Wall Street and Atkins

What are these guys smoking?

“Meat consumption up 1st time in 20 years”:http://www.cincypost.com/news/2000/beef011100.html

bq. Analysts also say the renewed popularity of high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets such as Dr. Robert Atkins’ new ”diet revolution” is helping to boost beef consumption.

“Dieters in Hog Heaven”:http://abcnews.go.com/sections/living/DailyNews/porkrinds.html

bq. starting in 1997, sales of pork rinds have risen from around $300 million to $400 million, increasing 15 percent or more every year — the same year that Dr. Robert Atkins’ New Diet Revolution hit the best-seller lists, advocating that dieters swap protein for carbs. Coincidence? Many think not.

“Wheat Farmers Beef About Atkins Diet”:http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/04/28/health/main551336.shtml

bq. Popular low-carbohydrate diets have helped millions of people lose weight. But U.S. grain farmers say that as a result, their own wallets are getting slimmer.

This last article at least has some counter-claims too:

bq. Judi Adams, a registered dietitian who heads the Wheat Foods Council, said perceptions are disturbing. Adams pointed out obesity rates are lower in Italy, Germany and China, which consume more pasta, bread or rice than Americans do.

bq. “When you look at it from a commonsense approach, you cannot blame it on carbohydrates,” she said. “We’re eating too many calories.”

Now go to “The Bull About the Beef”:http://slate.msn.com/id/2088210/

bq. But Atkins is winning more credit than it deserves, say economists. It’s an example of how media excitement about a cultural trend leads to misinterpretation of an economic trend.

bq. The evidence most commonly cited to prove the Atkins diet is roiling the economy is a study by the Natural Marketing Institute that claims 25.4 million Americans—12 percent of the adult population—have tried the Atkins diet. […] under the methodology used by NMI in its survey of 2,000 families, anyone who forgoes bread for a few days in an attempt to lose a few pounds is considered an Atkins dieter.

bq. The Research Institute on Livestock Pricing reports that the average American per-capita consumption of beef has increased 1.8 pounds per year since 1997—another 525 million pounds per year. If the 6 million Atkins dieters are consuming all that additional beef, then they are eating 87.5 pounds more meat per year than they previously did, which would mean they’re now eating steak and burgers at every meal except breakfast. And that’s just beef. Pork, chicken, eggs—if all the increases in Atkins-friendly foods are due to Atkins dieters, it’s a wonder anyone has lost weight: They would have to be eating almost nonstop. (And those who note the surge in Atkins-friendly food tend to ignore an equally vigorous countertrend: Sales of Krispy Kreme donuts grew an amazing 25 percent last year, to $492 million, with cookies, potato chips, and other Atkins-verboten products following suit.)

Ok, that’s a whole lot of quoted text. The reason I wanted to blog about this are contained within the last article. Relatively simple number crunching shows that Atkins _cannot_ be solely responsible for the trend changes, and yet the news media, quoting “Wall Street Analysts”, are spouting the story everywhere. Are the analysts now so lazy that they’ll say anything? Or are the “analysts” merely PR and marketing flacks on retainer, their voices drowning out real analysis? Or are the newpapers simply making it all up, because any story with “Atkins” in it sells papers? It doesn’t really matter which; they’re all bad for us…

links via Plastic: Meat

posted at 11:51 am on Monday, September 29, 2003 in Current Events | Comments Off on Wall Street and Atkins

Carrots, Eyesight, and Radar

Speaking of information warfare…

I can’t find a primary source right now, but Google certainly asserts that carrots aren’t as good for your night vision as we’ve been taught.

During the Second World War, the Allies didn’t want the Germans to find out about radar (but see update). They needed a way to explain how RAF pilots could “see” in the dark. Someone came up with the story that the pilots had a diet high in carrots, and this allowed them to see in the dark…

*Update:* Propaganda, propaganda everywhere, and nary a drop to drink :-).

As with all stories, the truth is a little muddier. The Allies, Germans, and Russians all had radar before the war (as Jeff comments). However, for the usual political reasons, only the Allies developed it for tactical use, building a network of radar stations blanketing the coast. Intel from several sources, including the radar net, was relayed “within minutes” to fighter squadrons. This rapid use of intel, combined with a tight command and control structure, is what tipped the balance in favour of the Allies during the Battle of Britain; radar was a relatively small component of this system.

