Thursday, November 08, 2012

Boosting Brainpower Without the Carbs

I'm a low-carb guy, thanks to my buddy Dave Asprey, who assures me of its benefits.  But one of the things that's worried me about the diet is the role of glucose in willpower.

Baumeister's work seemed to indicate that exercising executive function depletes levels of blood glucose--the famous example of Israeli parole boards comes to mind.  Simply drinking a sugary soda seemed to restore the executive function.

But for someone dedicated to the low-carb lifestyle, the thought of chugging a Sprite is anathema.  Even an orange juice seems like a remarkable indulgence.

Fortunately, it turns out that the brain is even stranger than we think.  It's not the sugar in the's the mere taste of sugar that restores our brainpower:
Crucially, half the participants completed the Stroop challenge while gargling sugary lemonade, the others while gargling lemonade sweetened artificially with Splenda. The participants who gargled, but did not swallow, the sugary (i.e. glucose-containing) lemonade performed much better on the Stroop task.

The participants in the glucose condition didn't consume the glucose and even if they had, there was no time for it to be metabolised. So this effect can't be about restoring low glucose levels. Rather, Sanders' team think glucose binds to receptors in the mouth, which has the effect of activating brain regions involved in reward and self-control - the anterior cingulate cortex and striatum.
 In other words, I can chug all the soda I want, as long as I spit it out.  Now if we could only do something about the cavities that would result....

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Change is the friend of the new

I was listening to the Longform podcast interview with Janet Reitman.

In the interview, Reitman talks about how in the world of journalism, there are journalists that everyone knows are past their prime. Yet because of their popularity and reputation, they continue to get the plum assignments and (unintentionally) block the path of the young journalists behind them.

This accounts for some of what we often view as gender bias in the workplace--the old boy's club is full of old boys, because that's who was allowed in during the 1950s.

There's a valuable lesson to be learned--if you want to advance, and you don't qualify for the old boy's club (perhaps because you're not a boy!), find a field where change is happening.

When change upends an industry, it creates an opportunity for new winners to emerge, since the power of incumbency is reduced or even reversed.

This factor is behind Silicon Valley's belief that it is a meritocracy. The irony of course, is that any meritocracy in Silicon Valley springs from the pace of change, not the people who believe themselves unbiased.

Every generation of Silicon Valley believes in meritocracy, but then recruits people based on similarity. 30 years ago, it was young white men from Stanford. Today, it's young white and Asian men from Stanford.

But the constant change wrought by technological advance doesn't play favorites. It scrambles the playing field in ways that often penalize incumbents.

3 Fox News Stats That Doom the Republican Party (as we know it)

In the wake of Barack Obama's victory in the presidential election, as well as the Republican Party's weak showing in the Senate races (largely due to self-inflicted candidates), it would serve the party's leaders well to consider a number of statistics which I got from Fox News, of all places:

Regardless of how one feels about Fox News' "fair and balanced" approach to news, I think it's safe to say that it is one outlet that is unlikely to present poll results that are biased against the Republican Party.

The statistics that caught my eye centered on demograhics:

Non-whites made up 28 percent of the electorate, up a bit from 27 percent in 2008.  This group largely backed Obama:  71 percent of Hispanics (it was 67 percent last time), and 93 percent of blacks (down a touch from 95 percent).

Republican challenger Mitt Romney won among white voters by 20 percentage points.  That’s up from John McCain’s edge of +12 points in 2008.  In addition, the share of votes cast by whites was lower (72 percent) than it has been going back to at least 1992. 
The Republican Party is winning by a landslide among white voters...and it's not enough.  White voters set an all time low in the percentage of voters, and given demographics, that number is only going to keep heading down.

Meanwhile, despite a generally better election performance by Romney than McCain, Romney somehow managed to do even worse among Hispanics.  Guess which population group is the fastest growing?

Meanwhile, age also played a major role:
Young voters were important to giving Obama his first term.  Voters under age 30 showed up again this time:  They represented 19 percent of all voters, one point higher than the 18 percent in 2008.  Even so, they didn’t back him as strongly this time: 60 percent -- down six points.
Seniors backed Romney by 56-44 percent, mostly unchanged from 2008.
As one article I read noted, every four years, a new cohort of young voters replaces the older voters who died during the intervening years.  It's impressive that Mitt maintained his party's strength among seniors, but the passage of years is likely to reduce that group's relative conservatism.

And then there's gender:
Women, a traditional Democratic voting group, backed Obama by 11 points -- about the same as by 13 points in 2008. Even so, married women backed Romney by 7 points (an improvement from McCain’s +3 showing).
Men backed Romney (52-45 percent), and married men backed him by an even wider margin (60-38 percent).
The good news for the Republicans is that they have the support of married men and women.  The bad news?  Guess what, yet another group whose numbers are in decline.

So to sum up: The Republican Party is strong among groups that are on the decline or dying.  In four years, the country will be browner, seniors will be more liberal, and there will probably be even fewer married couples.

If an entrepreneur or CEO came to me and said, "My marketing is going to appeal to shrinking demographic groups, while alienating growing ones," I'd fire them immediately.  What does that tell you about the leadership of the Republican Party?

Sunday, November 04, 2012

bukowski on writing

so you want to be a writer
if it doesn't come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don't do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don't do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
searching for words,
don't do it.
if you're doing it for money or
don't do it.
if you're doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don't do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don't do it.
if it's hard work just thinking about doing it,
don't do it.
if you're trying to write like somebody else,
forget about it.
if you have to wait for it to roar out of you,
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.
if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you're not ready.
don't be like so many writers,
don't be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don't be dull and boring and
pretentious, don't be consumed with self-love.
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to sleep
over your kind.
don't add to that.
don't do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don't do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don't do it.
when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.
there is no other way.
and there never was.

(H/T Brain Pickings)

When people ask me, how can you tell if someone is a writer, I answer simply, "They write."  Everything else is window dressing.