Thursday, May 17, 2007

Oh Baby!

A bunch of news outlets were recently publishing reports of a study that linked month of conception to a child's IQ. The researchers figured out that the kids conceived in June through August did the most poorly on standardized tests. Although I haven't read the original article, every report I've seen says that pesticide exposure at the time of conception is at fault - the idea pesticide use is typically high in the summer

And, you know, I'm willing to buy that the first three months in utero are pretty critical to a child's neurological development.

But presumably, they just did this by using the kids' birthdays, which would have also been linked to the test scores. So basically, they just have good correlation between date of birth and IQ. I mean, nobody found a way to measure their actual exposure to pesticides in utero, did they?

What I'm getting at, is why did they pick pesticide exposure at conception? It seems like there could be other good correlates: what about pesticide exposure at birth? Or allergen exposure at birth. After all, working backwards, these kids would have been born in March-May: springtime! Don't people get exposed to all sorts of weirdo chemicals as they prepare their gardens? Moms could easily transfer that stuff to their kids. Or maybe the kids are being exposed to pesticides in breast milk during their first summer.

Or maybe it's something else altogether: people alter all sorts of behaviours in the summer. Maybe they eat different stuff. Maybe they're exposed to more smog. Maybe the heat causes stress hormones to be released into the circulation of Moms-to-be.

Who knows? Maybe I need to read the original paper... but for the moment I'm not convinced.

Image from Petteri Sulonen and licensed under cc-by-2.0

Monday, May 07, 2007

Enviro Feature

My sister just sent me prtty much the most awesome gift she's ever picked out.

It's a messenger bag made out of a movie billboard! It's a NEW product made by a company called ecoist - I've actually linked to them before, although I didn't realize it until I went to their website to see what they were all about.

The billboards are made of thick vinyl - it seems crazy for something that's so impermanent but they're intended for outdoor display and I guess they're designed to look good from the nearby highway in all kinds of weather. The typical lifespan of one of these oversize posters is the run of a movie - after which they they're taken down and landfilled. At least they used to be - now at least some of them are being turned into waterproof totes and bags. Mine has all sorts of pockets - perfect for me, who can already never find my cellphone when it's ringing - as well as a variety of nifty clips and zips.

My personal bag doesn't look like any of the ones on the website - the beauty of this product is that it changes as new movies come out and old posters are used up.

'Course, now I have to go and see a film called "Open Season" to find out who owns the cartoon face featured on my new tote.

Friday, April 20, 2007

probability.earthquake <- probability of coding success?

Over the past couple of weeks I've been learning how to use a new program called Splus. Well, actually, I mostly feel like I'm bashing my head against concrete. It's a statistical software package and I'm trying to code up some nice analyses. Which would be fine if I had any coding skills. I have to say that the help files are spectacularly unhelpful to a beginner.

Anyway, because I'm all new at this Splus thing, I've been reading the "useful tips" that pop up each time I start a new session.

Today's tip said:

"When an earthquake strikes, take cover under a desk or doorway. Try to avoid areas near windows or heavy objects that might topple, and above all, do not panic".

This seems like odd advice to include with a statistical software package. I can only conclude that I'll just feel like there's an earthquake happening in the event that I actually ever get some useful code together.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Media savvy

Erm, so if you pop a few pills your probability of dying is 75%???
And we thought we had an ageing population NOW.

Must confess: I got this from planet procrastination

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

I'm a little green with this laptop...

As part of my new job where I actually get paid to do research, I am using a brand new laptop. We are just getting to know each other, and let's just say - there have been a few hiccups along the way.

The main problem is that it is not too sociable. It likes to sleep. That's fine; I like to sleep too after I've been awake for a certain amount of time. But when I wake up the laptop, half of the services stay sleeping. Including the server, internet, and firewall. It's kind of like if I got out of bed and then went and lay on the couch for the rest of the day.

The only solution seemed to be restarting the computer. So I was shutting it down every time I woke it up, which seems ... uh ... a bit counterproductive...

Anyway. We're moving past that little dilemma now and 'lil Lenovo and I are getting along just fine.

Yup, it's a Lenovo. And although I had nothing whatsoever to do with picking it out, I am happy to announce that Lenovo just topped an environmental ranking of electronics firms.

