I threw in here to make my post look more snazzy, it's actually educational and entertaining.) Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go argue with more people about artificial sweeteners, GMOs, coffee, and soda.







Credits:
raygirl.deviantart.com

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Thoughts From Vegas

This post is about the Vegas trip I took in January 2016. It contains pictures taken during the trip, all of the quips on Facebook I wrote during that time, and a little extra. On Facebook I experimented by turning Facebook into Twitter inspired by Neil deGrasse Tyson's Tweets.

I think a fitting song would be Two Step from Hell's 'Lost in Las Vegas'. It's a more quiet theme which is a departure from the movie trailer kind of stuff I'm used to them releasing.



Thoughts From Vegas


Twilight means the sun has set, in that it is below the horizon. That doesn't mean everything is pitch dark, however. There are different phases of twilight based on how many degrees below the horizon the sun is (from 6 to 18 degrees). Dusk is a part of twilight.


Back to our favorite topic though: Nacho cheese. It is a processed cheese, aka a "cheese product". Doesn't sound nearly as appetizing when I call it that, yeah? Cheese products are not legally allowed to be called cheese in the United States. This means your Craft Singles "American Cheese-product" is not cheese.

Maybe one last comment about cheese before I start to look kooky. Did you know that the characteristic holes in Swiss Cheese used to be considered undesirable? In general, the larger the holes in the cheese, the more pronounced the flavor due to a longer fermentation process. If the holes are too large, it can be difficult to slice. Swiss Cheese without any holes is called "blind".


According to the text on a chopsticks wrapper, chopsticks originated during the Shang Dynasty (1766-1122 BC), as a substitute for knives at the table. Confucius equated knives as acts of aggression and are therefore unfit to dine.

Hot foods. Pain has never hurt so good. Ate some Thai food today. Got a spoon and made sure I got a nice mouthful of chili flakes.

But a mouthful of chili peppers is no match for the Carolina Reaper, which registers ~1.85 million Scoville Units. Even the amazing and fearsome Carolina Reaper is dwarfed by a pepper spray however. It weighs in at an impressive 5.5 million Scoville Units.

But maybe you like it hot. Like, life-threatening hot. No worries, I don't judge. Pure capsaicin is 16 million Scoville Units. It is a dangerous substance. Capsaicin can't get any hotter than pure capsaicin, but there are 'molecular analogues' that are more dangerous than it. A cactus found in Morocco contains a waxy substance that is essentially capsaicin on steroids. That substance is called Resiniferatoxin. Attaching itself to the receptors for abrasion and heat pain, this toxin causes an uncontrollable release of calcium ions at such intensity, the nerve cells die. Ironically, the hottest substances in the world... aren't hot.



Most casino games are basically arcade games for adults.


You see those traffic lights from Vegas? They have flashing yellow arrow turn signs. Flashing arrow signs.

You see those warriors from Hammerfell? They have curved swords. Curved swords. (I was going to make more Skyrim puns, but then I took an arrow in the knee.)



Fallout: New Vegas told me there would only be 4 casinos in Vegas. Where the hell are the securitrons?

Fallout taught me that with a lockpicking skill of 100, I can picklock the cashier's door and jack all their stuff. Unfortunately, lockpicking was not one of my tag skills and I never picked up a Locksmith's Reader.

OTHOUGHTS FROM VEGAS: on a scale ot drunkenness from 0 to 10 I'm at about 9001.

Saw the Trump Tower today. I guess Mexicans aren't allowed in there. Maybe Trump has set up a force field that instantly perforates any Mexicans within 500 feet of its premises.

I'm glad that even when I was about to puke while typing an earlier Facebook post about my drunkenness, I was able to use proper punctuation.

Went to a casino named Paris today. I guess that means I basically know all there is to know about France. French people must love gambling. Oh, and bands with loud music. And chocolate gift shops.

In chess, the French Defense probably just involves retreating all of your pieces.



All of my Facebook-turned-Twitter posts today are 110% serious.

Somebody opened a command prompt and spam typed "yolo" into it in Fry's.

If the pole is horizontal, she's a gymnast. if the pole is vertical, she's a stripper.

Thoughts from Home: Oh my god, my email inbox! It's a horror show!

