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