Germany had better technology at the start of the war, but failed to capitalise:

bq. Hitler and Göring disdained [radar] as a mainly defensive weapon. Besides, they harbored a deep mistrust of scientists and engineers. Interservice rivalries and the hidebound traditions of the officer corps also hampered progress. It was not until 1944 that an air defense system as effective as Dowding’s went into operation in Germany.

There are ironies in the situation, too. The Germans tried to determine the purpose of the giant radio towers on the British coast, but since German scientists had discounted HF as “useless for radar”, they never figured it out. On the other hand, the Allies lost far more planes than they should have during the late part of the war. The Germans had finally started using radar defensively, but the Brits continued to deny German radar capabilities, and sent unescorted bomber squadrons straight into German defensive radar…

The fact remains, however, that the whole carrot story was deliberate mis-information to protect the secret of the British use of radar…

Some more references:

* “A Radar History of World War II: Technical and Military Imperatives”:http://www.aip.org/pt/vol-53/iss-10/p82.html (actually a book review, not primary source material).
* “Deflating British Radar Myths of World War II”:http://www.fas.org/man/dod-101/ops/docs/97-0609F.pdf

posted at 12:25 am on Monday, September 29, 2003 in Random Thoughts, Science and Technology | Comments (2)
  1. jok says:

    That’s total and complete hogwash. The Germans were heavily into radar before and during WWII.


  2. jok says:

    If you search http://www.lakesgc.co.uk/news9901/news9901.html for “carrots” you will see that it was a story concocted for fooling Brits, not Germans. There’s probably more to this story, but off to work I go…

Coventry Cathedral

Here’s an entry covering two of my favourite topics!

Today Sensity posted Coventry Cathedral. I love his photpgraphy! I don’t remember how I tripped over his photoblog; if I recall correctly, it was right around the time he built a new studio in the attic. Anyway, I’ve been reading (viewing?) it ever since.

“Coventry” is one of the classic stories of information warfare. To maintain secrecy, the Germans used a complicated machine called Enigma to encrypt their radio communications. They believed (with good reason) that Enigma was unbreakable. By the later part of 1940, the Allies _had_ cracked the code, thanks to the work of brilliant cryptologists at Bletchley Park. It is easy to argue that this project (codename Ultra) won us the war; it’s amazing what you can do when you know the enemy’s plans in advance.

Back to Coventry. On the night of November 14/15, 1940, German bombers substantially destroyed the city center of Coventry, including the 14th century cathedral. 545 civilians were killed; 4,865 were injured. The city’s infrastructure (buildings, gas mains, transit) was destroyed.

Thanks to Ultra, Churchill knew that the raid was coming, some say as early as November 12th. However, if the Allies had _acted_ on this knowledge, the Germans would have known that Enigma was broken, and changed their codes. In order to protect the secret of Ultra, Command chose not to defend Coventry. Many lives were lost, and a city destroyed.

It’s a good story, but it’s not true. The reality is both mundane and more plausible. The Allies knew a raid was coming, but they didn’t know exactly when, and had four different potential targets. The Germans used radio beams to guide the bombers to their targets; it was only shortly before the raid that the RAF determined that the beams intersected over Coventry. Jammers were sent out to disrupt the radio signals bit their equipment was incorrectly set. RAF fighters sent to intercept the bombers downed only _one_ plane (out of over 500). Some believe that this last point is what led to the myth; claiming that Coventry was destroyed to protect Ultra is better than admitting that the RAF completely failed to stop (or even slow down) the attack.

Still, the lesson is a valuable one. Intercepting enemy communcation (encrypted or not) is only part of the problem; the other part is hiding your interceptions from the enemy. If your opponent discovers that an important plan has been intercepted, he’s goign to change that plan (or worse, start deliberately feeding you false information).

posted at 12:09 am on Monday, September 29, 2003 in Random Thoughts, Security | Comments Off on Coventry Cathedral


“John Udell writes”:http://weblog.infoworld.com/udell/2003/09/28.html#a809 about a new “edge” security technology:

bq. CoreStreet has just signed a deal with Swedish locksmith Assa Abloy that will enable doors to enforce highly granular card access policies without wired (or wireless) connections. When an employee swipes a card at the main entrance, it’s refreshed with a daily set of proofs. The door need only check that the proof binds a resource (itself) to an identity (the employee) at a certain time (today).

bq. CoreStreet’s president, Phil Libin, sketches another interesting scenario. Suppose an employee needs a proof to access her own laptop but can’t contact the network. Since proofs are minimally just 20 bytes, it’s feasible to convey one in a phone call.

