Mike Beversluis

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Lactic acid is your friend

Lactic Acid Is Not Muscles' Foe, It's Fuel
Published: May 16, 2006

Everyone who has even thought about exercising has heard the warnings about lactic acid. It builds up in your muscles. It is what makes your muscles burn. Its buildup is what makes your muscles tire and give out.


But that, it turns out, is all wrong. Lactic acid is actually a fuel, not a caustic waste product. Muscles make it deliberately, producing it from glucose, and they burn it to obtain energy. The reason trained athletes can perform so hard and so long is because their intense training causes their muscles to adapt so they more readily and efficiently absorb lactic acid.

The notion that lactic acid was bad took hold more than a century ago, said George A. Brooks, a professor in the department of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley. It stuck because it seemed to make so much sense.

"It's one of the classic mistakes in the history of science," Dr. Brooks said.

Hmm, I did not know that.



Saturday, May 30, 2009

Further adventures in negotiation

Placing phone call number two to the Great Satan resulted in another 60+ channels and $5/month off. I was sternly told that this was a special deal; So special, I thought, that you've managed to send it to me in a flyer yesterday. In any case, I'm happy enough.


House Design

I'm not sure that modern is my thing - it comes off awfully anti-septic and sterile most of the time, but that's a hell of a aquarium tank view. On sale for $4.95M.

Continuing off on the tangent, if I picture the ideal house in my mind's eye, wavy little lines appear and there is a juxtaposition of all of the homes you've see in family holiday movies. The set designers are aiming for a very strong Norman Rockwell vibe without being too Grandma's house or gothic about it, and so they do a very good job of balancing home and design. I think a key part is that there needs to be detail and texture on all scales. Modern design creates tension on purpose by shaving off most of the mid-scale detail and whatnot. So it might be striking to see, but I'm not sure I'd want to live there.

And it goes without saying that the Ferris Bueller house is up for sale too.

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Friday, May 29, 2009

More translation exercise

A trap in Teheran by Franco Venturini.

In diplomacy sensational developments are not a rarity, but the one that involved yesterday our (translator's note: Italian) Foreign minister is quite unprecedented. Franco Frattini had already prepared his suitcase and was ready to leave for Teheran when Iranian diplomatic officers, just one hour before the departure, called up the Farnesina (* see note) with a new, "non-negotiable", demand: a meeting with Ahmadinejad in Semnan should be set up. In the same place, that is, where Iran had just succesfully launched a new-generation-land-land missile, able to hit Israel, the U.S. bases in the Middle East and the south-east of Europe. Smelling out the trap, that would have associated him in some way to the dangerous ballistic experiment, Frattini decided not to leave, and rightly so. And following this there are two, unavoidable considerations.

The first consideration regards minister Frattini himself, that in scheduling the trip was quite imprudent. Not because his politics of involving Iran in the stabilization process in Afghanistan and Pakistan is wrong. Not because Italy has taken an initiative without consulting allies (Hillary Clinton was in fact in agreement and the Europeans knew that Frattini would be going to Iran by the end of May). But rather because an electoral campaign is underway in Iran, conducted in an opaque way and with a lot of dirty maneuvering. And it was quite predictable that in this climate Ahmadinejad, who is the favourite but is not quite sure of election, would have tried to use to his advantage the first visit of a western Foreign Minister in the last four years (the diplomatic mission of the EU representative Solana was a quite different occasion).

Ahmadinejad - and this is the second consideration - has in fact punctually confirmed his political profile: that of a full-time taunter that is trying to balance the effects of the disastrous state of Iranian economy by distributing plenty of opiate in form of hyper-nationalism and hate towards Israel. The nuclear pursuit (that, despite the skepticism of quite a few, he maintains being a peaceful pursuit) and the development of ballistic missiles (that cannot quite be peaceful) represent the electoral "promissory notes" of Ahmadinejad and the only ones that he can actually command. In the firm belief that it's the West that needs him and not the other way around, Ahmadinejad recognizes the US only as having the rank of conversation partner. But even then he does not express, even towards the US, a politics that justifies the hopes that are cultivated in Washington and that Frattini wanted to help strengthen.

