Daniel Lemire's blog

, 4 min read

Science and Technology links (January 26th, 2018)

  1. We have reached “peak coal” meaning that coal usage is going to diminish in the coming years.
  2. McGill professor Ishiang Shih has been accused by the US government of leaking chip designs to the Chinese government. The professor runs a business called JYS Technologies. This sounds impressive and mysterious until you check out the company web site and its headquarters. If professor Ishiang Shih is a spy, he is clearly not in the James-Bond league.

Anyhow, I thought it was interesting that the US would worry about China having access to chip designs. China is the world’s largest consumer of computer chips, but it still produces few of them, relying on imports instead. Obviously, the Chinese government would like to start making its own chips. Soon.1. Though we can increase networking bandwidth, we are unlikely to improve network latency in the future, because nothing can go faster than the speed of light. This means that we are hitting the physical limits of how quickly web sites can acknowledge your requests.

(…) current network (Internet) latencies are here to stay, because they are already within a fairly small factor of what is possible under known physics, and getting much closer to that limit – say, another 2x gain – requires heroics of civil and network engineering as well as massive capital expenditures that are very unlikely to be used for general internet links in the foreseeable future.

This would have impressed Einstein, I think.

  1. Men differ from women in that they are much more diverse:

Human studies of intrasex variability have shown that males are intellectually more variable. Here we have performed retrospective statistical analysis of human intrasex variability in several different properties and performances that are unrelated or indirectly related to intelligence: (a) birth weights of nearly 48,000 babies (Medical Birth Registry of Norway); (b) adult weight, height, body mass index and blood parameters of more than 2,700 adults aged 18–90 (NORIP); (c) physical performance in the 60 meter dash event of 575 junior high school students; and (d) psychological performance reflected by the results of more than 222,000 undergraduate university examination grades (LIST). For all characteristics, the data were analyzed using cumulative distribution functions and the resultant intrasex variability for males was compared with that for females. The principal finding is that human intrasex variability is significantly higher in males, and consequently constitutes a fundamental sex difference.

If you take this result to its logical conclusion, you realize that whether you look at top performers or worst performers, you will find more men than women, assuming that the average performance is the same. Biology takes more risks with men than with women.

  1. Scholars who believe nurture trumps nature also tend to doubt the scientific method. I am not sure what to make of this observation.
  2. Curcumin is a yellow-ish chemical found in the turmeric spice (commonly used in Indian cuisine). It has long been reported to have anti-inflammatory properties. It seems to be good against arthritis (according to the guy who renovated my kitchen) and there are reports that people who eat turmeric-rich Indian food have fewer cancers. To my knowledge, the evidence for the benefits of curcumin remain somewhat anecdotal which suggests that the beneficial effect, if any, is small. To make matters worse, curcumin is not very bio-available, meaning that you’d need to eat truck loads of turmeric to get a lot of curcumin in your cells. Some clever folks have commercialized more bio-available (and typically much more expensive) forms of curcumin. You can buy some on Amazon (it is not cheap, will cost you about $2 a day). We can hope that they would have greater effects. A paper in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry reports that taking bio-available curcumin improves cognition in adults. Presumably, it reduces brain inflammation. (credit: David Nadeau)

I expect that the effect, if real, is small. Still, it is also probably safe enough.

  1. Chinese scientists have successfully cloned two monkeys through somatic cell nuclear transfer. When I asked my wife why it was such a big deal, she pointed out that it suggested human cloning. Indeed, if you can clone monkeys, why not clone human beings?1. China has overtaken the United States in terms of the total number of science publications, according to statistics compiled by the US National Science Foundation (NSF). If you find this interesting, you might want to read my post China is catching to the USA, while Japan is being left behind.
  2. Intel (and AMD) processors have instructions to compute the sine and the cosine. It is surprisingly inaccurate:

The worst-case error for the fsin instruction for small inputs is actually about 1.37 quintillion units in the last place, leaving fewer than four bits correct. For huge inputs it can be much worse, but I’m going to ignore that. (…) It is surprising that fsin is so inaccurate. I could perhaps forgive it for being inaccurate for extremely large inputs (which it is) but it is hard to forgive it for being so inaccurate on pi which is, ultimately, a very ‘normal’ input to the sin() function. with for decades.

  1. By combining deep learning and magnetic resonance, we can read images from your mind.