This sounds like exactly the style of problem that PKI was supposed to solve, but utterly failed to do. I find this somewhat ironic in the aftermath of “Baltimore’s demise”:http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/story/0,3604,1047749,00.html.

The full story is available at “Infoworld”:http://www.infoworld.com/article/03/09/26/38OPstrategic_1.html.

posted at 6:11 pm on Sunday, September 28, 2003 in Security | Comments Off on PKI vs. KISS

Word Recognition

In “Boom Bouma!”:http://www.atypi.org/news_tool/news_html?from=http://www.atypi.org/40_conferences/28_Vancouver/50_conference_news/index_html&newsid=142, we read that:

bq. There are:
1: Word-shape is critical in word-recognition
2: The reader recognbises each letter in turn (serially) and then assembles a word
3: The reader recognises each of the letters at the same time (in parallel) and assembles a word.

bq. Kevin presented the evidence which supports and undermines or falsifies each of these propopositions, on the way addressing most of the objections which typographers are likely to raise.

bq. The bottom line: on the weight of evidence, Kevin supports the ‘parallel letter recognition’ model. People don’t he says, recognise whole-word shapes. Instead the recognise each of the letter components and then make a series of best-guesses on the information returned to assemble, first, phonemes and then words.

I, on the other hand, believe that we still have no idea how it works :-)

posted at 1:00 pm on Sunday, September 28, 2003 in Science and Technology | Comments Off on Word Recognition

More on Can you Raed Tihs?

From “slashdot”:http://slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=03/09/25/2350239&tid=167

A Slashdot article appearing last Monday, which reported on the claim that scrambled words are legible as long as first and last letters are in place, was circulated to the University of British Columbia’s Linguistics department. An interesting counter-example resulted:

bq. Anidroccg to crad cniyrrag lcitsiugnis planoissefors at an uemannd, utisreviny in Bsitirh Cibmuloa, and crartnoy to the duoibus cmials of the ueticnd rcraeseh, a slpmie, macinahcel ioisrevnn of ianretnl cretcarahs araepps sneiciffut to csufnoe the eadyrevy oekoolnr.

As demonstrated, a simple inversion of the internal characters results in a text which is relatively hard to decipher.

posted at 12:56 pm on Sunday, September 28, 2003 in Science and Technology | Comments Off on More on Can you Raed Tihs?


According to “BBC News”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/in_depth/3146136.stm, all of Italy (except Sardinia) is experiencing a blackout right now. Apparently there was a problem with the interties between France and Italy.

Yet another cascade failure, perhaps? I thinks “It can never happen again” has been conclusively refuted…

posted at 12:49 pm on Sunday, September 28, 2003 in Current Events | Comments (1)
  1. jok says:

    Well that’s only 3 impossibilities in 3 months, but that’s like those people that build to specs like “This can only happen once in 100 years”, and then you find out they repeated the same design in 1000 places and can’t figure out why things fail *somewhere* 10 times a year…

Lego Escher

I always liked Escher art; I still have some old, beat-up prints from my university days around somewhere. So I remember seeing and marvelling at the LEGO version of “Ascending and Descending”:http://www.lipsons.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/escher/ascending.html when it was mentioned in slashdot a while ago.

Well, the boys have been busy; turns out there are four _more_ LEGO Escher creations: “Balcony”:http://www.lipsons.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/escher/balcony.html, “Belvedere”:http://www.lipsons.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/escher/belvedere.html, “Waterfall”:http://www.lipsons.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/escher/waterfall.html, and “Relativity”:http://www.lipsons.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/escher/relativity.html. Excellent!

[ trace: “Blog, Jvstin Style”:http://www.all-roads-lead.net/jvstin/blog/000742.html → “Stet”:http://stet.typepad.com/stet/2003/09/live_from_castr.html → “Electrolite”:http://www.nielsenhayden.com/electrolite/ ]

posted at 9:54 pm on Friday, September 26, 2003 in Links | Comments Off on Lego Escher

NASA culture even worse?..

