Dec 14, 2008

You know you should get rid of your car when...

I have a really old car and I've kept it for a lot longer than I should have. I've put a lot of money into it, when I shouldn't have and I think I've replaced every conceivable part inside of it. I just don't want you to make the same mistakes as I did so as a public service announcement, I'd like to give you some advice as to when you should dump that heap.

You know you need to get rid of your car when...
  • ...the call operator at AAA and you, are on a first name basis.
  • ...the mechanic where you usually take the car to, is so thankful for the business you give him, that he always drops you home after you drop the car off...and buys you fresh cut flowers for the holidays.
  • find yourself parking far away from other cars so that your spot is tow-truck accessible.
  • stopped locking your car overnight back in 2003.
  • ...the gas tank lever is busted and you've perfected getting gas at a self-serve to an art form. (What I do jam the car keys underneath the lever inside the car and then rush outside to the gas tank and open it before the lever slips. I have about 3 seconds to do this)
  • ...the gas tank gauge flickers between empty and full constantly and you've actually been stranded on the side of a highway without gas.
  • rotate and replace your bicycle tires a lot more often than your car tires.
  • actually have a special prayer which you recite before you turn the ignition.
  • the winter, you climb in through the passenger door at the back because the front doors just don't open
  • ...the trunk key needs to go in at a highly precise angle if you want it open. And you have only 1 shot at it.
  • ...the car keys are more twisted than a Hitchcock film as you've used to them to open letters, beer bottles, the bathroom door, and the bathroom tiles.

Dec 13, 2008

Let's bring back the Woolly Mammoth

A collaborative effort by scientists at Penn State and some other notable institutions, recently released their findings on sequencing the DNA of the mammoth. According to their study, they have determined about 4 billion bases of the mammoth of which 3.3 billion nucleotide bases belong to the woolly mammoth species. The DNA is fragmented and imperfect, but could they bring the mammoth to life? Yes, they say, for $10 million...
There is no present way to synthesize a genome-size chunk of mammoth DNA, let alone to develop it into a whole animal. But Dr. Schuster said a shortcut would be to modify the genome of an elephant’s cell at the 400,000 or more sites necessary to make it resemble a mammoth’s genome. The cell could be converted into an embryo and brought to term by an elephant, a project he estimated would cost some $10 million.
Some of the opinion pieces I've read are not in favor of bringing the animal back. The NYTimes editorial wrote...
The first mammoth would be a lonely zoo freak, vulnerable to diseases unknown to its ancestors. To live a full and rewarding life, it would need other mammoths to hang out with, a mate to produce a family and a suitable place to live. The sort of environment it is used to — the frigid wastes of Siberia and North America — are disappearing all too fast.
The Chemical and Engineering News editorial was also not in favor of the idea....

I have qualms about bringing back woolly mammoths. I hope it doesn't happen because, not only are mammoths extinct, the world they inhabited is extinct, too. There is no place for them, and it seems cruel to bring them back just so we can stare at them.

Instead of resurrecting species our ancestors helped drive to extinction, I think we should be working desperately to curb the mass extinction we ourselves are driving today.

Of course it is cruel on some level to bring back a woolly mammoth to life, but who says it has to be lonely? Bring back 2 of them, a male and a female, for example. I feel the pros outweigh the cons. Think of all one could learn from the process of resurrecting an extinct species. I think it would be a marvelous scientific achievement. We are trying our best to save dying species currently, so why don't we try bringing back an extinct species? Let's be realistic here. The experiment is not going to be some out of control 'Jurassic Park' type scene, where 'nature finds a way' to reproduce within the time span of a ridiculous movie and start attacking children at the gift shop. It's going to be heavily monitored and if successful, could give us clues along the way as to how we can improve our lives and the the lives of dying species around us.

Who wants to look at cave drawings anyway. Let's bring the mammoth back...

Dec 8, 2008

Poll results: Wendy's fries don't measure up to McDonalds...

..and I have no idea why. I really do not like the fries at the McD's. They're thin and too crunchy. But the people hath spoken, and I must accept and publish the results of this non-scientific, utterly useless, waste-of-time survey.
There were 9 votes for Wendy's however, (most of them probably being me from different computers) so at least Wendy's is second best in my highly skewed, completed BS, useless poll of the month.

