Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Lately, I have been teaching myself the Russian language. I am not pretentious enough to say that I am learning it in order to read Pushkin's or Tolstoy's works in their original, nontranslated form. Part of the reason is intellectual curiosity, but a lot of it has to do with impressing someone that I like, who is a native speaker. Infatuation has driven people to do many things, but at least this is safe and legal.

During the course of my studies, I have noticed how badly English-speaking people have anglicized Russian words. My friend has had to correct me on more than a few occasions, when I would pronounce something in a way completely at variance with how she had always done. For example, she is from a city in Eastern Ukraine, which we English-speaking folks call Donetsk. Although it is in Ukraine, the people there are predominately Russian-speaking. The name of the city in Russian is Доне́цк. The trouble for a lot of English-speakers is that the 'e' in Доне́цк is actually supposed to be pronounced as 'yeh', as in 'yellow'. So, it should sound more like 'Dōn-yetsk'.

That's also been a problem that we have had with the names of the various Soviet and Russian leaders:

Russian Common English transliteration Better English Transliteration

In the last case, the 'ё' is pronounced as 'yoh', as in 'yolk'.

I say, if you are going to do something, do it right.

A separate issue that bothers me are films or television shows that have a Russian theme that misuse Cyrillic characters in order to make them look more "authentic". Something like "Яеd Heдt". It just looks ridiculous.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I am King of the Nerds!

And this proves it:

I am nerdier than 99% of all people. Are you a nerd? Click here to find out!

You know now where I have been all this time, out and about amongst my subjects. It is good to be the king.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Slow News Month

The month of August is usually a slow month for news. The people of Georgia may beg to differ, of course, but for me, nothing much is happening.

My brother is visiting from Alabama, so I have been entertaining him and driving him around the island. He has been here for nearly two weeks and is leaving on Monday. It has been interesting having him here, but after a while, I do need a break from him so that I can get some work done. And so I will fob him off on my mother or one of my cousins so that I can have time to do something productive.

I have also started on a writing project that I would like to turn into a novel. The thing that is holding me back is being able to write about human relationships. That is something that does not come naturally to me. I am not doing it in "real time", so to speak, so I do get a chance to carefully craft my words and fit them into the circumstance.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

More of Ann Arbor

Aside from the dormitories and classrooms, there is plenty to see in Ann Arbor. One of my favorite spots is the Dawn Treader Bookshop, on East Liberty Street. There used to be two locations, one across the street from the present store, and one on South University Avenue. The stores probably consolidated sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s, because I had visited the current location in March 1994.

This is the exterior of the store. The view is blocked by people setting up tents and booths for the Ann Arbor Art Fair. I was never a fan of this or any other kind of art fair. When I was a student there in the Summer of 1987, the fair was a vortex of bad food and schlocky and insipid "art" made by local craftsmen. Now, it seems that the organizers have spread their net a bit wider, and now there are "artists" who come from all over the country to display their wares.

There is an excellent selection of books in all subjects. I spent something like about three hours there, browsing and picking out titles that I wanted. Here is the Science Fiction section:

There was an unfortunate incident that occurred while I was there. The young lady who was working at the counter had her bookbag stolen from her while she was helping a customer. Some of her schoolbooks and her notebook computer were in the bag. Naturally, she was extremely upset. A policewoman came and took a report; based on the suspect's description, she said she knew who he was and that they would work to track him down.

Ann Arbor is the home of the Borders bookstore chain. Their flagship store is just down the street from the Dawn Treader.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Visiting Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor, Michigan is one of my favorite places. I was there on Tuesday, visiting the places that were familiar to me when I was a student at the University of Michigan.

I was a student at UofM for only a year. I had taken some time off from my studies at MIT, and since I was an in-state student, it made sense for me to go there and pick up some credits.

During the summer of 1987, I lived in this dormitory, Mary Markley Hall. I will have to find out later who Mary Markley was; at the time I was living there, I was not too curious about it. I suppose that she was an alumna of the University.

I lived there from May to August of 1987. During that time, I studied Microeconomics, Linear Algebra and Complex Variables. At the end of the Summer, I decided to stay and take some physics courses.

