Posts filed under ‘Research’

Sleep Cleanses Toxins, Gunk, Trash in Brains

What do our brains do while we sleep? Image courtesy of Katherine Streeter for NPR

Finally we have it folks. After millenia of having a crack at the mystery, with thousands of crackpot theories in vogue and spending exponentially more think-time and dollars on the research, theory, practicals and experiments on man, fish, insect and beast, 13 scientists of a melting-pot persuasion representing atleast 5 continents in their origins based in Rochester have some semblance of a partial explanation as to the function that sleep of the night-cap kind serves. Here is “Sleep Drives Metabolite Clearance from the Adult Brain”, Lulu Xie, Hongyi Kang, Qiwu Xu, Michael J. Chen, Yonghong Liao, Meenakshisundaram Thiyagarajan, John O’Donnell, Daniel J. Christensen, Charles Nicholson, Jeffrey J. Iliff, Takahiro Takano, Rashid Deane, and Maiken Nedergaard, Science, 18 October 2013: 342 (6156), 373-377. DOI:10.1126/science.1241224]

The conservation of sleep across all animal species suggests that sleep serves a vital function. We here report that sleep has a critical function in ensuring metabolic homeostasis. Using real-time assessments of tetramethylammonium diffusion and two-photon imaging in live mice, we show that natural sleep or anesthesia are associated with a 60% increase in the interstitial space, resulting in a striking increase in convective exchange of cerebrospinal fluid with interstitial fluid. In turn, convective fluxes of interstitial fluid increased the rate of β-amyloid clearance during sleep. Thus, the restorative function of sleep may be a consequence of the enhanced removal of potentially neurotoxic waste products that accumulate in the awake central nervous system.

Duh, I say. Is it huh, I hear you say? From a mish-mash of coverage of this seminal development and dissemination in various places (and counting) like NPR, Science Blog, Associated Press, Times of India and Zee News, allow me to plainspeak. Essentially, brains sweep hemselves clean of toxins during sleep. In mice, their brain cells shrink, allowing cerebrospinal fluid to flow easily around them. The fluid can then clear away toxins. The study reveals brain takes out the trash while we sleep in findings that give fresh meaning to the old adage that a good night’s sleep clears the mind for sleep gets rid of gunk that builds up while we’re awake which while explaining the function of sleep, may also provide new clues to treat Alzheimer’s disease and other disorders. These waste products included amyloid beta, a protein that when accumulated is a driver of Alzheimer’s disease. In order to help remove the waste, cerebral spinal fluid is pumped through brain tissue. The process is sped along during sleep because the brain’s cells shrink by about 60 percent, allowing the fluid to move faster and more freely through the brain. The whole operation takes place in what researchers call the glymphatic system, which appears to be nearly 10 times more active during sleep than while awake. The body does this sweeping only during sleep and not continuously during wakefulness for the sake of energy efficiency and performance in day activities.

I would not be much of a self-acclaimed scientist and card-carrying blogger if I did not put my spin on it now, would I? We may not have hundreds of mice lying about to dissect their brains about and 2-photon microscopes in the garage but this study appeals to us because this ‘cleaning trash’ theory is something we all innately have internalized to explain, if only to ourselves, why nature has made sleep mandatory that takes up roughly half of our lives (counting the sleep from when we are young and senile which is a lot). Life is short and then we have to sleep. Doh! Not to drill holes but there is a lot more to be explained about sleep, especially in humans who also sleep recreationally with naps, siestas, kunukus etc. and under stress when we are ill, hit on the head etc. What happens and what is the purpose of sleep in these situations? Seriousness apart, that sleep cleanses our brains of toxins makes one wonder about death which is but indefinite sleep. It seems to me that death is that one last big cleanse. It is nature cleansing the planet of our toxic insignificant existence in this mortal coil. Sweet dreams, bitter visions, sour nightmares et al.

19 October, 2013 at 14:48 Leave a comment

Real Truth Behind Arab Spring – Dissected

Finally, someone did some true work and dissected the phenomenon of the so-called “Arab Spring”. Here is Hernando de Soto Polar (President of the Institute for Liberty and Democracy at Lima in Peru, and author of ‘The Mystery of Capital’) op-ed piece in Deccan Chronicle today by arrangement with the Spectator – The real truth behind the Arab Spring | Deccan Chronicle

Effectively, it boils down to just one thing – the uprising is not for democracy nor liberty nor rights but the fundamental human need to make a decent living without interference of corruption – something that even the developed world with its free-slinging yeehaw free-market and capitalism guns in their holsters and tanks cannot deliver to people without old-money and influence.