Nov 21, 2008

'Happy people' watch less TV than 'unhappy people'

The results of a pretty interesting study took were summarized in a recent NYTimes article this past weekend:
...People who describe themselves as happy enjoy watching television, it turns out to be the single activity they engage in less often than unhappy people, said John Robinson, a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland and the author of the study, which appeared in the journal Social Indicators Research.
The surveys of 45,000 Americans, included in this research, were done over the past 35 years. That's a pretty large sample size. The results probably have very low error bars (Type I error) associated with them.
“We looked at 8 to 10 activities that happy people engage in, and for each one, the people who did the activities more — visiting others, going to church, all those things — were more happy,” Dr. Robinson said. “TV was the one activity that showed a negative relationship. Unhappy people did it more, and happy people did it less.”

But the researchers could not tell whether unhappy people watch more television or whether being glued to the set is what makes people unhappy. “I don’t know that turning off the TV will make you more happy,” Dr. Robinson said.

Still, he said, the data show that people who spend the most time watching television are least happy in the long run.

Hmm. I wonder if this is why I've been watching ESPN so often these days?


Nov 20, 2008

Video game review: Civilization Revolution for the Xbox 360

Being a strategy game enthusiast, I was a bit apprehensive when I heard that Civilization was going to be released for video game consoles. After all, these consoles are RPG territory for the most part. Would people have the patience to play for hours on end, build an empire, thrash your enemies and take over the world? Would the game play be quick enough? Would the game be as addictive as it's predecessors on the PC?
Well, it turns out that the game is pretty darn good. It's the only game I've been playing on my Xbox for the past month, and I'm still enjoying it. It's definitely addictive, enjoyable, and provides an attractive and fulfilling experience; the kind of experience that I routinely sought after while playing strategy games on the computer.

The pros are obvious to all but it's the cons that bother me and I'll gloss over those:
  1. Why are the maps so small? Why can't I decide how big or small I want the world to be?
  2. 5 civilizations every single time? Can't I choose the number and which ones?
  3. I should be able to make my own maps.
  4. I prefer longer games, saving it a few times throughout, and that's not possible here
  5. Different civilizations should have unique weapons and tools. Why is everything the same?

Nov 13, 2008

Countries on the brink of failing

Every year, Foreign Policy magazine tabulates a list of countries whose economic and social indicators point towards it being a collapsed or failed nation. I don't subscribe to Foreign Policy anymore, so I was waiting for some other news source to relay the list. Turns out the Economist covered this a few months ago.
Each country is given a score for a dozen political, military, social and economic indicators; the more unstable a country, the higher its total score.
It's so embarrassing to see Pakistan in the bottom 10 when the country has not experienced a major war, famine, or invasion in the past 30+ years. There have been plenty of unfortunate circumstances (earthquakes, Afghan refugees etc) , but her wounds are mostly self inflicted (Kargil, Islamization, the immense brain drain, burgeoning military class, corruption, communal riots etc. ) The list is never ending....

Tracking flu outbreaks through Google

Google's philanthropic division has revealed a tool that predicts flu outbreaks across the United States using search trends. The idea is simple: When people get flu-like symptoms, they use search engines like Google to search for information and cures for these symptoms. They've proven, as it can be assumed, that there is a link between the actual number of people having the flu, and the sheer numbers of searches for flu-like symptoms. Turns out that search engine data can actually predict flu outbreaks up to 2 weeks before the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports it. The NY Times has a great picture showing this trend:
So what does 2 more weeks of knowing about an outbreak give us? Why is it important? From their blog:
For epidemiologists, this is an exciting development, because early detection of a disease outbreak can reduce the number of people affected. If a new strain of influenza virus emerges under certain conditions, a pandemic could emerge and cause millions of deaths (as happened, for example, in 1918). Our up-to-date influenza estimates may enable public health officials and health professionals to better respond to seasonal epidemics and — though we hope never to find out — pandemics.
Here is graph for New Jersey. Looks like we're getting closer to an outbreak... So currently this is limited to the United States, but obviously this can be expanded to other countries as well. It also doesn't have to be limited to the flu. Think of the possibilities: it can be used by health agencies worldwide to prepare for the worst. Apart from the privacy issues, I think its fantastic how collecting search engine data can be used in such a useful way.

