Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Could you communicate in another language without learning it?

I bet some one's already working on this but in the interest of generating ideas that lead to usable stuff here's my two cents.

Would it be so amazing if you could chat to other people that speak a different language without having to learn their language. Kind of like a babelfish like that in the hitch hikers guide to the galaxy.

Well, I don't think that's as far off as it might sound. I think all the technology is about there and it just needs to be tied together.

What do you need.
  1. Something to turn speech in to text: that is coming along. Plenty of devices seem to have voice recognition. It just seems to need a little time to learn your voice.
  2. Something to translate the text: Google's translate does a good enough job. I've been using it to learn Spanish by just picking a site and translating the text to check if I was right.
  3. Something to read the text back out to the person you're talking to. This has been around for a while. I don't know if the technology is free to use but screen readers are doing this right now.
What would you use it for?
Well just social situations would be useful such as:
  • Networking on forums
  • Calling overseas companies you could speak to them via this translator. Or when you call them you could say your english and they put you through this translator so that you can chat
  • Calling helpdesks or support: if there was a language problem this may solve it. Maybe they could translate their words to a language you do understand.
I think there are a lot of applications for it but the tool would probably need to be in place or almost there first. I just wonder if anyone has an interest in putting it all together.

edit 20091208
Well. Only a year or so later I hear that google wave is now making this possible. Apparently extensions within wave provide real time translation enabling people to communicate with each other in their own language while the software translates on the fly.

Good to know it didn't take so long to come along. I just can't wait to try it out for myself.
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Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Why are trans-fats so bad?

The answer is very simple really. Trans-fats get a bad name because they are linked to the increased rates of coronary heart disease and many related risk factors.

Coronary heart disease is caused at a basic level by the pipes of the bodies blood transport system, the arteries, veins and capillaries becoming less elastic, and more prone to blockages as a result.

Trans-fats are a certain type of fat with cis-fats being another. The fats are essentially the same with the cis and trans name denoting a type of bond used within the fat. The key difference is that cis bonds lead to flexible structures whereas trans bonds are firmer and stronger.

Thus trans fats are perfect for baking and cooking as they thicken recipes. Unfortunately they have the same effect in the blood system. When too many fats are eaten they 'fall' off their hdl and ldl transport proteins while travelling around the body. The cis fats being flexible carry on round the body. The trans fats being more rigid often get stuck and attach to the walls of veins, arteries and capillaries. Sometimes this is where damage has occurred and the trans-fats get trapped and inhibit the natural healing process.

As a result, these vessels lose their elasticity overtime and become less able to adjust to the pressures and requirements of daily life. the heart has to work much harder because now the same volume of blood is being forced through a system that cannot expand to cope with it. This leads to a corresponding rise in blood pressure. This is a challenge that eventually becomes too great and sooner or later a weakpoint develops.

The weakpoint can be; a) A haemorrhage, where a blood vessel leaks or ruptures, or b) a clot may form and either directly block a vessel or it may break off and travel around the blood network until it reaches a point it can't get through.

Either way this often has a bad effect on the body and can lead to a stroke, heart attack or other sad event.

So in short, trans-fats are a problem because they're rigid and in flexible. This means that in the body they make it difficult for the blood network to function properly. Over long periods they can help create fatal conditions where the blood system is too rigid and inflexible and breaks under high load.


Diabetes and Glut4

Reading through wikipedia's page on diabetes mellitus raised the question for me about whether glut 4 levels in the cells of the body correlate in any way with insulin resistance. Other posts on this blog have described a potential pathway for glut 4 to mediate insulin sensitivity and glucose uptake within cells. Lot's of the articles I 'm reading at the moment also lend weight to the concept that glut4 is related in some way to diabetes.
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Monday, 28 April 2008

How insulin allows entry of glucose into cells

I've mentioned the crucial role of glut 4 receptors in previous post. I just came across a journal article which was able to explain how insulin allows entry of glucose into cells and it was via glut 4 receptors.

This makes it clearer to me how exercise can directly influence risk of diabetes type 2.

