Voicemail decoding assistance required

Got a call from a blocked number while I was writing the last post. I get a lot of these, but this one left a weird voicemail. Could be an issue with the digital recording or something at the beginning, but still… weird.

Any clues? Feel free to listen online or to download the MP3.

Also, if you remix it into a song, I at least want a mention in the credits. :)

Ninja Edit: On the plus side, this is another reason why I love Google Voice. It took me under a minute from getting this weirdness to posting it on the blog. Seriously, Google Voice is awesome.

The Debt Keeps Rising

… while the Republicans keep using non-free software.

Anybody examine the difference between http://republican.senate.gov/ and http://democrats.senate.gov/ lately?

Hint, one of them is complaining about the debt, while the other one is using the free and open-source software package, WordPress, to create their website.

Guess which is which. No points if it takes more than one guess.

The Republican website seems to be running on ColdFusion, a software package that kinda went out of style in 2002-2003, but for which Adobe nevertheless keeps releasing version after version, hoping somebody will notice. Well, at least now I know they have one client, I suppose.

On the other hand, the Democrats site is clearly running on WordPress 3.1.3 (not the latest version, but they’re only half a day behind, and probably not even that by tomorrow), which is a free software package that runs roughly 14.3% of the sites on the internet, including all the major websites that the people who read my blogs read every single day.

Hmm… I wonder who’s more in tune with the times.

Disclaimer: I work on WordPress, but would be heavily biased against the Republican party regardless of who my employer was. #justsaying

Why news coverage of medical science sucks

Ever read one of those news pieces that says something obviously stupid, like “acupuncture proven effective”, or “new study proves HFCS makes you fatter than sugar”? (Hint, both of those are false. HFCS may be worse than sugar in other ways, but you’ll get just as fat with sugar as with HFCS.)

Well, here’s why you see those news articles making claims that are provably false: Sometimes, people lie in science journals.

Chart of their results
For the acupuncture one, take the recent case of “Acupuncture for ‘frequent attenders’ with medically unexplained symptoms: a randomised controlled trial (CACTUS study)” that was published in the June issue of the British Journal of General Practice. This was covered pretty well on DC’s Improbable Science blog. The chart is here on the right hand side of this post.

Despite this chart clearly showing that acupuncture had no noticeable effect on the results whatsoever, the paper’s conclusion was in fact “The addition of 12 sessions of five-element acupuncture to usual care resulted in improved health status and wellbeing that was sustained for 12 months.”

Now, when a news organization gets ahold of this, they’re not going to examine the data and see that the conclusion is a bald-faced lie. They’re just going to take it at face value. And that’s how you get stories with titles like “Why GPs should be prescribing acupuncture to patients branded hypochondriacs” or “Acupuncture has significant impact on mystery illnesses“, even though the results are exactly opposite.

Or take the study Princeton did on the effects of HFCS on rats. This is often cited as proving that HFCS will make you fatter than sugar will, and indeed, the title of the paper is “High-fructose corn syrup causes characteristics of obesity in rats: Increased body weight, body fat and triglyceride levels.”

However, the charts themselves in that PDF file say otherwise. On page 3, for the male charts (fig 1 and 3), they don’t show 12-h sucrose at all. For the female ones (fig 2 and 4), sucrose is higher than HFCS for both of the 12 hour results. The fact that the ad libitum charts are higher is expected results, because those are the controls on the high end (ad libitum = “at will”, meaning the rats could eat all the HFCS they wanted, so you’d expect them to get fatter, even though they don’t always). It does show that the males at 8 weeks did have a higher average weight than with sucrose (Table 1 on page 2), however it also shows that males with access to 24-hour HFCS (which is the high-end control) had similar weight gain to males with access to 12-h sucrose, which pretty much negates those results as significant.

Now, that paper isn’t all bad, but when the results actually disagree with the title of the paper, you have to question it a bit. It does show that triglycerides will be higher with HFCS, but that’s not unexpected, as fructose is what turns into triglycerides and the HFCS they’re using has more fructose than sugar does. But the actual weight and increased body fat results all show up as higher on sugar there instead of HFCS. Reading the text, they sometimes appear to be confusing one of the control groups (ad libitum HFCS) with the actual groups being studied against one another (12-h HFCS vs 12-h sucrose). Sure, if you give a rat all the HFCS they want, they get fat. That falls under a “duh” category. What matters is the comparison between similar groups, and you can’t draw the conclusions they drew from the results they got. Even their low end control groups (ad libitum chow) had weight gain similar to the high end control in some cases.

