Sunday, June 18, 2006

Analyze This

Years ago, tobacco companies started claiming a pretty interesting theory on why smoking does not cause lung cancer. They claimed that the desire to smoke is genetic and the same gene is also responsible for lung cancer; thus cigarettes are really innocent and the smokers who get lung cancer are equally susceptible even without smoking. Of course, they were wrong. Nice try.

But this kind of cause and effect pattern actually does occurs. For example, there is a correlation between criminal activity and the mothers of the eventual criminal smoking during pregnancy. Now, it's possible that smoking during pregnancy somehow damages the brain of the child in a way that helps the child grow into a criminal. But it's also plausible that the kids turn into criminals for the same reasons that pushed their mothers to start smoking.

In general, alarms go off in my ahead when I read correlation as the justification for cause and effect. This is why I had a really hard time with social sciences. These sciences simply conduct experiments to find correlation between different variables, and simply assume that one variable causes the other.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

World Cup in ASCII art

I've been enjoying the World Cup so far. Today another googler showed me a service that shows the games live in ascii art!

Visit or even better just telnet 2006 during a game.

The quality is amazing for the technology. You can even make out the numbers.

You can also watch star wars in ascii art.

Picasa Web Albums and Spreadsheet

Picasa launched web albums this week. The integration between Picasa and the web site is really nice and it's so easy to upload pictures. I love it.

Here are my pictures (mostly from Spain, but I'll post more later).

In other news, Google also launched online spreadsheets. It makes it so much easier to share a spreadsheet and make multiple people work on it at the same time.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Joga Bonita!

The FIFA World Cup is starting this Friday. I'm so excited. There are lots of great teams and players.

The first world cup that I really followed was back in 1986 when I was in fifth grade. It turns out that the 86 world cup was really the best world cup since 1970. Only 24 teams (instead of the current 32) were in the tournament. So the overall quality was better. Even the final match was very exciting -- with 3 goals in the last 16 minutes. What drama!

1990 and 1994 left me really sad as the Azzurri lost in the semis and then in the finals on penalty kicks. Things were so bad that I couldn't really get into France 98 (where Italy lost again on penalty kicks in the quarter finals!). 2002 was a lot of fun at the start until Italy lost in last minute of the extra time to South Korea (at least no penalty kicks). I wish I was a little older to remember the glorious 1982!

I'm not sure who will win this time. But it will be very exciting. I do wish that Team Melli had not peaked last year with their all-time high FIFA world ranking of 15. And a better draw would have helped them. Joga Bonita!

Sunday, June 04, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth

I went to see the new movie by Al Gore called An Inconvenient Truth which is a documentary about the destruction of the environment -- mainly focusing on global warming. I thought it was nicely made (even funny at times) and raised a lot of awareness. I highly recommend it. It was also pretty scientific (like a good Nova show). The summary is that we're already in deep trouble. The earth's temperature is increasing. And this has a domino effect on the ecology of earth. For proof, look at the pictures I took from Greenland (you can see cracks in 3 of them).

And with over $1T of oil left in the world, energy companies don't want to see the adaptation of better energy sources. About 50% of media references to global warming somehow question the level of fear that scientists are showing. But no scientific jounral in the past 30 years has questioned the facts. Countless studies have shown that the current trend is simply too dangerous.

Some sad facts:
  • 10 of the hottest years ever on earth have been the past 14. Increase in temperature raises sea levels, increases winds (2005 had the highest number of hurricanes and tornadoes worldwide), changes the gulf streams, and drys land (partly causing the famine in Africa)
  • A 20 feet increase in sea levels means that most of SF and the peninsula will be under water. There goes the Noe, Palo Alto, Googleplex, and Stanford. Most of Shanghai, Beijing, and Calcutta will also go under water. That's over 100M people!
  • US has lower standards for gas emissions than Europe and China! This is a disgrace.
  • California passed a law to increase the gas emission standard by 2010 to match today's standard in China. But our friends in Michigan are suing the state for trying to take the lead!
  • I was surprised to meet a few people this week who didn't know that the imports of Japanese hybrids in the US are restricted to protect our friends in Michigan. GM and Ford are so doomed in my opinion because their cars are simply crappy compared to their European and Japanese peers. I hate lobbyists -- government should be "by the people and for the people" and not "for the corporations". I don't think this policy will protect American jobs in the long-term.
  • Despite the US never signing the Kyoto Protocol, 10 states and 187 cities in the US are following the protocol. I love it!
  • This is so evil: Philip A. Cooney, the former White House staff member who repeatedly revised government scientific reports on global warming, will go to work for Exxon Mobil this fall. (NY times article)
Gore was a lot more charismatic in the movie than in the 2000 debates. Sadly, it's too late. I really liked Gore. He is a smart guy. Urrgh... Florida!

I have a couple of personal take aways from the movie. But on a funny note, I will never order beer that's in bottle again. By ordering beer from tap, one can save the environment one bottle at a time. Imagine if everyone did that! But seriously, go watch the movie.