Saturday, 31 January 2009

Growth hormone, ageing and mortality

Ok, this is an interesting hypothesis. Could it be possible that over eating inhibits growth hormone production which in turn reduces your lifespan?

How could that be?
Well there is already evidence mounting that eating too much can directly encoruge ageing and premature death. Studies on mice indicated this initially.

Well I as just clearing out some shelves and I cae across my old copies of sports science magazines that I han't got around to reading. I came across an article in edition 191 of peak performance (Jan 2004) that talk about how to maximise your bodies output of human growth hormone (hGH) naturally. It mentions that both high levels of carbohydrate and fats can inhibit growth hormone production.

This is, I think, the first time I've heard this. Maybe the research hsn't held up over time. If it does though it would explain in some way the age related problems with eating too much. My assumption that if eating too much inhibits growth hormon production then your body ill effectively waste away over time and fall into disrepair.

I've done a quick Google but found nothing strong either way. Either I'm not searching right or this specifiic area isn't ccovered in depth yet.

Paul MacCready: Flying on solar wings

This is just an amazing talk from TED that leads down several paths into a place where solar power acheives jaw dropping things. Watch and enjoy.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Kennedy on change

Here's a beautiful quote from John Fitzgerald Kennedy. I think it's as relevant today as it's ever been

Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Moles: Cause or Indicator of health problems

I just hit upon the notion that moles on your skin could have the potential of predicting your cancer risk and voila!! no sooner did I google this did I get a hit. Now that's not to say this is any form of proof I just thought it was worth a shot.

Why? well the basic cancerous cell is simply one that won't die. One that's dangerous is one that keeps dividing. So a mole, particularly one that's raised represents a cell that's probably not doing what it's supposed to do and is also dividing or has been dividing at a certain point.

Link to that a common thread that cancers are being linked to diseases and viruses and it makes me wonder if a persons cancer risk is simply related to their genes, their lifestyle and their environment as much as these affect their ability to resist disease and infection.

It then becomes a logical link to consider that moles may represent a state where skin diseases could gain a hold in some cells and change the function of the cell to become cancerous. The ability of the body to fight disease could be reflected in a lack of moles.

I wouldn't use this as any guide at the moment because we're just judging the inside of the body by assessing its outer layer. Hardly thorough. It is a start though in looking for ways in whcih you could assess your cancer risk. I'll keep an eye out for more research on this.

What's also intriguing is contrasting the finding above with one that indicated 'moles can reflect how well you age'. How could we explain this. Well the article explains part of the idea.

I'd like to propose a different idea though. What if moles simply act as a reflection of the state of your body and your lifestyle. Maybe the moles reflect that you're living a busy life. I'd expect it to be in balance so you're not working too hard or too little but I'd expect that you're looking after your body. Getting out of doors into the sunshine. Staying up late sometimes cos you're out with friends. all the things you did when you were young and youthful. Sure you had less moles then but maybe you've just had long enough for them to build up.

I'm not sure this theory holds together. I just like to look at things in a different way. Rather than seeing moles as a good or bad thing. Just seeing them as an indicator of wider things in your life. Things like if you don't exercise and put a little stress into your body it'll often wither and stop maintaining itself so well. the thing is in the process you may get out in the sun and get burned a few times. You may even just be used to pushing yourself so your body never gets round to fixing the moles. But it is strong enough to carry on regardless

edit: 20090721
Not long after publishing this I've found more info. Moles And Melanoma: Genetic Links To Skin Cancer Found. Seems like it wasn't just a shot in the dark.

edit 20110405
I've just started listening to This week in virology (TWIV) and been reminded that the human wart virus, more commonly known as human papilloma virus is the cause of a large number of cancers. This is part of the reason why I considered that moles could be related too. 

oAuth: a new view on web security

I'm interested in the question of security in browsers. Simple stuff like managing a few hundred users that have signed up to your site is not a problem. I mean the stuff on facebook and other places where you access a users information and thus you need to make sure you get into the correct account and treat it with respect. 

In essence you don't want to present a situation where someone can get access to things they shouldn't. You'll gain a bad reputation that way. This means you need to get your application only the access it needs and nothing more. 

oAuth is apparently a protocol that does exactly that. I haven't tried it yet but I'm interested because for any app I build there will come a time that I need to consider authentication. Particularly the way things are going. Any successful app will need to connect to other data providers to get info. This means authentication.

Google Gears: A quick tutorial

I'm thinking of starting some development on a google gears based app. Mainly t learn how it works. So i looked for a quick tutorial. I found one by immike which is short and snappy. It's based on the initial beta release but it seems like a good intro. 

Mobile web design

I also just came across a nice little article about designing mobile applications. It gives some links to key references in designing for a mobile audience.