Nov 5, 2008

Historic election in the US - Newspaper frontpages

Oct 31, 2008

Top 10 Snake Movies of all time

As a movie buff, and especially a snake movie buff, I owe it to the world to reveal my top 10 Snake movies of all time. These movies have given me so much in return, besides the invaluable knowledge about our reptilian friends, that I feel obligated to honor them in this very special blog post.
So what makes a great snake movie? What makes it stand out? Could it be the crazy unfathomable plot? Perhaps it is the blonde bombshell scientist....with a heart? Or is it the crazy snake that looks like it was made with Sega Genesis graphics? Is it the lack of a coherent story, a satisfying ending, or the utter randomness of events?

Friends. It's all of the above. Here we go!

10 - Anacondas: The hunt for the Blood Orchid
Tagline: The hunters will become the hunted
Good things: Beautiful dialogue, black guy screaming all the time, cocky confidant white guy that gets eaten first, creative plot (they're hunting for some flower which provides the secret to the fountain of youth), diverse Benetton-like/United Nations cast. And a shitload of man eating anacondas!
Bad things: Movie that it took itself too seriously. I don't like that. Everyone is so angry.

9 - Vipers
Tagline: First comes the slither, then comes the slaughter
Good things: If you have a bunch of scientists making some killer vipers in a lab...whats the next best thing that could happen? That's right. The snakes escape and start killing townspeople. Plus having Tara Reid around doesn't hurt.
Bad things: Gives us scientists a bad name. We're not that awkward

7 - Anaconda
Tagline: You can't scream if you can't breathe.
Good things: Ice Cube, Jennifer Lopez, Jon Voight, Owen Wilson
Bad things: Ummm - Does Jon Voight actually think he's going to get an Oscar for this garbage if he tries really hard?

6 - Boa vs Python
Tagline: Two Reptilian Killing Machines Face Off To Fight To The Death-With Humanity As The Prize.
Good things: Oh my goodness! A giant python has escaped! What can we do? Well...I'm no genius but let's send this giant Boa after it!!
Bad things: Too many twists in the story. Can you believe that the python and the boa were of the opposite sex? Couldn't the hottie scientist lady figure that out before. Instead of killing each other, the snakes mate. And guess what? More snakes!

4 - Snakes on a Plane
Tagline: Sit back. Relax. Enjoy the fright.
Good things: Given me more party quotes than Shakespeare
Bad things: Why do snakes like penises so much?

3 - Anaconda III
Tagline: They Can Taste Your Fear
Good things: David Hasselhof
Bad things: David Hasselhof

2 - The Snake King
Tagline: Eternal life is guarded by certain death
Good things: A newly discovered tribe of a hybrid between Aborigines, native Americans, and Italians guard the fountain of youth, which in turn is guarded by a 5 headed snake, who in turn guards something else...I'm not really sure. In 5000 years, this tribe has never encountered anyone. But quick learners of English.
Bad things: So many holes, so many unanswered questions....yet so much potential. Sigh!

1 - Python II
Tagline: The beast is back
Good things: Shows that a sequel can actually get better. But you have mix in a random lesbian scene first...
Bad things: I tried my best. I couldn't find anything wrong. This movie is phenomenal.

Yeah. I've only seen 8. That'll do.