This form of Diabetes is known to show a reduce sensitivity .to insulin. In turn insulin is less effective in controlling sugars particularly glucose uptake around the body. This research combined with previous research I have mentioned has the potential to tie this together.

Basically research here shows that the glut 4 receptor on cells respond to the presence of insulin by aiding transfer of glucose into or out of a cell. Previous research has shown that exercise has the ability to increase the number of glut 4 receptors on muscle cells in particular.

So exercise can increase the number of glut 4 receptors, glut 4 receptors are sensitive to insulin and transport glucode so exercise can increase insulin sensitivity and glucose control through increased glut 4 receptors
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How much can we remember at once?

When I studied memory during A level psychology I was fascinated by what we know about memory. I chanced across this article today  I like it because memory was initially presented in very simplistic terms. It's nice to see extra levels being added that fit my experience of learning and using my memory. I agree with the concept that better working memory relates to your intelligence at that point. My experience is that the times I'm at my best my memroy is on top form and when I'm not working well my memory is often not working so well. This is often when I'm tired, overloaded or unwell.

I believe many parts of the brain have their own fitness level. One that's trainable and when it's been trained well and given sufficient rest it helps you do great things. Among other areas I'd include memory and concentration as key areas in this.

If this is true then it would correlate with computers. It's well understood that as memory improves applications can grow and become smarter. Though this must be coupled with the ability to manipulate information much faster. Otherwise they'd be smart but slow. Fascinating how things relates improvements in computer capabilities with improvements in human capabilities. Key point is that humans have a lot of space to store and link information and can do it very quickly.

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Thursday, 24 April 2008

Can viruses do good?

OK here's another idea. this one is something I feel like putting out there to see if it stimulates a debate. I don't know of any research to support it. I just wonder whether it holds water when put under scrutiny. So in the interests of open debate I'll put it out there.

Is it possible that viruses or virus like organisms could actually have good effects on species?
I ask this because it has really occurred to me watching the many nature programs on these days and reading elsewehere how amazing it is that so many seemingly un related species have very similar adaptations. I can't remember precisely the adaptations that triggered off this thought but I was able to come up with a an idea how this could work at a genetic level. That's why I wonder if it could be the case.

Basically I'm wondering if the concept of genetic variation is the only explanation for evolution. What if one species came up with an adaptation that it finds very beneficial. Developing horns, eyes, ears, hair. All these things were developed at some time. Now did each species evolve this on their own or is there some natural mechanism that allows genes to be shared between species.

I'm not talking about a cow mating with a sheep and producing a hybrid. I don't feel that's the only way this could happen. My understanding of viruses is that they must live inside cells and embed their genetic code into ours. They then generally try and get the infected cell to reproduce copies of themselves with the new genetic code embedded.

Now if I've misunderstood this point then my theory falls down right there. But if that's right then it show a potential for one organism to transfer it's DNA to another.

With our worries about avian flu and mad cow disease we're worried about the transfer of a virus or prion from one species transferring to our own.

While we're painfully aware of the problems this can cause it makes me wonder if this is also evidence of benefits that it can cause. The reason this could go unnnoticed is because we're so much more interested in things that harm us than things that help us. So it could easily go unnoticed because it doesn't put people in hospital. It just seems clear to me that if one disease can spread from one species to another then the same process could possibly produce potential benefits. It could also explain why some people become immune to an illeness as doctors often do. There are other explanations for this but I'm just adding another explanation using a viral approach instead of bacterial.

Now you could argue that the disease is what causes the evolutionary pressure to get better. That is probably likely in many situations. But why did so many species develop eyes and why are they so similar across species. That's the kind of question I'm considering.

Obviously I'm making a lot of assumptions. This is a relatively new theory of mine but it does interest me. If any one can shed some light on this I'd like to know.

Maybe I'm just on the wrong track. I don't know.
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DNA as software: DNA is binary just like the base language in computers

Ok, heres's another thing that amazed me when I found it out. I probably learnt it years agon cos I just checked and found it called complementary base pairing which rings a bell to me. Going back over it I see that it's effectively a binary code. Just like the code that runs in computers.