The CAIB report released in August focused in general terms on the “broken safety culture” within NASA that ultimately led to both shuttle disasters. But according to the New York Times, the reality was even worse:

Dogged Engineer’s Effort to Assess Shuttle Damage

bq. New interviews and newly revealed e-mail sent during the fatal Columbia mission show that the engineers’ desire for outside help in getting a look at the shuttle’s wing was more intense and widespread than what was described in the Aug. 26 final report of the board investigating the Feb. 1 accident, which killed all seven astronauts aboard.

bq. The new information makes it clear that the failure to follow up on the request for outside imagery, the first step in discovering the damage and perhaps mounting a rescue effort, did not simply fall through bureaucratic cracks but was actively, even hotly resisted by mission managers.

Go read the full article; “Chicken Little” indeed…

posted at 9:29 pm on Friday, September 26, 2003 in Current Events | Comments Off on NASA culture even worse?..

Personal Copying Legal in US Too?

According to “Philip Greenspun’s Weblog”:http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/philg/2003/09/25#a2136 copying for “noncommercial purposes” is legal in the USA. This is even more open than the Canadian law, which requires that copies be for the personal use of the copier. Essentially, In the USA I can copy a CD and give it to you, but in Canada _you_ must copy the CD.

(Of course, you can still use my computer and my media to make the copy…)

Remember, I Am Not A Lawyer (commonly shortened to IANAL.

posted at 1:36 pm on Friday, September 26, 2003 in Current Events | Comments Off on Personal Copying Legal in US Too?

More book banning

I’m only blogging “this book ban article”:http://www.themonitor.com/NewsPub/News/Stories/2003/09/22/10642896312.shtml because of “Les Orchard’s comment”:http://www.decafbad.com/blog/links/aofddiacde.html :

bq. …because Huxley’s Brave New World might cause “inappropriate sexual arousal of young teens.” Have these people not lived with teens long? An oddly shaped cardboard box will cause sexual arousal in young teens.

I laughed…

posted at 1:28 pm on Friday, September 26, 2003 in Books | Comments Off on More book banning

Workweek Causes Climate Changes

Fascinating; researchers have found that diurnal temperature ranges are different between weekdays and weekends, and suggest that maybe atmospheric aerosols are to blame. More evidence that we really do affect the environment, and not always in predictable ways.

The effect is largest in North America, of course (remember we have more cars than licensed drivers now).

I’d like to see if the effect shows up on holiday mondays, too…

* “Scientific American News Blurb”:http://www.sciam.com/print_version.cfm?articleID=0002C7F3-2229-1F66-905980A84189EEDF
* “Abstract”:http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/abstract/2034034100v1
* Purchase PDF of “Observations of a "weekend effect" in diurnal temperature range. Forster and Solomon PNAS.2003; 0: 203403410-0.”:http://www.pnas.org/cgi/reprint/2034034100v1 from the “PNAS website”:http://www.pnas.org/.

posted at 10:25 am on Friday, September 26, 2003 in Science and Technology | Comments Off on Workweek Causes Climate Changes

Natural Choice USA

Today in the paper mail I received an invitation from “Natural Choice USA”:http://edumacation.com/NaturalChoice to attend a “free, no-obligation demonstration of a proven, money-making business opportunity”.

Thanks to “Google”:http://www.google.ca/, I now know “a lot more”:http://www.forbes.com/global/1999/0614/0212099a_print.html about these guys than they probably want me to.

What is it about get rich quick schemes that is so appealing? How is it that people get sucked in, decade after decade? I just don’t get it; I guess I should thank the person or people who taught me to be a skeptic!

Off to the blue box they go…

posted at 8:52 pm on Wednesday, September 24, 2003 in General | Comments (1)
  1. jok says:

    Investment of time or money is about the only way to get ahead of the game, that’s why it’s appealing. It’s good to be skeptical in all things though because everyone’s in it for themselves, so if they come to you with an idea, guess who they’re planning to make rich?

Happy Equinox, and eggs

It’s Mabon, the Autumnal Equinox. Day and Night are (temporarily) in balance. Summer has past; Winter has not yet arrived. Time to bring in the harvest, and get ready for winter.

