Friday, December 16, 2016

Vaccinating against Autism

Right. So we "vaccinate" kids against in-utero development of autism, by giving the mother vitamin D supplements.
To be fair, the actual study is basically unreadable for those not expert in statistical analysis. But the short conclusion is "Just as prenatal folate supplementation has reduced the incidence of spina bifida, we speculate that prenatal vitamin D supplementation may reduce the incidence of ASD."
So they speculate based upon their findings. But if this were to be followed up by a 10-15 year study where we start increasing vitamin D intake during pregnancy (which in itself is harmless) and a notable response is seen in Autism-spectrum related problems, it would further strengthen the evidence for this theory.
In the Netherlands, past generations would be given "levertraan" (cod liver oil). This stuff tasted horrible, so many kids who grew up decided not to force this upon their kids. Guess what "levertraan" is a prime source of... #GrandmaKnewBest
Where I found this:
Where they linked from:
What the actual research says:

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Spooky compression of a message

A couple of months ago in Zurich, I was conversing with my colleague. We had just had a nice dinner and were basically enjoying ourselves by debating on science-fiction. Particularly, the topic of faster-than-light communication. While we contemplated fully fictional examples like the subspace communications in Star Trek (massless particle-based communication method in a warp field at Warp 9.98), and how far off those still were, we stumbled across the concept of "Quantum Entanglement communication through Spooky Action at a Distance".

That's a lot of complex physics that boil down to a simplified experiment in which Alice and Bob both have one side (...) of a flipped coin. Until Alice actually looks at her coin, she doesn't know whether it landed heads-up or tails-up for her. But once she looks, once she knows, then it is a certainty that Bob's coin will be the opposite. So by exclusion, you have determined the options remaining for Bob's side of the coin. In essence, you have a "bit" that can be "flipped" at arbitrary distance without delay. But you can flip it only once, and we can't entangle at a distance yet.

In our thought experiment, we considered Man colonizing Mars. Not too far away yet. About a year's travel by rocket, and depending on the position relative to one another, classical radio communications happen with a 3 - 21 minute delay.

This makes it a rather unpractical place to "resupply", and possibly worthwhile to have at least some communications able to happen instantly. A supply of entangled particles would be sent to the Colony, but since they'd be difficult to produce, and limited in availability, each bit would have to be made to count. Simply transferring an old html webpage over Entanglement Communications would be excessively expensive.

A possible solution for this would be to predefine the messages. Particular "particles" present predefined propositions. But, of course, this predefined context limits the message itself. It will allow you to convey the sense of urgency ("Red Alert!"), but not the cause or reason of it, whose cardinality would be too numerous to predefine.

The trick would be to provide an intelligent set of messages attached to each of these "bits". E.g. you attach defined context to a particular bit. In a set of identical bits, the particular bit that "flips" can imply a wildly different meaning.

In a strange way, this could be considered the ultimate data compression.

The message is "1".
The meaning could be a copy of the Encyclopedia Galactica.

It's not even lossy compression. You just can't compress any other message except the ones you defined beforehand. So it would be useless to report, say, the day's weather, as you need to be able to have undefined variables in the message.

So for a Mars colony, the application might be limited; since there is no one who could come and intervene at a timeframe that would be relevant for a communication you want to bridge the gap of space instantaneously ("Help! We have a massive loss of Oxygen" and the resupply ship arrives a year later).

However, applying this concept to, for example, a satellite at a Lagrange point looking for Solar Storms, could give Earth and Mars a significant increase in early warning...

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

You are in a Dark Room...

"You are in a Dark Room. You sense there is only one exit."

Thus we wrote on the front of the card announcing the birth of our baby daughter, Megan Aisha Elisabeth Carels.

The way this text is written, as much as the text itself, is a reference to some old-skool computer games; Text Adventures like Zork, maze games like NetHack and Paganitzu. Often these fledgling adventures would "set the scene" in their introduction with a phrase like this.

Like the player in one such adventure, Megan has no notion of what lies ahead, no idea of what will be required of her, and whether there will be a cool prize when she reaches the finish (or if there will be a finish at all...). She will be embarking on her grand adventure, learning as she goes along, finding new depths and new intricate, interwoven, storylines at every turn. Hopefully ever-curious to explore and discover each of them.

But right now, she has just emerged from the dark room, and, proverbially, still blinking in the bright sunlight, is busy just getting to grips with reality around her.

Megan's parents grew up and "matured" (more or less) alongside the technology that enabled those old adventure games. Simple, text-based, things at first, but evolving into ever more complex and intricate epics.

For them too this is a reference to a new adventure that is to begin. Or at the least the latest and grandest twist in their ongoing adventure so far. One quite unlike any they've encountered before. One, that will make all the adventures before it seem like mere scratchings on the surface. Or so we are assured by legion of other players, who seem to be collectively unable to be any more specific on this claim.

So both Megan and her parents at this point have no idea of the story ahead of them, or even the new  "interface" it came with. Though I feel this is not something we should be scared of. Indeed, to stick with the computer game analogies, a long, long, time ago, when my father got some new game on the old C64, it was my "job" to figure out how it worked and in turn explain it to him. To figure out the unknown, to find what "makes the world tick".

Like I hope Megan will face the world with an eagerness and outgoing curiousity, so I hope we will be eager and curious about getting to know her.

In many ways, how I feel about this moment, is perhaps best captured by a quote from Dr. Seuss's "Oh the places you'll go"[1].

They're the last lines, from his last book. And you can kind of imagine them fitting as you, the adventure player, exit the proverbial Dark Room.

They say...

"You're off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So... get on your way!"