According to Greenpeace, the firm guarantees that it will take back and recycle any obsolete or nonfunctional piece of equipment that bears the Lenovo name. And let me just say that I love that it's a Chinese company leading the way.

Sadly, Lenovo products may still contains a few toxic ingredients - like brominated fire retardants, polyvinyl chloride, beryllium, and pthalates. Yummy. Hopefully it will soon get those outta there.

Apple, the funky-hip-gotta-have-an-iAnything company that everyone seems to love pretty much sucked on this ranking. They got 2.7 out of 10.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Roots loses contact with planet earth.

A couple of weekends ago I was in the Eaton Centre when I was accosted by a young woman at the entryway to the Roots store. Spying our Gore-tex jackets and hiking boots, she correctly surmised that we might be "outdoorsy" types.

She wanted to sell us on this "great new product" that would help us on our hiking trips.

Air in a can. Yup, Roots is willing to sell us a can of 90% oxygen for the low-low price of $60. And once you use it all up, do not fret! It can be refilled for a mere $20!

According to Roots, flipping the little plastic nose cover up, bringing the cannister close to your face and spritzing while inhaling promotes mental alertness, relieves stress, increases energy and ability to concentrate.


Uh, I have so many problems with this.

First - you have eviednce from what epidemiological/clinical studies exactly?

Second - My lungs are perfectly adapted to extract the amount of oxygen I need from the atmosphere thankyouverymuch.

Third - pure oxygen could damage my efficient little alveoli (the bits of my lungs that take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide). The atmosphere is actually made up mostly of nitrogen (not oxygen!) - it's only 20% oxygen. It's well-established that breathing 50-100% oxygen over a prolonged period of time causes lung damage. In fact, there are lung diseases where scarring occurs because of the presence of highly reactive oxygen radicals that are created when the lungs get all inflamed. Yuck. is this cannister of 90% oxygen going to come with a warning label?

Fourth - $60 for something I can (continuously) get for free? You've GOT to be kidding me.

Fifth. Oh and so I'm going to lug this on the hiking trail with me?! Who did the focus groups with the outdoorsy people, I wonder? They didn't manage to figure out that most of us would want to reduce the weight we carry, that we're out there for the challenge and not a quick fix, that creating more "stuff" to send to landfill is unlikely to be our cup of tea.

Sixth - the salesgirl said "wouldn't it be better than breathing in that polluted air outside?" Aside from the fact I'd rather spend my $60 on reducing the amount of emissions I'm responsible for - is she suggesting I just attach this permanently to my nose? (besides, see #3) It's pretty hard to get away from outdoor or indoor pollution in Toronto and please tell me that they aren't really marketing this as a healthy alternative to our dirty air when the energy required to create and fill the cannisters probably caused some of the pollution?

Seventh -
You know how athletes train at high altitude so that they can run faster? That's because there's less oxygen up there, so they are forcing their bodies to make more efficient use of the oxygen they do breathe. Which makes me wonder if overuse of Roots' new product could actually dampen the ability of your blood cells to transport oxygen around your body.

Eigth - are they trying to commodify air? I mean talk about tragedy of the commons. I think the most tragic thing would be that the commons ends up all owned and no longer common. (I'm not even going to get into bottled water here, people. But you can guess what I think of that). I refuse to even think about how someone could own my air.

Ninth - talk about a completely transparent attempt to sell me something, anything, for profit. Roots can take that attitude and shove it.

And ten: I leave this spot and all the numbers that come after ten open - for anyone who would like to add a thought.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

I heart HP

I was recently super-impressed with HP. I bought a new laserjet printer to save my sanity while printing all those copies of my thesis. Then, because I had printed so many pages (sorry, trees!), the toner cartridge ran out. ...and may I just say that it ran out well after I expected it to, given the amount of printing I did.

And THEN - when I opened the box for the new cartridge, I discovered that it is SO EASY to recycle the old one. They provide you with a postage-paid mailing label, and you just stick your old cartridge into the now one's box. Which is perfectly designed to fold closed again without even needing tape.

And the whole thing even fit in a regular mailbox. Whooppee! I love it when recycling is easy.