Oct 29, 2008

Average sick days, absenteeism, honest Hungarians and cheating Swedes

For some odd reason, a post in 2006 asking the question, "What is the average number of sicks days per person?", is the most popular post on my blog. I look at my visitor stats once in a while, and for the past couple of years, random people are really interested in 'average sick days'. Anyway, my previous post on this topic was pretty useless and I've been wanting to do some research and update it with some real information and facts. So here goes.
  • In 1996, according to the US Bureu of labor statistics, average paid sick days for small business employees (>70% of the labor force, I think) range from 8-10.9 days depending on the number of years of service.
  • Some people skip work without calling in. That's called absenteeism and the average rate of absenteeism has gone up from 1.9 % in 2003, 2.4% in 2004, 2.3% in 2005 to 2.5% in 2006. The source for this point and the next 3 points comes from CCH INCORPORATED.
  • Absenteeism can cost large companies up to $850,000 a year in lost productivity.
  • If you're happy, you're less likely to skip work. "Companies reporting poor/fair morale have a 2.9 percent absence rate compared to a rate of just 2.2 percent at organizations with good/very good morale."
  • Why are people absent? 35% are sick, 24% have family issues, 18% take time off for personal needs, and the rest are stress (12%), and something called entitlement mentality (11%)
  • A British study shows that smokers take an average of 8 more sick days than non-smokers.
  • People from different countries differ in how honest they are asking for sick leave. A study has shown that the most dishonest people are from Sweden (17.33 days calling in sick when they really weren't), India (15.49), USA ( 3.07), Italy (2.2) and Germany(1.83). Note the disparity between 2nd place and 3rd place.
  • The most honest workers are from Hungary (0.54 days of faked illness a year), Mexico (0.62), Bulgaria (0.67), Turkey (0.73), Belgium (0.93) and South Korea (1.0)

Oct 28, 2008

What are the pebbles underneath train tracks for?

Besides the usual media sources, questions and thoughts from my friends occasionally serve as inspiration for my blog posts. Recently my father brought up a question which has remained on the table for a quite a while now, while I'll now address.

What is the purpose of all those tiny rocks and pebbles that one sees laid underneath railway tracks?

He brought up this question, while my family and I were spending the day in New Hope, PA and happened to come across the historic New Hope train station, shown in the picture below, as we were ambling about. So what are all those rocks for?
In that conversation, I surmised that those crushed rocks were probably there to prevent plants and trees from growing between the tracks, and possibly impeding the path of the train. My dad felt that it had something to do with vibrations, and dampening them while the train moves. The idea is that the vibrations and force from the train on the track, spread across the hundreds of pebbles, leading to less strain on the tracks themselves and thus a smoother ride.

Turns out we're both correct (though his explanation is obviously a lot more clever). A quick glance through the Internet reveals that those pebbles, rocks, etc are called track ballast and according to wikipedia, they are...
...used to facilitate drainage of water, to distribute the load from the railroad ties, and also to keep down vegetation that might interfere with the track structure. This also serves to hold the track in place as the trains roll by.
Some other interested soul on Yahoo Answer's gives a couple of additional advantages to using ballast...
  1. It prevents the rails from moving sideways which would be the natural tendency around most curves - the train would normally push the lines outward and the ballast stops this happening for the most part.
  2. It is an easy way to make a level running surface for trains - special track tamping machines are used to re-pack these ballast rocks around and underneath rails where they have been pushed out by the constant passing and vibration of trains. Much easier than trying to make a completely level track bed on the earth, and cheaper than using concrete beds all the way too.
Right. So now we know...

Oct 26, 2008

Definition of an "Armchair Pakistani"

Pakistan is currently in the midst of financial crisis, with the government close to defaulting on its upcoming debt payments. With the US financial crisis, the elections, and Sarah Palin on my mind, it gets difficult to follow the news of my country. But things are getting progressively worse, with the prices of basic foods increasing daily, security lapses and the quality of life deteriorating with load shedding almost every 2 hours. But what can one do thousands of miles away? Well, if anything, one can be the most annoying of all critics, an "Armchair Pakistani".

Hmm...What does that mean and who are these "Armchair Pakistanis"? Well, for one thing, it certainly doesn't apply to just one country. By all means, apply it to your favorite foreign student whiner, your annoying neighbor or your teaching assistant in school. I know plenty of "Armchair Indians", "Armchair Chinese"...etc.

A simple google search will point you to my friends blog, who wrote about the subject at hand. I certainly cannot express myself as well as him, thus his post is worth revisiting.
I was at a yuppie Paki(stani) dinner recently.

Which means I have recently been subjected to much discussion about the 'state of the nation,' as it were.

Of course, we, as concerned citizens, using a bird's-eye-view from our perch 7,470 miles away, debated most fervently the topics that affect us least. The rights of women, the state of education, recent news bites, how to eradicate feudalism, fundamentalism, and other deep-rooted problems that we are all so qualified to fix.

