Science contribution

Wii Bit of Fun at Rice University Has Serious Intent
Rice University (12/09/08)

A Rice University research project is using the Nintendo Wii video game console to codify learning systems for use in a variety of human activities. Rice professors Marcia O’Malley and Michael Byrne have received a three-year National Science Foundation grant to measure the motions of people performing tasks such as playing paddleball or flying a fighter jet using the accelerometer contained in the Wii’s Wiimote controller.

The research builds on previous work by O’Malley, the director of Rice’s Mechatronics and Haptic Interfaces Laboratory, which used robots to treat stroke victims as part of a study to map how people learn physical tasks.

“We’re already grabbing motion data from the Wiimote,” O’Malley says, “so soon we’ll be able to measure a range of motion and then turn it into a mathematical model.”

The goal is to unite virtual reality and robotics in such a way that it allows people to absorb information through the repetition of motor pathways. The research into “cognitive modeling of human motor skill acquisition” will focus on three types of learners–experts who learn slowly but achieve their goals, novices who learn slowly and may never reach proficiency, and those who are somewhere in the middle of training and suddenly excel at the task.


I think this means that I’m making a contribution to Science when I bowl now.

On religion

Different religions.  The only time it’s an issue would be if you’re having a baby, you have to figure out how you want to raise your baby, which still would not be an issue for us.  Because you know, we’d just be honest, and say, “Mommy is one of the chosen people, and Daddy believes that Jesus is magic.
–Sarah Silverman


Man, I should have made some WooHoo noises on that last UWOD I posted.  It was my 1000th for this blog.  Seems like a lot, doesn’t it?

Good news from the home front

I am so happy for Andrew!  He’s been working for this place he likes a lot, doing tech consulting, supporting the City offices.  This means his company does the desktop support for the mayor’s office and the various other offices in that little area.  It’s a good job, and he likes it and likes the people very much, but they were only paying him $13/hour.  He’s an “intern” at 30 hours/week and going to school for his IT degree.  Underpaid for sure.

He saw a job opening for another place and applied, and had to go through a bunch of fingerprinting malarky because the workplace was actually an offshoot of the state.  He thought they were not nearly as fun and nice, but they were offering $18-$23 an hour, which is a nice bump up.

Two months later after MUCH back and forthing, they offered him the job at $18.20/hour.  He decided to take it, even though he doesn’t like them quite as much.  The money was too good to pass up.  So he wrote his letter of  resignation and gave it to his current boss this morning, and she promptly offered him $20/hour to stay.  $7/hr raise, people.  And offered to take him on full time as soon as he gets his degree.  YAY!!!   She knew what she had.  Smart lady!  He’s one of those rare and talented geeks who can talk to people, not just machines, and be completely social and nice.  And who also shows up for work every single day.  And bathes regularly.  And picks things up so fast it makes your head spin.

Happy days!


December 12: come to jesus

Originally an emotional experience that is life changing, it has evolved to mean a serious argument, one that better result in a change of action or else.

ex.: My husband and I are going to have a “come to jesus” over this remodeling job.

I’m going to have a “come to jesus” with that kid about his drinking and partying.

Cool beds and Richard Thompson

I was surprised by how many of them I liked.  Top ranking were the Sampon Day Bed, Private Cloud rocking bed, and the Terminal 1 daybed.  Also the Tree Bed.


I went to a trade show yesterday that was meant for meeting planners.  I ended up with two bags full (bah, bah black sheep!) of the greatest tradeshow swag.  Work bought the ticket to get in or I would have never gone.  Would that I was drinking right now …. much free wine, champagne and other varieties of booze flowing.  And food.  Seriously, they had mugs, paper, pens, 1GB flash drives, flashlights, mouse pads, t-shirts, hats, candy, almonds, manicure kits – all sorts of things you might not expect.  My favorite was a little (1 cup) package of heirloom pinquito beans with a packet of Santa Maria seasoning with them.  So cute!  So useful and nice!  I know, it’s just beans, but I liked it.

I threw everything out on the table for sorting purposes and then packed most of it into boxes for two of my nieces.  Lucky them!   I already have enough junk in my house as I have a little packrat-itis going on, inherited from my grandma, I think.

“Simplify!” I say, as I find one more piece of stuff I think I need to keep.


We saw Richard Thompson at the Sierra Nevada Brewery in Chico on Tuesday night.  We were in the front row, center table.  RT was about 8 feet in front of us.   It was one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to – he was so intense and energetic and SUCH a fecking good guitar player.  His vocals were rich and intense.   It was marvelous to be so close and watch his hands and face and body while we were listening.  He writes great, great songs.  I didn’t know he wrote Persuasion, one of the ATF songs that my heroes the Finn brothers recorded. I didn’t know he wrote Wall of Death that R.E.M. recorded.

He did that song I linked to earlier when I wrote about this concert – Dad’s Gonna Kill Me – about the war in Iraq.  If you listen again, here’s the army-speak key:  Dad is Baghdad.  Ali-Baba is any native of Iraq.  Frankenstein is a humvee they’ve welded a metal skirt to for protection, muzzle monkey is any infantryman.  The version he did on stage was WAY better than this calm version that I’ve linked to.