Design Patterns and Javascript

I just did a search on 'design patterns and javascript' and came up with the following site. Thought I'd record it here for reference as it seems kinda useful.

related to this I found a tip that could prove useful about introducing concurrent processing to handle slow operations. Basically do more than one thing at the same time. 

I'm not sure but I could look at places to implement this. Maybe when querying the db, definitely when uploading or downloading data. 

Dealing with Web Browser Memory Leaks

I just read a useful article that explains the main reason for browser memory leaks. The reason given is that Javascript does garbage collection for all objects. Browsers such as IE and Firefox however use Reference counting on some objects. Mainly DOM objects. 

Combining the two forms means that it's easy to create a situation where memory does not get freed up. They also go on to show some simple fixes.

Friday, 23 January 2009

What I need to deliver a project well

The main issue for me is always communication. Not just face to face but info about what occurs in meetings etc when I’m not around. Things like the project direction. this is often being discussed regularly among people related to the project but I have no idea what the outcomes were and whether I should adjust my project plans accordingly.

Now I understand this is difficult for any one individual to cover. No one could keep us all updated about everything. So I would propose something that requires the minimum input from each person and spreads the load among many people. So I would propose each person write a little update of the key highlights of their week in a public (to the project team) forum that all can review when they need to. The highlights should be just a paragraph or a few bullet points. Nothing more. Including links to other relevant documents If necessary. 

Many people already do this in some way so it’s often more of an exercise in making this available to those who need it and finding a way to keep the sensitive info hidden while keeping enough info to make things meaningful. It’s something I’ve had to do for several years so I know it can be done.

What I would then ask each person to do is build up a document of organisation. You don’t have to call it that. All I mean is a summary of what they are planning to do over time. What standards they work to and expect from others. Key deliverables they’re expecting or are being held to. Again I’d keep it simple and to the point. So people can dip in and dip out.

How this info helps me is in understanding what is and is not required to deliver the project and also how I can justify the time I am spending. For example on one project. I went to extremes to involve the wider community and also bring in partners so it didn’t seem like an initiative completely led by the company I was working for. I did work afterward monitoring what was happening elsewhere and building relationships. Yet in projects it’s not always clear to me whether I can put that down as chargeable time. I have worked places where that’s frowned on. Where if you’re not sitting at your desk programming then it’s considered wasted time.

What I’m trying to say is that I like to consider each person in the project. They will have different ideas and experience of working in different ways. They need support to feel they can discuss some or all of those ways with the project members and ensure that processes adapt to give them what they need. This support is needed in many different areas. 
  • Some political (People supporting what others are trying to do and encouraging them), 
  • Some technical (Project members need to know the reasons why things are done in the way that they are, the risks in change, what is a good place to try new ideas out, first as prototypes, then for real), 
  • Some conceptual(For example a lot of the challenge in Offline Moodle project I've been involved in is that the course is not fundamentally designed for offline/mobile access. This is presenting a cost at the technical end yet the issue isn’t entirely technical. It would help to be working directly with students, al’s and course teams to understand the issues at the delivery end. This is why I've had talks with this in mind.) 
Also I’m not a fan of doing something on a big scale until it’s been proven on a small one. So I’d just pick a small circle who are willing to try this and work out the issues and purpose etc over a few weeks or months. 

For me a key issue is what you need from each area i.e 
  • Simple approaches to communication within each team to ensure cover when members are unavailable. So everybody knows who’s responsible for what, who to go to and also what each person needs to know and also doesn’t need to know. Where does their responsibility end.  
  • What can each team do to help the other?.e.g. the customer facing team providing an FAQ list to the delivery team who then return it filled out with fixes and answers.
  • What are the boundaries between teams. On a technical front. How much testing should developers do before tech testing get involved. Should we all be sharing testing tools. Should we share our developing tools with testers to speed up testing. What is the service level agreement of each team or area. When does their responsibility begin and end. Who should they be working with and not working with. 
Specific teams
  • Integration of our developments with wider developments 
  • A reliable foundation on which to build what impact is one area having on another. What is being done to resolve this  One of the key issues that this kind of approach helps me with is in defining what is defining the actual requirements. The itches you really want to scratch and thus relegating the others to those that can be dropped if necessary.  You generally need to know your own limits before you can reliably negotiate these with your customers and acheive the right balance. This often requires a lot of discussion and you need the info on hand at any point. 
  • Defining your working practices and service agreements. Because all your key participants are being clear about how they work. Their expectations etc. You can come up with a good summary of these and define where both yours and your clients responsibilities lie. Thus you will both have a much clearer idea of what you're getting. You'll also be able to provide a summary of all the references used to provide this'project contract' or specification from the exact point at which it was issued. If things change you can agree new terms but you should both have a record of the terms agreed at that point.  
I understand much of this info isalready provided by people and being discussed but it’s often not easy to find and use in this context. 