What's the point then. Well it's just this. How fascinating that the very code that runs computers bascially defines 1's and 0's and so does the very code that runs all species that we know of. That just seems amazing.

Taking it further, the code that a programmer writes has a similar impact on the program its written for as DNA does for its host cell. Object oriented code for example works in a simiilar way to how proteins are made in a cell.

As a programmer I like writing object oriented code. That's code that describes objects so if I wrote a program for a human I would write a class for a cell. I'd describe how the cell functions and what things it can do etc. then I'd describe lots of different kinds of cells. they'd have the same fundamental attributes of the basic cell class but they'd be a little different. A blood cell wouldn't have a nucleus (no dna), a young cell would be able to grow and change easily (say an osteoblast) an older cell wouldn't (an osteoclast). So the act of writing software teaches me a

So how does dna work. Well it codes for proteins. Proteins make enzymes. Proteins are buidling blocks like the keratin in your nails and hair, they build cell walls. Enzymes are workers. The lactase in your stomach that breaks down the milk sugar lactose. Some people don't have this enzyme, their dna doesn't describe how to make it so they're lactose intolerant and can't have dairy products.

how fascinating that the code for our bodies can be talked about in similar terms as the code I use to write computer programs. Who'd have thought it!

Of course I'm not the only one to have this idea. epigenetics is now considering DNA as a script not a template
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What's a stroke like and what can it teach us

Thankfully I haven't had a stroke but this amazing video from gives an insight from a neuroscientist on how she experienced a stroke. Thankfully she's fine now but her insights taught me a lot.

This article has been re published as What’s a stroke like and what can it teach us
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How does the brain work

Just felt like sharing this amazing video from that really helped me form a stronger view on how my brain works.

It's also fascinating how the imrpovement of computers matches what we see with humans. We have more space to remember info and better connections to share it.
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How I think we learn: movements and other things

To give you a quick insight into my view on the biology and psychology of learning I'll focus on how we learn movements for sports. In explaining this I feel it offers insights into how we learn things generally. This concept simply sees movement as a product of the learning and shows how the two can be combined.

Everything I’ve read and experienced tells me that each time we perform a movement we are either writing, editing or using a code that’s stored in our nervous system. Basically the chain of nerves from say our hands and feet to our brain. All this is involved in performing the movement. Each point creates a short code that it runs through each time we perform a particular movement. The code is designed to be general. It doesn’t worry about speed, it cares more about the order of movements, when to move your foot, how far in relation to the rest of the body. Something like that.

Using this principle every time you hit a tennis stroke you’re writing or editing this code. This means that it’s always better to hit a slow but accurate well performed shot than a fast, rushed and inaccurate shot. Because if it’s a bad shot then your body will still learn it. So that’s why I try to focus on hitting good shots all the time and letting the body warm up appropriately. It's important to realise that you can only be at your best when your mind, body and soul are all at one, I'll talk about warming up properly in another post, until then you have to accept that you have to be patient and adjust your play accordingly.

If you take this concept further you’ll realise that this makes each movement something that you should be able to just ask your body for and it will do it. This has been shown in monkeys when parts of their brains were stimulated so this isn’t very far fetched and it’s something I’ve experienced for a long time. Taking this further still it means that you can view each movement, say hitting a topspin deep or a strong slice shot as a tool that your body has. You survey the scene and look for ways to beat your opponent. Say there’s plenty of space down the line, they put a short ball to you and they’re out of position. You just tell your body where you want the ball to go and whether to stay back or go to the net and it kind of does the rest.

This study Complex Movements Evoked by Microstimulation of Precentral Cortex lends weight to my point. It describes how researchers stimulated tiny parts of a monkeys brain and triggered it's arm to move to a certain point. No matter where the arm started from it always went to this point smoothly and quickly when triggered. The experiment triggered this movement in a crude way. I expect the brain to have a much more elegant approach which could also coordinate the movement rather than just trigger it.