For the most part, it was intelligent conversation. Granted, it was not only hypothetical but also hypocritical -- what could be more hypocritical than an expatriate teacher complaining about the lack of good teachers in the country? Yet, as far as such things go, it was of a reasonable caliber. Except the one girl who would offer up her views in neat little platitudes, like "women are treated so badly in Pakistan," or "there is so much violence in Pakistan," without any examples or follow-up comments.

Which brings me to my point. Why do people talk when they have nothing to say? Did she think people were going to respond "Oh, what a wonderful point, I hadn't thought of that?" Did she think that she was saying was particularly groundbreaking? I just don't get it.

Much to my delight, however, she, and we all, were chided by an older member of our party, who proclaimed us to be "Armchair Pakistanis," loaded with empty opinions and devoid of meaningful action.

Of course, in the true tautological manner of an Armchair Pakistani, it makes me sad and concerned that there are so many of us. I'm not, however, planning to do anything about it anytime soon. Surely this makes my country weep.
It's laughable how often scenarios like this occur in my life, as it has with my friend. It's not just my generation but older generations too, that preach subjects with no substance. Everyone has a damn opinion, thinks they have the greatest solution, but when push comes to shove, there is no action, no charitable donations, just empty talk.

Are you an "Armchair Pakistani"? Well, you are if you answer 'yes' to any of these questions.

Q - Do write a blog about the state of affairs in Pakistan, constantly updating it with your expert opinion and you haven't visited the country in over 10 years? In fact, even if you visit the country every year, but are happily working in DC or London, never planning to work or live forever in're included too.

Q - Amongst a group of non-Pakistanis do you assume yourself to be a beacon of information when its comes to South Asian affairs? Are your claim to expertise is a degree in Economics and a grandmother in Lahore?

Q - Do you constantly feel the need to defend Pakistan, when really....honestly...besides talking a whole lot, you haven't really made any difference whatsoever on the ground? And you're talking shit?

I feel raising awareness of the issues with blogs, conversations and so forth is admirable, but when one claims to be anything more than an armchair critic of the country, without having done anything for the country, without having a single inclination to do anything for the country in the future, and just talking non stop about it... it's just idiotic. I am an armchair Pakistani myself, but I certainly do not try to use this blog as a source of anything more than humor, sarcasm, and irritation when it comes to Pakistan related talk and certainly not self righteous preaching and complaining. I have done nothing much for my country thus far, so I can't walk the walk.....just yet. I am, however, an armchair Pakistani, so I know am justified in slamming this misguided group that I am part of.

Once you use your own funds to put poor kids back home through school, or use your knowledge and expertise to return to the motherland to work there and pay taxes to that government....then, in my opinion, you can talk. Because only then do you deserve to, and only then will we listen to you, and only then will we respect your opinion. But until that day comes around...shut the **** up.

Everyone's a hypochondriac nowadays

Someone sneezes near me. Uh oh! Does she have a cold? Is it the flu? No...maybe its just the allergies.

Hmm....Maybe it's serious. Did she travel abroad this past month? Let me get away and take a sip of dayquil anyway!

Thoughts like these run through my head whenever someone displays symptoms. I'm a weird chap anyway. My close friends will tell you I'm always thinking up strange scenarios in my head, conjuring up situations, repeating phrases in my head, repeating dialogues and conversations...That's why I murmur so much! But assuming that perhaps someone has some strange ailment, or something contagious around me is something i feel, I'm not alone in thinking.

Diseases are getting harder to tackle, and outbursts are getting more sporadic in random regions of the world. The world itself, is getting smaller. There are businessmen and Paris Hilton types that could be seen on 3 different continents on the same day. Who knows what they are carrying? I believe that we, as humans, are becoming a lot more panic-stricken when it comes to symptoms and health related issues. Even the smallest of symptoms are dealt with in the most therapeutically tough way. We've overloaded our bodies with antibiotics, so much so, that we're born allergic to them. I, for one, was born allergic to penicillin.