From September 1987 to April 1988, I lived in Oxford Housing. It was an unusual arrangement for a dorm, because they were more like apartments than dorm rooms. Most of the residents were graduate students, but there were a few upperclass undergraduates there too.

Dennison was where most of my classes were taught. Rumor had it that the upper floors were unsuitable for most experimentation because the building swayed too much in the wind.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Does Tylenol + MMR Cause Autism? Really?

Apparently a group at UC San Diego thinks so. Kristina Chew's blog, AutismVox, tipped me off about this in a posting today. The abstract for the article can be found here1. The text of it follows:
The present study was performed to determine whether acetaminophen (paracetamol) use after the measles-mumps-rubella vaccination could be associated with autistic disorder. This case-control study used the results of an online parental survey conducted from 16 July 2005 to 30 January 2006, consisting of 83 children with autistic disorder and 80 control children. Acetaminophen use after measles-mumps-rubella vaccination was significantly associated with autistic disorder when considering children 5 years of age or less (OR 6.11, 95% CI 1.42—26.3), after limiting cases to children with regression in development (OR 3.97, 95% CI 1.11—14.3), and when considering only children who had post-vaccination sequelae (OR 8.23, 95% CI 1.56—43.3), adjusting for age, gender, mother's ethnicity, and the presence of illness concurrent with measles-mumps-rubella vaccination. Ibuprofen use after measles-mumps-rubella vaccination was not associated with autistic disorder. This preliminary study found that acetaminophen use after measles-mumps-rubella vaccination was associated with autistic disorder.

Let us try to break this down:

  • The study was performed to determine if acetaminophen, taken after the Measles Mumps Rubella (MMR) vaccination is associated with autism spectrum disorder.

  • The data were collected via an online survey of parents over the course of about six months (16 July 2005 to 30 January 2006).

  • The samples were 83 autistic children and 80 control children.

  • This survey found that acetaminophen use after the MMR vaccination was significantly associated with autistic disorder in children under the age of five.

The first alarm bell that went off in my head was the use of an online survey to collect the data. The abstract does not reveal how the survey was presented to the parents, whether the parents selected themselves to participate in the survey, or even where the surveys were conducted. I probably will not find out, since the publishers of the journal Autism allow only subscribers to view the article.2

Childhood vaccination has become a political and emotional issue these days, and there is no doubt that some parents have strong opinions about it. I would think it remarkable to expect parents to put aside their biases and emotions and then fill out survey form in a dispassionate manner.

Next, how were these children chosen? Did the authors post something on a website seeking test subjects? How did they screen for suitable subjects? Did they actually examine the children at any point, or did they simply rely on the parents' word? Can a parent's memory, already pretty biased, be relied on for data on when and how much acetaminophen was administered?

The sample sizes are also suspicious. If we accept the statistic that 6 out of 1000 people are on the Autism Spectrum, why then did they only sample 80 children for their control group? A real control group ought to be much larger.

My thoughts on this are that the researchers were doing a lot of hand-waving and were pretending to be performing a double-blind study. I am very much reminded of Feynman's dismissal of "cargo-cult" science, in which people will use scientific terms and methods in a slipshod manner in order to make their research look "respectable".


  1. S.T. Schultz, H.S. Klonoff-Cohen, D.L. Wingard, N.A. Akshoomoff, C.A. Macera, Ming Ji, "Acetaminophen (paracetamol) use, measles-mumps-rubella vaccination, and autistic disorder", Autism, Vol. 12, No. 3, 293-307 (2008) DOI: 10.1177/1362361307089518

  2. This is another one of the high horses that I sometimes ride: the practice by academic journals of restricting access to their articles. Considering that the vast majority of the research that the articles are based on are paid for with taxpayer money, and that the journals rely on what is essentially free labor by both the authors and the peer reviewers, it strikes me as unjust for these journals to then demand great sums of money to access these articles. This is, however, a subject for a later post.

Heading out...

I will be going up to Detroit this Saturday (2008-07-12) and coming back in a week and a half.

Why Detroit? I agree that nobody vacations there, but I grew up in the suburbs there, and I like to go up there to see places and things that are familiar to me that may have changed. I will be uploading photographs in later entries showing the places I have been during my visit.