The diplomatic incident of yesterday, in this way, reminds us that Iran is a problem that remains dangerously open. The White House will have to wait for the post-electoral period to have a somewhat clear view of the situation. Obama refused to set a definite limit to his own patience as he had been requested by Netanyahu, but notified that lack of progress before the end of 2009 will cause the West to adopt new and harsher sanctions. And this will subject the unity across the Atlantic Ocean to a serious stress test. And it will not be enough to prevent Israel to adopt a pre-emptive military strike. Our Foreign minister, even if moved by the best intentions, stepped on the land-mine we have delineated above: a land-mine which is luckily still just metaphorical.

* Note: the Farnesina is the building where the Italian foreign ministry is located, and with the name Farnesina the ministry itself is commonly designated.

Pure Genius

The true mark of genius is that it's so simple and obvious in retrospect.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

If you read this, he'll sue you

Man sues book over most-litigious crown

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I can partially relate

The importance of stupidity in scientific research
Martin A. Schwartz
Department of Microbiology, UVA Health System, University of Virginia
Accepted 9 April 2008

I recently saw an old friend for the first time in many years. We had been Ph.D. students at the same time, both studying science, although in different areas. She later dropped out of graduate school, went to Harvard Law School and is now a senior lawyer for a major environmental organization. At some point, the conversation turned to why she had left graduate school. To my utter astonishment, she said it was because it made her feel stupid. After a couple of years of feeling stupid every day, she was ready to do something else.

I had thought of her as one of the brightest people I knew and her subsequent career supports that view. What she said bothered me. I kept thinking about it; sometime the next day, it hit me. Science makes me feel stupid too. It's just that I've gotten used to it. So used to it, in fact, that I actively seek out new opportunities to feel stupid. I wouldn't know what to do without that feeling. I even think it's supposed to be this way. Let me explain.

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Friday, May 22, 2009

From the Department of Big Dumb Explosion Movies

Michael Bay vs McQ. Fight!


F1 cars are fast

I've mentioned it before, but I think a lot of guys harbor the thought that in some other circumstance they could have been a fighter pilot or a race car driver, etc. After watching this, which looks like it's been sped up - a lot, I am further convinced that I could not do this.

Speaking of, vroom vroom! Those are the angriest Honda Del Sols I have ever seen.


Adventures in negotiation

Don't pay more than $33 for cable + HBO, because they cut my bill down to that (more than in half) just because I called up and asked them to after the previous discount period ended. Sweet!


Thursday, May 21, 2009

like the moon in your eye

It's hard to imagine throwing more bombs than this guy does when talking about pizza. Bombs away!



Warren Buffet, The Master of Money

He almost makes Paul Erdos seem well adjusted. Once again, it seems like genius is best appreciated from a safe distance.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Who needs whom?

There is some noise here about credit card companies finding ways to charge fees to people who pay off their balances each month: Credit Card Industry Aims to Profit From Sterling Payers

Credit cards have long been a very good deal for people who pay their bills on time and in full. Even as card companies imposed punitive fees and penalties on those late with their payments, the best customers racked up cash-back rewards, frequent-flier miles and other perks in recent years.

Now Congress is moving to limit the penalties on riskier borrowers, who have become a prime source of billions of dollars in fee revenue for the industry. And to make up for lost income, the card companies are going after those people with sterling credit.

To which I say, good luck. I pay off my balances each month, and if they really do start charging me fees, I will cancel my cards and just use cash instead. Maybe I am of little value to them, since I don't really ever pay interest or late fees, but many people act like I do, I'm not sure how this will get them that much more money.

Incidentally, a lot of free-market sympathy for them as businesses went away once I realized that the changes to bankruptcy law made their loans more secure. Charging 18% for unsecured debt is one thing; It's another to charge that for debt that has been in many ways secured by means-tested bankruptcy laws.

Also, the point behind this rather tone-deaf quote is wrong:

People who routinely pay off their credit card balances have been enjoying the equivalent of a free ride, he said, because many have not had to pay an annual fee even as they collect points for air travel and other perks.