It sounds far fetched but it’s easier than you might think and you’re probably doing it already when you play well. It’s when you don’t think you’re playing well that the tendency is to start analysing. Sometimes you just need to realise that you haven’t warmed up your whole system properly, you haven’t got a flow yet and maybe you’re aiming too close to the lines and expecting too much of yourself. I know we all have inexact memories of how we played before. If we played well it often gets exaggerated, the same if we played badly.
This concept of how we learn is something I've had for many years. It's only recently that I've begun to see research supporting the idea and felt I could put it across clearly enough.

In time I hope to add references to the articles that lend support to this. For now I just have to go with my experience. I use these concepts regularly to improve what I do and to teach others very quickly movements or concepts they want them to learn.

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This seems like a really interesting way of involving customers and learning from them what they want.

I checked the pricing and support and they say it's in beta til june 1st. Then after that it's free for small use and if you scale up there will be pricing structures to suit.

I found out about it from

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Monday, 21 April 2008

A possible explanation for DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness)

It occurred to me just recently that I hada  possible explanation for the muscle DOMS (Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness) effect. This effect is basically the pain you experience in a muscle when you push it further or in a different way than you have for a while. Research generally shows that it is when you have worked to extremes that this occurs. Also that activites with a large eccentric load on a particular muscle group are likely to produce doms in this muscle group.

My explanation centres around These two aspects and a little understand of how muscles are trained.

I've read research that found that once you have experienced doms in a muscle group you will be effectively resistant to doms for exercise up to that intensity for a period of around 6 weeks.
Obviously we need to ensure that each finding is bourne out by other studies but the gist of what is reported relates exactly to my experience of DOMS. Each time I have experienced it. The muscle group that hurts is one that hadn't either been used before or used to that intensity. I can build up to that intensity without any pain, particularly if I have attained the capacity previously.

I also feel that stretching the muscle at this point actually increases doms instead of reducing it.

The final piece to this is that it has been shown that when muscles are relatively untrained and then go through a period of training the massive improvments that are seen are due largely to slack in the system being addressed. For example nerve fibres begin to have better control on the muscle fibres, nerve fibres can be stimulated for longer and work better with each other to maintain a better contraction force. Bascially it means that you may have had sufficient muscle and other resource to lift a heavy load or whatever but the systems weren't in place to take full control of this. Thus as each system quickly gets up to speed your strength quickly improves.

This process explains the plateauing effect common to beginners or those who haven't trained in a while and is something I see often in myself. It also explains why people who have previously attained a certain capacity such as championship rower can retain this capacity or get close to it much faster than some one of a similar age and build that has not previously achieved this. the answer being that no new muscle fibres etc need be created. The system just needs to remember how to reach the capacity.

The concept of muscle fibres being around for longer than previously thought has also been shown in some research.

I accept that these are quite a few asumptions to take from a small set of studies but the thing that strikes me is that they have remained true to my experience to this day.

Now putting all this together I have come up with an explanation that I think explains all that I experienced with DOMS and all that I have read about it.

Basically if you over stress a muscle group then you are likley to cause damage to the muscle fibres and connective tissue etc. If you over stress a muscle group that hasn't been trained for a while then not all the uscle fibres will fire at full capacity and some may not even be fired. Thus I would infer that only some would get damaged. Not all. In a few days when these fibres have recovered and the nervous system is better at recruiting muscle fibres the same action will cause no pain or less pain depending on how much the new fibres can help.

This would then explain why eccentric actions seem to cause the most pain. Eccentric actions are know to require more strength and do more damage than concentric actions.

This explanation doesn't answer exactly what it is that is hurting within the muscle but it does explain why fitness of a group of muscles is related to likelihood of doms, why eccentric actions are most likely to cause doms and why the action itself often provides a protective effect for a certain period. I would expect this period to be the length of time it takes for the muscle to become weaker again, most liekly because the CNS gets lazy in its recruitment of muscle fibres.
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