My aim at the start of any project is to send to all project memebers  a mail with a few links on it that lead them into the relevant sites and documents. This mail is something they can store and view when they want. Offline so to speak. They can then follow the links and discover the answers on a need to know basis. They receive updated emails over time as things change so they always know where the latest info is stored and get brief updates.  

Again this is all what many people do already but it needs to be a coordinated part of the project teams culure. To  ensure this info is embedded in the project culture I would have standardised specification documents. By that I really mean templates. Nothing fancy. Just a word document with most of the wording and sections already there. It includes a list of urls linking back to the places outlined above ensuring that the requirements of each area are considered. 

By regularly seeing these links and following them, the requirements of each area then become ingrained into every project and into the mindset of those involved. Processes begin to work because every one becomes familiar with what they should be doing, and, as processes change there is a defined place to read about these changes. As opposed to this being agreed in a meeting you didn’t attend for some reason, or this being sent in a mail that’s got lost in the hundreds you have in your inbox.  

I apologise if this is teaching you to suck eggs but it just doesn't happen regularly on many projects and people often question why they should even try. Yet without this I personally find it difficult writing road maps and specifications because there are often so many fingers in the pie yet no one is telling me clearly and succinctly 
  • what they want 
  • how they want things presented and reported 
  • how I can justify to everyone why I’m choosing a certain set of solutions i.e how to explain that what I believe I need to do will actually achieve what they need in a language they understand  
I’ve tried to keep this post short (yet failed miserably:-)) and so I’ve left out a lot of detail.  I’m confident that the essence of what I’m saying is workable and delivers results because It’s simply what I’ve been doing my whole career and it’s never failed. It’s always delivered results beyond expectations. The technology is rarely the issue. Peoples skill in using it and their understanding of the need for clear communication across the board is normally the issue. When that gets addressed things generally fall into place in time. 

The final thing to address is consistent regular feedback. It doesn't have to be every day or week. Some times every few months. But people need to be kept abreast of what's happening, the issues other people need to resolve, blockers etc and also what other people could do to speed things along.   If the idea isn’t quite right then a response indicating why is also helpful. I always expect to begin with a first draft idea and then refine from feedback until I have something that fits all parties.

In essence this very article is the approach I am suggesting. It actually started as an email to others in the project explaining how I've worked successfully before. I've now just redrafted it to protect the innocent and make it more generic. Thus I have written it once and should now be able to reuse this later. Much like the rest of this blog. 

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Teaching with Games

Just a quick note to log details of some work that's been done looking into the use of video ames in schools nd other educational settings.

The work was done by fuuturelabs in partnership with giants like Electronic Arts an Microsoft. 

Details of the work can be found at 

Friday, 9 January 2009

Who we are: Chalking it up to the blank slate, Steven Pinker

I watched a fascinating talk by Steven Pinker discussing research on how much of a role that genes play in developing our personality. He argues that in fact our genes play quite a large role and givesd examples of identical twins raised apart that in fact looked very similar and had very similar quirks and habits that seem impossible to attribute to anything but genetic predisposition in some way. 

The overarching theme is whether we start with a blank slate. From watching my young puppy it's pretty clear that she has collie eye and that it's in her genes. Why? in truth I can't prove it but her enthusiasm for work is nothing like other dogs. Even other border collies. She comes from a working farm and we encourage her enthusiasm. It could be that we've ancouraged her attention and her responses but there are some that she figured out herself in a very collie like way. 

Again another interesting philosophy. I keep reflecting on my path through life and the decisions I've made. It's becoming clearer and clearer that what I do now I did when I was very young. Obviously I've matured and gained experience but the essence of who I am, what I enjoy and what I do is still very similar. So the question for me is where did that come from and how much was I born with. 

Monday, 5 January 2009

Online Learning: The next 10 years

I just came across this fascinating article from Stephen Downes who predicted (apparently) the developments over the last ten years. He made another set of predictions and, in truth, I feel he makes some really good points. My research for the Offline Moodle project tells me that much of what he's saying has some relevance for today and the future.

Just thought I'd include it for reference

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Purring to maintain bone density!!!

I just read a fascinating article in the January 2009 edition of BBC Focus magazine. On P48 the question Do Lions Purr? was asked. The answer was yes, the reason given for all cats purring is fascinating. 

There is a suggestion that purring may have evolved as a compensation mechanism to maintain bone density and muscle tone despite the cats leading largely sedentary lives.

Ok, so this hasn't been proven and a quick google search was fruitless but the concept that either vibrations or sounds at a certain frequency could maintain bone density and mucle tone is fascinating. 

If true there may be no benefit to humans but it is known that exercise that helps improve bon density generally requires some impact. For example walking doesn't greatly improve bone desity but running can and jumping definitely can.

Just thought I'd log it here in case it's useful for the future.