“Despite all the terrible things that have been said, you’re making out like a bandit,” he said. “That’s a third of credit card customers, 50 million people who have gotten a great deal.”

Merchants have to pay fees in order to use credit cards, and guess who pays those fees? That's not much of a free ride.

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Pitbulls are great with children

Dogs Are Aggressive If They Are Trained Badly

ScienceDaily (May 1, 2009) — Many dogs are put down or abandoned due to their violent nature, but contrary to popular belief, breed has little to do with a dog's aggressive behaviour compared to all the owner-dependant factors. This is shown in a new study from the University of Córdoba, which includes breeds that are considered aggressive by nature, such as the Rottweiler or the Pit Bull.

Interesting, but bad trainers probably do correlate with breed. I doubt there are owners who fight wiener dogs.



Shoe map.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The galaxy goes swooping by

Galactic Center of Milky Way Rises over Texas Star Party from William Castleman on Vimeo.

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Your daily viral video moment of zen

If Flight of the Concords were from North Carolina: Black and White People Furniture.


Nuke them from space, it's the only way to be sure

FTC nukes "extended warranty" robocalls.

It's about time. I was get daily messages from these guys, despite having been on the Do Not Call registry. Dear FTC, please hang their bodies up outside the city gate.


I can relate...


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Roots and cranks, again

On umps and strike zones...

2) humans shouldn’t be calling balls and strikes. A guy squatting behind a plate can’t adequately determine if a 90mph pitch crossed a three-dimensional strike zone. The sooner the swap’s made, the better for the game.
This is correct, and yet it feels so wrong.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Your daily moment of zen


Monday, May 11, 2009

Every design should be filled with Easter eggs

Jalopnik - Top Ten Auto Design Easter-Eggs.

I like the Nissan Cube's headliner and the Ford GT's headlights the best.


Sunday, May 10, 2009

it's turtles all the way down

Of course, after you get a Bernard Favre Manually-Wound Watch Crown Winder for your fancy watch, you'll need to get a winder-winder, and metasoforth...

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Saturday, May 09, 2009


Star Trek is a pretty good "reboot" as they say in the current vernacular. Lots of pew pew pew and bang bang bang; Plus Kirk and Spock get their bromance on pretty good. Very well cast all around, I think. And I don't buy the "old series had more thematic depth" at all - even Wrath of Kahn. Yes, I said it! Bring it nerds!

In any case, it's still not that deep and will only really take off in sequel land if they do tie it into something deeper, which seems unlikely. In many respects, it's like the last two Bond movies. (It also has a killer opening sequence, just like Casino Royale)

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Happy Mother's Day Mom

Happy Mother's Day! Coincidentally enough, I was born on a Mother's Day a few years ago, and I'm glad of it!


Friday, May 08, 2009

Them's the breaks

Metacool: 13: Do everything right, and you'll still fail.

Working in optics offered a good perspective on the differences between physics and engineering, since it contains both. On one hand you have people working on very basic problems, like trying to develop quantum computers using quantum optics, and they'll be thrilled if they can get their very jury-rigged experiment to work 1% of the time (if that...). If you can do that, that's easily a couple of papers (depending on how you dribble the results out...) and you'll have a shot at getting grant money, etc. On the other hand, you have people in lens design and optical fabrication, and the challenge there is the business world six nines deal, where you are trying to take something that works 99.9% to 99.999% of the time, or some such improvement. Basically these tasks lie on opposite ends of the "S-curve", and so the mentalities of the two groups are different.

If you take a group of bright people, you'll find they sort themselves into the two camps. The physicists are more arrogant and less concerned with precision, e.g., throw in a factor of pi, get an order-of-magnitude agreement, and if you can do that over a wide range of scales, it shows you understand the underlying mechanism. If you discover that, the rest is scribbling and accounting. The engineers are more pedantic and worry about machine unit errors. They'll take a points off your homework because you're off in the fourth decimal place, but it's also easier to hide weak thinking in an empirical approach. Just scatter-plot everything against everything, and look for correlation without too much concern about causation, because the former is all that matters on an assembly line (sometimes).