Getting Drunk

Due to some... complications, I didn't get drunk on the casino floor. Mark brought the goods when he came into my hotel room though. It was several days into the trip, and by then Mark's uncle and grandma came to join the fun. I was aware that I was the only person in the room that had not really drank alcohol before. I've taken a sip or two, but they were really just little sips and not enough to affect my cognitive functions at all. I digress.

I was aware that if anybody is going to get wasted, it's probably going to be me. I am male, but I am a very lightweight male with no tolerance to alcohol at all. My parents didn't strike me as super-duper drinkers either. Still, it wasn't enough to prevent me from what was to come.

Poison never looked so pretty.

We took a shot basically back to back, with only a few minutes of time in between. By the time I downed the second, I felt my face getting a bit warm. Apparently when an Asian person blushes due to alcohol, it is called 'Asian Glow'. More or less I acted the way I normally would despite the fact that I was getting more and more drunk. (I did consider saying things I normally wouldn't seriously consider, but I thought about how I would normally act and decided against it.) I tested my ability to walk in a straight line. By the 5th shot it was pretty compromised. After the 7th, Mark asked me to try shaking my head back and forth. It was disorienting enough to cause me to drop to one knee. Soon after I started seeing stars, and a minute after that I found myself puking into the toilet. Mark's uncle tried to comfort me by saying that this is all perfectly 'normal'. Not really any consolation though.

By drinking a ridiculous amount of fluids and puking over and over (some, on purpose), I managed to expel most of the alcohol that I ingested earlier. The puking took its toll on my throat though, as it began to hurt for a week afterwards. Alcohol causes blood vessels to dilate. This is why people blush and feel warmer when they drink. This improves circulation. (Chronic increased blood pressure from serious drinkers is not related to this effect.) This also moves blood closer to the skin, which is why the warmth is in some ways deceptive. The person is getting colder while feeling warmer. This effect was illustrated (kind of) in a Skyrim mod called 'Frostfall', where drinking alcohol decreases exposure for a limited period of time before the player gains back the exposure he lost and then some... Resulting in a net positive gain in exposure, bringing the player closer to hypothermia. But I digress again! So anyways, that's why I was shivering even though I didn't feel cold. Hours after the ordeal I managed to sleep. I woke later that day without a hangover because the alcohol ingested was purged and massive amounts of fluids came into my body.

Probably a person or two in the past have questioned why I don't like to drink alcohol. The answer about how I like to have my senses sharp is part of it. I can imagine a scenario where somebody goes out to eat and drinks an alcoholic beverage, with no legal way get home by car anymore. Many, many people die each year due to alcoholic consumption. Part of it is from traffic accidents. Another good reason why I don't drink alcohol is because it tastes like shit. I know some people drink for the effect and after a few times it doesn't seem so bad anymore. I'm not sure I want to like it though. And I certainly can't imagine paying money to get drunk. Given the choice to do it for free, I would typically pass.

Wrapping It Up

If you know me well you know I rarely leave the house, and I'm not really the type of person that likes to take trips. Trips cost money. I dislike travel. By sleeping through the drive and having most of my expenses paid for me, most of my qualms are gone. Plus, it was the last time I could meet with a friend for a very long time. Perhaps the last meaningful thing we'll do together. We were there for an entire week. I didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I did. Between photography and food and my laptop and just hanging out before it all ended, I managed to find something to do most of the time.

Hash browns, scrambled eggs, biscuits, and gravy. Sublime.

Photography... oh man. I bought a mirrorless Sony a5100 camera because the camera I had took the adjective 'potato' to a whole new level. I traded some flexibility for compactness and portability. Got it used for $350. However, the lack of the traditional viewfinder makes it hard to judge how the shot will come out. This caused some pictures to be too dark and outside scenes to be poorly color balanced. (No, the weather in Las Vegas doesn't turn everything blue.)

Thanks for sticking with me this far. Sometimes I really don't even know why people bother to read my blog. There are so many blogs out there to choose from. So that's that then. This was the 2016 trip to Las Vegas. Peace out.

I was sad that I didn't get a clear picture here. The middle ring looks very pretty! Too bad it was like $900.

I did get something before the trip ended though.

I had to change iso and aperture on the fly really quickly, but this would've came out very nicely had the white balance not gone to shiiiiite. Can't bother to Aftereffects.

Nice little fountain.

It appears that some casinos take the Chinese zodiac seriously. Some garden shots for the year of the monkey. That clear concave bar you're seeing is actually just water shot through a relatively slow shutter speed.

Last shot before I go.