Of course, you can try “balancing an egg”:http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ap030923.html instead…

posted at 4:04 pm on Tuesday, September 23, 2003 in Miscellaneous | Comments Off on Happy Equinox, and eggs

We’re back…

A small network reconfiguration at our host site knocked the server off the air on Saturday afternoon, For many different (entirely reasonable) reasons we couldn’t restore service until Monday night.

We’re back now, though.

posted at 9:30 am on Tuesday, September 23, 2003 in Site News | Comments Off on We’re back…

How Ravenous Soviet Viruses Will Save the World

Wired 11.10: How Ravenous Soviet Viruses Will Save the World

In a nutshell:

Bacteria are becoming antibiotic resistant. Casual antibiotic use in people and animals has created several “superstrains” that are killing people (mainly in hospital surgical wards, but still).

Antibiotics are expensive and take a decade or more to develop, and bacteria are adapting faster all the time. Meanwhile, nature already has a perfectly good solution: for every bacteria out there, there exists a bacteriophage that eats it. Phages evolve with their bacterial counterparts; no complex scientific escalation required. Phages can be harvested from nature (by dropping a bucket into the Chesapeake Bay :-).

An interesting part of the article is how capitalism is getting it the way…

posted at 10:19 am on Saturday, September 20, 2003 in Science and Technology | Comments Off on How Ravenous Soviet Viruses Will Save the World

U.K. phone retailer bans e-mail

U.K. phone retailer bans e-mail | CNET News.com

bq. John Caudwell, CEO of High Street mobile retailer Phones 4U, announced Thursday that he’ll ban all employees from using e-mail across the business.

bq. The reasoning behind the total ban is apparently to improve productivity by reducing the time Phones 4U employees spend unnecessarily on e-mail–which Caudwell estimates will save the company around $1.6 million (1 million British pounds) a month.

(1 million pounds/month on e-mail? Surely not!)

This seems a little drastic. Sure, e-mail can “chain you to your desk” if it is used poorly, but it has significant advantages over face-to-face communication in important areas:

* it’s not an interrupt: I can deal with e-mail on my time, not at the beck and call of the sender as with a telephone call or office visit.
* e-mail is high-bandwidth; It can transfer useful information much more effectively than a phone call. On the other hand, sometimes there is no substitute for getting two people together in front of a white board…
* e-mail crosses timezone boundaries. This isn’t an issue for a local phone retailer, perhaps, but is very useful when you are in Canada and have customers in Europe (plus 5 or 6 hours) and Australia (+12 to 14 hours)…

I think the better answer would be to train employees, instead of throwing out the baby with the bathwater…

posted at 10:01 am on Saturday, September 20, 2003 in Science and Technology | Comments Off on U.K. phone retailer bans e-mail

Bluetooth DOA?

From “InfoWorld TechWatch: Bluetooth reality check”:http://weblog.infoworld.com/techwatch/archives/000085.html

bq. Bluetooth isn’t going away, but the original idea that it would be ubiquitous as a cable replacement technology is pretty much dead in the water.

Well that sucks. I still think there are applications for short-range, low-cost wireless connectivity; 802.11 doesn’t fit the bill in many ways. It would be great to drop my camera, cell phone, and printer on a table next to my laptop and have them all communicating without a snake’s nest of USB cables…

Maybe that new personal server from Intel will revive the idea.

posted at 9:19 am on Saturday, September 20, 2003 in Science and Technology | Comments Off on Bluetooth DOA?

Isabel III

Well, that was anti-climactic. Sure it’s been raining off and on all day, but the winds have died down already (by 3PM Pearson was reporting 14 km/h with no gusts). When I went out for lunch at about 12:30 it was not raining, the streets were already drying, and there were patches of blue sky. (I did get drizzled on on the way back, though).

I’ll have to ask my K/W friends if it was worse over there…

posted at 4:32 pm on Friday, September 19, 2003 in Current Events | Comments Off on Isabel III

IBM Compatible

“Teal Sunglasses”:http://www.plaidworks.com/chuqui/blog/000802.html → “Daring Fireball: IBM Compatible”:http://daringfireball.net/2003/09/ibm_compatible.html

bq. the irony is this: the new PowerMac G5 is, in a literal sense, more “IBM-compatible” than a Wintel PC from Dell or HP.

Well said…

posted at 4:30 pm on Friday, September 19, 2003 in Science and Technology | Comments Off on IBM Compatible
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