A not so recent NYTimes article about the "Epidemic of Diagnoses" caught my eye last year and I've been meaning to highlight it on this blog. The writes bring another angle to this issue by claiming its the fault of the medical community for over-diagnosing us. We have medicines for the oddest of 'illnesses' now. I remember back home, when one couldn't sleep, you'd count sheep or have a glass of milk. Nowadays, you can take a bunch of drugs promising you 8 hours of distraction free sleep. I watch TV late at night sometimes, and I see commercials for the strangest of ailments, restless leg syndrome, unhappiness, poor sex name a few. Call me insensitive, but my cure for these would be to get better shoes, adopt a puppy and find a girlfriend, respectively. According to the article there are 2 main reasons for this:

Two developments accelerate this process. First, advanced technology allows doctors to look really hard for things to be wrong. We can detect trace molecules in the blood. We can direct fiber-optic devices into every orifice. And CT scans, ultrasounds, M.R.I. and PET scans let doctors define subtle structural defects deep inside the body. These technologies make it possible to give a diagnosis to just about everybody: arthritis in people without joint pain, stomach damage in people without heartburn and prostate cancer in over a million people who, but for testing, would have lived as long without being a cancer patient.

Second, the rules are changing. Expert panels constantly expand what constitutes disease: thresholds for diagnosing diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis and obesity have all fallen in the last few years. The criterion for normal cholesterol has dropped multiple times. With these changes, disease can now be diagnosed in more than half the population.

I think this needs to change. We are pumping our bodies full of drugs, for which we're not 100% certain what the side effects are or what the future implications could be. The writers of the NYTimes article recommends the following... I know most of my peers are usually put of with scientific and health related subjects that I write about, but I strongly encourage us to think about this:
As more of us are being told we are sick, fewer of us are being told we are well. People need to think hard about the benefits and risks of increased diagnosis: the fundamental question they face is whether or not to become a patient. And doctors need to remember the value of reassuring people that they are not sick. Perhaps someone should start monitoring a new health metric: the proportion of the population not requiring medical care. And the National Institutes of Health could propose a new goal for medical researchers: reduce the need for medical services, not increase it.

Oct 2, 2008

Why is protein folding so important?

I work in a lab that works, in part, on understanding protein folding and misfolding. I'm not involved in this project, but I still find it fascinating and enjoy talking about it. Being around people who are working on it, is obviously interesting too. Anyway, not everyone in my life, outside of the field understands the complexity of the problem, as the language of scientific discussion can pose a barrier, so I thought I'd break it down as best as I can...

Proteins are essential to life and carry out a multitude of tasks in the body; carry the oxygen you breathe, break down the food you eat, attack antigens that could harm your body etc. Each protein is made up of a specific sequence of amino acids and could range from 10 to 500 amino acids long. Now imagine this: Let's say a protein is 100 amino acids long. Since there are 20 kinds of amino acids, there are 20 choices for every single position on that sequence. Which means that there are 20 choices for the first position, 20 for the next and so on, till all the 100 positions have some amino acid on them. Each amino acid has unique chemical characteristics, ranging from how much it likes water, how many electrons it has, whether it is polar (has a negative and positive charge on it) or not, which give the eventual protein its function. The number of combination's of amino acids to make up a sequence of 100 is a massive number. So much so that my calculator can't figure it out. However, it's fascinating in its own right, how nature and evolution have found 1 specific ideal combination of amino acids for whatever purpose that protein is about.

Anyway, this sequence of specific amino acids now has to fold a specific structure in order to function. In vivo and in vitro, proteins fold on the microsecond timescale or lower. That's crazy. So in a tiny, tiny amount of time, no matter how many times one tries it, this seemingly random sequence of amino acids, fold into a specific structure every single time! Think about it. If you had a thread that was 100 units long, with each unit made up of up to 20 colors, would you be able to fold this thread into a shape within a few microseconds into the same shape every single time?

The picture I have shown above is a cartoon of HIV Protease, a 99 residue long dimer (it is made up of 2 chains), and is an example of a folded protein.

So folding is tough, but why is it important?

Well for one thing, proteins are extremely important for our biological function and it would be great to know exactly how they work. And the protein folding issue was initially considered a theoretical problem but now it has medical implications. When proteins don't fold correctly, or misfold, diseases occur. Alzheimer’s disease, cystic fibrosis, Mad Cow disease and some cancers are caused by misfolded proteins. So in order to therapeutically tackle these diseases, it is important to understand why they occur. As a result, understanding the process of folding, and misfolding, will undoubtedly aid us in our quest to cure these diseases.

