Thursday, May 17, 2007

The limits of DNA testing

Suppose that police pick up a suspect and match his or her DNA to evidence collected at a crime scene. Suppose that the likelihood of a match, purely by chance, is only 1 in 10,000. Is this also the chance that they are innocent? It’s easy to make this leap, but you shouldn’t.

Here’s why. Suppose the city in which the person lives has 500,000 adult inhabitants. Given the 1 in 10,000 likelihood of a random DNA match, you’d expect that about 50 people in the city would have DNA that also matches the sample. So the suspect is only 1 of 50 people who could have been at the crime scene. Based on the DNA evidence only, the person is almost certainly innocent, not certainly guilty.
--Mark Buchanan, NYT, on the prosecutor's fallacy

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Indy 4!

Some star power is coming to downtown New Haven, where scenes are scheduled to be filmed next month for a sequel to the popular "Indiana Jones" movie series.

A spokesman for director Steven Spielberg confirmed Monday that the fourth installment of the action series will include a car chase set to be filmed on Chapel Street between College and High streets.
--Associated Press on star power coming to New Haven

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The necessity of a costly signal

As the rest of women’s bodies recede in spring fashions, the clavicles, or collarbones, and the upper chest between them, is rising to prominence. Toned shoppers who want to show off their self-discipline in the face of dessert are choosing dresses with a low, but not plunging neckline, a look that is transforming the area above the breasts into an unlikely new subject for women to obsess over...

Why the new emphasis on a body part most women — and more men — have paid little attention to in the past? ...

...Prominent clavicles can be a signifier of skinniness. Sharply outlined collarbones say “Don’t let this tent dress fool you: Underneath it all, this girl can fit into a sample size.”

It is also an area whose prominence is unlikely to be enhanced surgically (at least for now).
--Kara Jesella, NYT, on the continued search for costly separating signals of quality

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Going to the sun to learn about cold

Asked about his decision to join [the hedge fund] Fortress as a senior adviser in 2005, [John] Edwards told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he did it “mainly in order to learn about the relationships between financial markets and poverty.”
--DealBook, NYT, on where John Edwards goes for lessons about poverty

it's like saying, “i went to the sun to learn about cold!!”
--Comment posted by a DealBook reader

Sweet and sour

Those pickles were once mere dills. They were once green. Their exteriors remain pebbly, a reminder that long ago they began their lives on a farm, on the ground, as cucumbers.

But they now have an arresting color that combines green and garnet, and a bracing sour-sweet taste that they owe to a long marinade in cherry or tropical fruit or strawberry Kool-Aid...

The pickles have been spotted as far afield as Dallas and St. Louis, but their cult is thickest in the Delta region, among the black majority population...

At Carver Upper Elementary School in Indianola, students in Jodi Sumner’s third-grade class have no reservations about the propriety of cucumbers flavored with vinegar and drink mix. When this writer, lugging a jar of tropical-fruit-flavored pickles, recently asked the 29 students who liked to eat Kool-Aid pickles, 29 hands shot up.
--John Edge, NYT, on unlikely flavor mash-ups

Exploring the boundaries of safety

A couple of weeks ago I saw a new scientific paper from Clemson University that struck me as both pioneering and hilarious.

Accompanied by six graphs, two tables and equations whose terms include “bologna” and “carpet,” it’s a thorough microbiological study of the five-second rule: the idea that if you pick up a dropped piece of food before you can count to five, it’s O.K. to eat it...

I learned from the Clemson study that the true pioneer of five-second research was Jillian Clarke, a high-school intern at the University of Illinois in 2003. Ms. Clarke conducted a survey and found that slightly more than half of the men and 70 percent of the women knew of the five-second rule, and many said they followed it...

Prof. Paul L. Dawson and his colleagues at Clemson have now put some numbers on floor-to-food contamination...

On surfaces that had been contaminated eight hours earlier, slices of bologna and bread left for five seconds took up from 150 to 8,000 bacteria. Left for a full minute, slices collected about 10 times more than that from the tile and carpet, though a lower number from the wood.

What do these numbers tell us about the five-second rule? Quick retrieval does mean fewer bacteria, but it’s no guarantee of safety.
--Harold McGee, NYT, on scientific backup for conventional wisdom

Monday, May 7, 2007

Contemplating the infinite

"Only two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the former."
--Albert Einstein

Sunday, May 6, 2007

For truly desperate bachelors

TSUKUBA, Ibaraki -- An environmental consulting firm and other developers here have come up with a non-perishable food pack that creates steaming hot rice with the simple addition of cold water.