He got so much music out of his guitar that it was just unbelievable.  So, so good.  I had no idea.  If I was a few years younger I might be following him around on tour trying to convince him to f*ck me.

Some bands/musicians are better on CDs so that the production values can be enhanced.  Some bands/musicians really shine when they’re live and getting audience feedback.  Richard Thompson is one of the latter – his CDs are very good but Sweet JEEBUS he rocked my world in person Tuesday night.

As if getting old weren’t enough

By Carla K. Johnson
Associated Press

CHICAGO – Older people who are depressed are much more likely to develop a dangerous type of internal body fat – the kind that can lead to diabetes and heart disease – than people who are not depressed, a disturbing new study found.

The connection goes beyond obesity and suggests some biological link between a person’s mental state and fat that collects around the internal organs, scientists said.

“For the depressed public, it should be another reason to take one’s symptoms seriously and look for treatment,” said study co-author Stephen Kritchevsky, director of the Sticht Center on Aging at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C.

People with depression were twice as likely as others to gain visceral fat – the kind that surrounds internal organs and often shows up as belly fat. It raises the risk for heart disease and diabetes.

Previous research has linked depression with those same health problems. Some researchers believe depression triggers high levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which promotes visceral fat. The cortisol connection may explain the findings, Kritchevsky said.

The research, published in Monday’s Archives of General Psychiatry, is the first large study to track people over time to see if those with depression were more likely to gain weight. Mostly federally funded, the study used data from 2,088 people in the ongoing Health, Aging and Body Composition study. That project is following healthy older Americans to find out how changes in bone, fat and lean body mass affect health.

The participants, all in their 70s, were recruited in and around Memphis and Pittsburgh in 1997 and 1998 and were followed for five years. Researchers screened for symptoms of depression at the start of the study and again at four follow-up visits.

They measured visceral fat with CT scans. They calculated body mass index, body fat percentage, waist size and the distance between the back and the biggest part of the belly.

There were 84 people with depression symptoms at the start of the study. They gained, on average, 9 square centimeters of visceral fat. In contrast, the 2,004 people who weren’t depressed lost visceral fat – on average, 7 square centimeters.

That variation “could mean the difference between developing a cardiovascular disease or not,” said lead author Nicole Vogelzangs of VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, in an e-mail.

Both groups, depressed and nondepressed, were overweight on average at the start of the study, with approximately the same average body mass index. When the researchers took into account other risk factors for obesity, including the depressed group’s higher visceral fat levels in the beginning, they still found a connection between depression and visceral fat gain.

They also found a similar link to visceral fat gain in people with recurring depression over the years. Adjusting for antidepressant use didn’t change the findings either.

Researchers didn’t make adjustments for poor eating habits, but they found no link between depression and BMI or body fat percentage.

“Since such an increase in overall obesity was not clearly found, we believe a biological explanation is more likely” than poor diet, Vogelzangs said.

The researchers did find hints of a depression link with waist circumference and the back-to-belly measurement – two other gauges of visceral fat.

That suggests depression has a specific tie with fat gained around the organs in the abdomen. The good news is visceral fat is easier to lose than subcutaneous fat, Kritchevsky said.

Dr. David Baron of Philadelphia’s Temple University School of Medicine praised the study, although he wanted to know more about the participants’ family history of obesity. The connection between brain and body makes sense, he said.

“Depression is a physical illness,” Baron said. “Maybe we should be even more aggressive in treating depression in this age group, whether through medication or talk therapy.”

More good news about malware

Thieves Winning Online War, Maybe Even in Your Computer
New York Times (12/06/08) P. A1; Markoff, John

Malware continues to overcome security professionals’ efforts to defend against it. “Right now the bad guys are improving more quickly than the good guys,” says SRI International’s Patrick Lincoln.

As businesses and individuals become increasingly involved in online communities, cybercriminals are given more opportunities to infect machines and commit crimes. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe estimates that credit card thefts, bank fraud, and other online scams rob computer users of $100 billion annually. In late October, the RSA FraudAction Research Lab discovered a cache of 500,000 credit-card numbers and bank account log-ins that were stolen by a network of zombie computers run by an online gang.

“Modern worms are stealthier and they are professionally written,” says British Telecom chief security technology officer Bruce Schneier. “The criminals have gone upmarket, and they’re organized and international because there is real money to be made.”

Meanwhile, malicious programs are becoming increasingly sophisticated, with some programs searching for the most recent documents on the assumption that they are the most valuable and others stealing log-in and password information for consumer finances.

Microsoft researchers recently discovered malware that runs Windows Update after it infects a machine to ensure the machine is protected from other pieces of malware. Purdue University computer scientist Eugene Spafford is concerned that companies will cut back on computer security to save money.

“In many respects, we are probably worse off than we were 20 years ago,” he says, “because all of the money has been devoted to patching the current problem rather than investing in the redesign of our infrastructure.”

amen to that last paragraph.  Go Mr. Obama, Go!