It was odd to take classes in both, because you notice that the physicists prefer simple units (energy, time, etc), with complicated functions to fit a data set. The engineer would transform the units into something complicated, but the curves would all be lines... Not unlike where you stick the time-dependence in quantum mechanics with either the Schrodinger picture (in the state vector) or Heisenberg picture (in the operators).

What does this all have to do with the rule above?? Well, when you are trying to innovate, there is always a tension between "pure" and "applied" innovation, and having worked a lot more on the pure side, where things never work, I'm curious about the other side. I suspect that the grass is not greener, and it's just as hard to innovate there - this is the classic "knee in the curve" breakthrough in Moore's law curves, e.g., time keeping with atomic clocks. I can't find the plot right now, but historically atomic clock precision improved at some gradual logarithmic rate until the mid-1990's, when they invented broad-band laser frequency combs, which allowed them to dramatically improve and simplify the clock. Suddenly the clock's precision improved rapidly, and a new slope appeared in the curve, which is the result from the engineering refinement of the new technique.

Of course the way to win fame and awards and get things named after you is to invent the new technique, even though much, if not most, of the benefit comes from subsequent refinement and mass production, which is often just as hard, but a lot more anonymous. I guess the upside would be that engineers are less inclined to believe demonstrably wrong theories, in a Kuhnian paradigm shift sort of way, because they don't pretend to understand things deeply in the first place. The physicists are the ones who walk around with no clothes...

That bit of science/engineering sociology aside, either sort of improvement is still difficult, and coming up with a new idea is no guarantee of its success. In fact, in either camp, the coming up with the napkin sketch for the new idea is the easy part. Which also reminded me of this post by Megan McArdle on investment banker salaries, the upshot of which was:

The real problem with investment bankers goes deeper, and is the problem of the entire upper middle class: we have come to believe that complying with the rules produces excellent results as by some natural law. In school, if you do your work, teacher gives you an A. It comes to seem like a sort of a natural law: if you have a good education and work hard, the universe is supposed to reward you. After school, the upper middle class gravitates towards careers with very well defined advancement hierarchies: medicine, law, finance, consulting, where this subtle belief is constantly reinforced.

True, a lot of people fall by the wayside in the up-or-out structures of most of the top firms. But that was always true--the whole idea that you deserve to be rewarded for your hard work always involved ignoring the entirely undeserved natural endowment of intelligence and social capital that most upper-middle-class kids are given by their parents. The people who stay in the system and make it to the upper levels do not see it as mostly the product of luck; they view it as the just reward for all their hard work and sacrifices.

If you look at the tenured folks in academia, you'll see completely different politics, but the same attitude, except that instead of salary they look for reputation and prestige. Which IMHO won't make them any happier than the banker's phone number salary, but that's on them.

The point isn't just that there isn't an infallible set of rules which will ensure success - just guidelines which work out more often than the alternatives; the point is that you should look deeper to understand what you're really after in the first place. Why do you want to innovate or make a lot of money? Fame, prestige, money etc, should not be the goals of your existence, and it's ironic if you can't even appreciate them because your pursuit of them is so all-consuming. There is a lot of the Theory of Moral Sentiments at work though, because Steve Jobs may be a miserable (evidently) egotist, as are most research professors and from the looks of things, bankers, but their self-interested pursuit broadly benefits everyone around them... I just wouldn't want to be in their family.

So allow me to interject a bit of maudlin I think this is fine if you understand that it's not the end-all, be-all of your life, and in a hyper-competitive environment, stop and smell the daisies, etc. Like Churchill said, move cheerfully from one failure to the next...

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Thursday, May 07, 2009


367. You marry the girl, you marry her whole family.


Wednesday, May 06, 2009

that is not right

What the what, Japan.

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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

to boldly go...

Trekkies Bash New Star Trek Film As 'Fun, Watchable'


Monday, May 04, 2009

Design 2

They had me at DeLorean.