Sep 29, 2008

A fishy pedicure

I've never had a pedicure, but this is definitely the kind of pedicure I'd like to try! A salon in Virginia has started using Doctor fish as a treatment option for scaly feet. These toothless fish eat up dead skin and ignore flesh (hopefully) and make the skin softer. These fish have been used in Korea and Turkey to name a few places. I think its a great idea, though the pictures look scary. According to the Telegraph, I'm not alone...

”I know people were a little intimidated at first,” he (the owner, John Ho) told the Associated Press. “But I just said, 'Let's give it a shot.' “


For some ticklish customers, however, the sensation can almost prove too much.

”It didn't go as smoothly as planned,” writes Yvonne customer Maeghan Leigh, describing on her blog how she clutched pillows to stifle her “hysterical laughing”.

”Seriously, those little guys on your toes is the most outrageous ridiculous feeling in the world, meaning lots of “eeeeeeeeeeeeeee” squeals,” she writes. “In the end though, I would definitely go back for more because my tootsies are smoother than a baby's bottom.”

Awesome! Would you try it?

Sep 28, 2008

Birth order and intelligence

A recent discussion with a close friend regarding birth order inspired me to not only get back to my blog, but also do a bit of research regarding this subject. I find birth order, that is, the order in which one is born amongst siblings, to be fascinating. One's birth order has possibly linked to IQ, social skills, and career interests. It makes sense then, that even the birth order of one's spouse plays a role in how successful a union could be. There may not be enough comprehensive data or research done as yet to convince us completely of the role of birth order, but I'm a firm believer that it does it explain some trends and behavioral tendencies. I'll be following up on one's social skills, career paths, and spousal links at a later date, but I'll start with birth order and intelligence.

A Time article last year initially sparked my interest. This article was based on a Norwegian scientific study conducted on 250,000 male soldiers and their IQ test scores. Amongst its many conclusions, the most powerful of which conceded that IQ decreased from the eldest child to the youngest. Though this might not be a surprise to us, as we've all grown up the stereotypes and assumptions of eldest child being the most responsible and clever, while the youngest is the most doted and perhaps not as bright. Nevertheless, as a man of science, it makes it all the more convincing to back up assumptions with scientific evidence.

The Time article explains the reasons for the disparity in intelligence amongst siblings. Is it because of the lack of resources as another child comes along?

While the eldest in an overpopulated brood has it relatively easy—getting 100% of the food the parents have available—things get stretched thinner when a second-born comes along. Later-borns put even more pressure on resources. Over time, everyone might be getting the same rations, but the firstborn still enjoys a caloric head start that might never be overcome.

Food is not the only resource. There's time and attention too and the emotional nourishment they provide. It's not for nothing that family scrapbooks are usually stuffed with pictures and report cards of the firstborn and successively fewer of the later-borns—and the later-borns notice it. Educational opportunities can be unevenly shared too, particularly in families that can afford the tuition bills of only one child. Catherine Salmon, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Redlands in Redlands, Calif., laments that even today she finds it hard to collect enough subjects for birth-order studies from the student body alone, since the campus population is typically overweighted with eldest sibs. "Families invest a lot in the firstborn," she says.

The trends exist. In fact, tons of websites exist talking about birth order and some very obvious observations. The reasons for the IQ drop amongst siblings are also discussed in the TIME article which is definitely worth reading. If you're the eldest, then you're more likely to struggle through and try and figure out solutions to problems, whether it be Lego, or dealing with parents. The younger children on the other hand, already solutions at hand from observing the elders, and they are more likely to follow the lead. As a result their problem solving skills are weaker. It's not just following the lead, but younger children are constantly challenging elder ones throughout both their developmental years. This is because, apart from the parents, eldest children play important roles in answering their siblings questions and dealing with their curiosities. Since they play these 'teaching' roles, their IQ develops. Whatever, the case may be, birth order is very interesting and its no wonder that people read into birth order as religiously as they read into horoscopes for example.