The group has recently introduced the product, named "Hotto! Raisu," to the market.

By subjecting rice to 4,000 times normal atmospheric pressure, the developers were able to preserve rice for long periods in a soft form that holds moisture. When water is poured over an exothermic agent in the pack, steam warms the rice contained within, and after about 15 minutes, the dish is piping hot.
--Mainichi Daily News on the successor to the genius of ramen noodles

The pedigree shows

FARMINGTON, Conn. - The 52-room mansion that rapper 50 Cent has called home for more than three years, an estate once owned by boxer Mike Tyson, is up for sale...

"I was surprised it hadn't come on the market because we were expecting it," [real estate agent Curt] Clemens said. "He's put a lot into it, and it's all very tasteful, except the stripper poles."
--Associated Press on how to tell your house used to be owned by a gangsta rapper

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Those who can't...

Getting set up with Jennifer Aniston

Perhaps in reaction to Hollywood’s love-life-in-a-fishbowl, a small number of movie stars are turning to high-end professional matchmakers to introduce them to civilians with no connection to the entertainment world, then spreading the word among their friends...

Not all the celebrities function well outside the privileged world to which they’ve become accustomed. Ms. Adler recalled finding a match for an actress who said she wanted “the guy next door — a mellow, smart, humble guy.” But when her date would choose a restaurant, the actress’s manager or assistant would call and say, “ ‘She really wants to go here,’ ” Ms. Adler said. “She said she wants a man who takes charge, and she kept undoing everything he was doing. And at dinner, it was all about the fans, talking to everyone else.” The couple broke up.

And that appears to sum up the track records of the matchmakers interviewed for this article. None have put together a marriage — yet. Ms. Daniels said she has one celebrity client who has been dating a civilian for about 10 months.

Sometimes the civilians find that dating a celebrity isn’t all they dreamed. Ms. Daniels fixed up one of her girlfriends, an interior designer, with a divorced A-list actor, she said, who found that the actor almost never wants to leave his mansion.

Lately, though, Ms. Daniels has found that some of her non-Hollywood clients have been making requests. “I just had a guy ask me about Jennifer Aniston,” she said. “ ‘If she moves to New York do you think you can get me a date with her?’ ” Why not, she figures, adding that she had tracked down celebrities for her clients before.
--Sharon Waxman, NYT, on celebrity

Greed is good... still

As for moral development, don’t expect too much from a villain who taught us that lunch is for wimps, and who bragged: “I create nothing. I own.”

“I don’t think he’s much different,” [Michael] Douglas said. “He’s just had more time to think about what to do.”
--Michael Cieply, NYT, on reviving Gordon Gekko in the hedge fund era

Friday, May 4, 2007

Multitasking pick-me-up

Inventors have created a soap infused with caffeine which helps users wake up in the morning.

The soap, called Shower Shock, supplies the caffeine equivalent of two cups of coffee per wash, with the stimulant absorbed naturally through the skin, manufacturers say.
--Reuters on a way to wake up without interrupting your morning routine

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Congestion pricing in Manhattan

A few cities have tried congestion pricing, most notably Stockholm and London, and in most cases it has been a success. Stockholm imposed congestion pricing on a trial basis last year; the program worked so well that voters opted to reinstitute it. Since the London plan was introduced, in 2003, vehicle speeds in the city's central business district have increased by thirty-seven per cent and carbon-dioxide emissions from cars and trucks have dropped by fifteen per cent... Now nearly two-thirds of Londoners say that they back the scheme.

The case against congestion pricing is often posed in egalitarian terms. "The middle class and the poor will not be able to pay these fees and the rich will," State Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, of Westchester County, declared after listening to the Mayor’s speech. In fact, the poor don't, as a rule, drive in and out of Manhattan...

Meanwhile, it's naive to suppose that congestion isn't itself costly. Sitting in traffic, a plumber can't plumb and a deliveryman can't deliver. The value of time lost to congestion delays in the city has been put at five billion dollars annually. When expenses like wasted fuel, lost revenue, and the increased cost of doing business are added in, that figure rises to thirteen billion dollars. The question, Bloomberg observed, is "not whether we want to pay but how do we want to pay?"

--Elizabeth Kolbert, New Yorker, on the compelling case for charging people to drive in Manhattan