Their results as given in section 3 of the paper are correct, BTW, but these draw rather limited conclusions. Not enough to justify the title of the paper, much less the resulting press and conclusions drawn from those results. HFCS may indeed make you fatter, but this study simply doesn’t prove that.

It’s just that I see this paper cited over and over again, and it bugs me. News organizations need to learn to evaluate the results themselves before making the titles of their misleading articles. People being misinformed and then citing incorrect news articles to back it up, which themselves rely on accidentally or intentionally misleading “research”.. well, that’s kinda annoying.

All I’m saying is that to be informed, never trust the news articles themselves. Go to the source. Read the results. Evaluate the data yourself and draw your own conclusions. Use your brain instead of parroting the things you read in news articles. The world would be a better place if people could just think for themselves sometimes.

Quack quack

So, this happened.

Canoeing and Kansas City

I took a trip to canoe in the Buffalo river last weekend, and then followed it up with a week in Kansas City. Didn’t get any river pictures due to a foul up in which the party got separated and the camera got left with the other party, but I snapped a shot from the cabin. Also got some shots from the Boulevard Brewery and a few shots in St. Louis. iPhone pics, the lot of them. I need to get a decent quick shot camera, or a nice Android phone. Either way.

Continue reading “Canoeing and Kansas City”

The future is awesome.

This tweet got me to thinking about the myriad uses of technology used for rather simple things.

Weather Station Example
Weather Station Example

For example, the weather. The National Weather Service has set up climate observation stations throughout the US, at places like airports, on top of tall buildings, alongside freeways, random places in the countryside, even on ships and buoys in the ocean. These monitor the temperature, humidity, and a bunch of other things of that nature. Sometimes they’re integrated into the overall system, like at an airport tower, sometimes they’re just self contained boxes mounted somewhere with power, like on a freeway sign or beside the road. Anyway, these boxes record this information and generally use radio transmitters to send updates back to some centralized location in each region. Usually a local university, TV station, NWS local offices, etc.

This information is then sent on to the next stop via various methods. As the technology evolved, old methods like phone lines got replaced with the internet, or on other more secure lines. They call this overall system The Gateway, and it has its own special protocols and methodologies along with it as well. Anyway, the data is sent back to the NWS’s central server center somewhere. Probably in DC, although they likely have multiple redundancy in various other locations. This information is naturally combined with all the other information from all over the world, so that a complete up-to-date system of meteorlogical data of the entire world can be maintained.

Thousands of other organizations read from this data via various protocols of their own. For example, The Weather Channel gets a lot of their information from this large, distributed, database via some kind of real time feed. They even re-serve the data themselves using various formats, such as the XOAP system.

That XOAP system is interesting because it’s a pretty good feed of weather related data for various regions. I use it myself, indirectly. On my iPhone, for example, I have the Typophone Weather application, which uses the 3G network (which is itself a highly connected system of radio towers using multi-spectrum packet switching technologies), to connect to the internet (this big system of pipes which is in reality not all that well put together but nevertheless works because of incredible fault tolerance in its various protocols), in order to query that XOAP system (which uses XML and SOAP standards for its interface).

All this happens in order to display the current temperature on my iPhone’s lock screen, while I sit here on a couch, not four feet from a friggin’ window.

The future is awesome.

Woot Bag O’ Crap

I got lucky on Woot on the April Fool’s Day sale they did, and ended up being able to order a Bag O’ Crap around level 8 of their game. First bag of crap I’ve been able to order from them.

Got it in the mail the other day. Here’s the haul (with links to their previous sales of the same items):

2 sets of Woot TrueFire Cedar Grilling Planks: http://www.woot.com/blog/viewentry.aspx?id=12309

2 180s Adjustable Ear Warmers: http://www.woot.com/Blog/ViewEntry.aspx?Id=15075

3 Reusable Strawberry totes: Can’t find the previous sale on Woot, but here’s the same thing on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Reusable-Shopping-Tote-Bag-Strawberry/dp/B0032LO96K

1 Digital Photo Displaying Snowman Ornament (working): http://sellout.woot.com/blog/viewentry.aspx?id=15078


Also got 2 Black and White tote bags: No sales on woot, this is just some random crap, I think.

Not a bad haul for $8. The cedar grilling planks may be useful this summer. I’ll probably give away the bags to somebody. Mom is definitely getting the snowman. Spent an entertaining half an hour trying to decipher the instruction sheet, and find the software for it online (it had a CD of software which didn’t work on Windows 7). Works fine. The photos displayed on the low-resolution 1.8 inch screen look like photos displayed on a low-resolution 1.8 inch screen.

Like they say, thou shalt not get the crap you want, want the crap you get.