Oh, and if anyone is wondering, I am the eldest of two siblings...

Feb 20, 2008

Valentines Day is for the 'ugly' ones amongst us

Amusing post by my friend that concludes, quite conclusively, what most of us suspected all along....
An excerpt is called for...
If you are good looking and male in love with someone hot and female

Since you think you are really hot, you are probably really stupid. This means you will give hot girl something stupid and unoriginal like flowers and candy. Given that hot girl will probably have many suitors, competition will be high and you will be forced to spend more and more to make an impact. This will make you bankrupt and homeless. You will spend the rest of your life being the weird homeless guy who doesn’t feel the need to wear pants.

Feb 19, 2008

Definitive Statement on Education

Education Level | What you think | How you act    | What you learn
| you know | |
Grade School | How to have | Try to have | How to behave
| fun | fun |
High School | everything | Like you know | How to learn
| | everything |
College | just about | Like you know | That there are
| everything | quite a lot | things you
| | | don't know
Graduate School | some things | Like you know | That you
(Masters) | | a lot | really don't
| | | know much
Graduate School | NOTHING | Like you don't | How huge and
(PhD) | | want people to | vast an amount
| | know that you | you really
| | know nothing | don't know

The way Pakistani elections really work...

From an email forwarded to me by my brother. The writer of this email is a friend of a friend. Not really sure where its been posted originally, but most of the Pakistani blogs seem to have it up.

Sad state of affairs....
The dhandli I witnessed in the five minutes it took me to cast my first Pakistani vote was beyond even what a cynical person like myself could have imagined. I laughed in the face of its blatant-ness and had many who joined in, albeit, for entirely different reasons.

As we walked in, my NIC number was recorded on the left stub of my vote, and I was handed a sheet that had already been torn out from the book, so the vote I cast wasn't the one that corresponded with my NIC number. I don't know if that matters, but when I asked about the discrepancy, I was told it did not.

Then came the coercion (in a slightly intimidating way, if that makes any sense) to stamp the 'Patang'. The woman voting before us, asked where she could vote? She was told, 'right here on the table', but she asked for privacy and was shown the flimsy cardboard screen.

I received a white vote for the provincial asssembly and a green for the national. While I waited my turn I saw one of the two women (who had made themselves comfortable enough in the room) get up and proceeded to stamp four white ballot papers in quick succession, before adding them in to the transparent ballot box for the provincial assembly. Her associate then did the same. I gaped in complete disbelief, and asked who the votes were from, and the presiding officer who was seated right in front of the ballot box, laughed and said, 'yeh votes Allah ki tarf say hain' [These votes are from Allah.]. Outraged by the unabashed dhandli, I asked why I had bothered to come and vote.

The ballot paper itself was disappointing because it didn't leave the vote confidential, the stamp showed right through the paper!! So the extremely biased polling agents and presiding officers knew our vote, and yes only one party seemed to be represented. I was leaving in disgust after I voted when they asked me to have my thumb marked, and one of the presiding officer cheekily remarked, 'Iin ko mat lagao, yeh tow wapas aa kar vote karain gee', ['Don't mark her thumb, she'll be back to vote again.']

I left saying 'nahin, aap daal deyna mairee taraf say'. ['No, you are welcome to vote on my behalf']

So, even though I am no political analyst or soothsayer, I can tell you that the 'Patang' will win in my constituency.

Feb 15, 2008

Forget the gym - I have my six-pack right here

That's right! Well almost....

A recent study by a Danish group has found that the benefits of alcohol and exercise are comparable, when weighed against the risks of heart disease. This study was highlighted in a recent Time article which caught my eye. In their words...
People who don't drink at all and don't exercise had the highest risk of heart disease. People who drink moderately and exercise had a 50% lower risk. Teetotaling exercisers had a 30% decreased risk, as did moderately drinking couch potatoes. "There's an additional protective effect to doing both," says Gronbaek. "That's the new finding."
Who said research isn't inspiring?

Feb 14, 2008

Happy Valentines Day!

Thanks Erhan....

Feb 2, 2008

Bud Light Sausage Commercial

This commercial is hilarious! I think I saw it between the Green Bay - Giants game. Haven't seen it too much after though. Sucks!