I suppose sad sods collectively called humanity could not care less about the type of government or religion or police or any other entity that affects their daily life as long as they can simply go about making a living without getting too much hassled along the way. If a dictator or puppet-president can ensure this, people will welcomingly tolerate it but even when a democratically elected government with fair voting (if there is indeed such a thing) does not deliver on this basic amenity, people will revolt. As simple as clean water – scratch that, clean water apparently is hard to get for billions of people. As simple as clean air – scratch that, clean air apparently is hard to get for billions of people. As simple as clean earth – scratch that… you get the drift. Just about anything is complicated if it is not handed down.

Now it leaves the small question why people in other parts of developing world like India, Bangladesh, Pakistan etc. where they have it much worse than Arabia do not revolt. Elementary my dear websons, these are not people but sheeple who have given up all hope and merely exist and survive. Sorry to digress.

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13 July, 2013 at 14:28 Leave a comment

Google+ Going Circles

My personal take on Google+ is that it is a rehash, if not stolen entirely from my “Personal Webs” idea which I foolishly shared with them in 2006 but enough silly conspiracies. Just could not resist not doing this…

Some earthlings too have pondered about the future of Google+ here and here.

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    17 August, 2011 at 03:00 1 comment

    80:20 Communications Golden Ratio – EMail Proof

    In the 2-weeks since I have been back from my 2-year exile and got into corporate work mode, I have attended 2 seminars/conferences which irrespective of the context and intent, eventually become back-scratching sales expos of one kind or another. I digress but if it is all about fresh change and change is constant then by association, everything is constant, no? What will be has always been and such quacks with some weird Murphy law pertaining to conservation of change or constancy or something. Don’t believe it? Let us put it to the test shall we? An example is needed and email is as good an example as any given that it is still the primary means of corporate communication. I said it and meet me offline to debate.
    Hypothesis:
    Now it may be the case that I have been away from email research for a while with my finger-in-pie projects of Soylent, MIT Media Labs’ Social Network Fragments and IBM Remail gotten archived serving as footnotes in information sciences research but we made a starkling discovery half a decade back that email is the most sticky social network of all and 80:20 (or Pareto Law or Rich-get-Richer or Power Log or Long Tail Graph etc.) is the golden ratio for communication patterns in any circumstance. Ergo, as a quick thought experiment, if you take all your contacts and conversations in your inbox and chart them by age and activity, it will be a classic long tail. Not only do you communicate with 20% people for 80% of the time but the 80% of the activity will happen in the first 20% timeline of the relationship. A corollary was that if you broadcast something, 80% of it gets lost in the ether and this is what I will put to the test today for your greymatter exercise pleasure.
    Experiment:
    I am not a people person but having missed the chance to experiment in Amazon Web Services Cloud Computing Event in Bangalore, I thought I’d gather data in the NASSCOM Product Conclave and Expo 2010. Oh, the things I do in the name of research. I managed to gather 31 visiting cards (this has to be outmoded BTW for green and convenience reasons – where are vCards, BlueTooth, semacodes, Bump, digital IDs, card scanners in smartphones et al.) and the next day while memory is still fresh, broadcasted an LoL-inducing cute long mail saying hello and spouting philosophy. Note that the sample was quite diverse with some whom I interacted with deeply to some whom I had lunch/coffee and some from whom I got a visiting card without making any verbal contact whatsoever. All bases covered.
    Results and Conclusion:
    Enough talk. Let us look at a snapshot of a spreadsheet with a pie-chart –

    I guess the data speaks for itself. (Silence + Bounce = 25) is 80% and any scientist would be happy to be proven right and plug ‘I told you so’ but am not really religious err… I mean as a real scientist (who is often seen as a heretic in the circles), I take great thrill in being proven wrong in the best interests of progress. Alas, life has been dull! I salute thee who replied back, pursued the line of inquiry, called up, glued on LinkedIn etc. who make up the 20% because without them, there would be no 80% split now, would it? Yin and Yang. As a parting trivia, funny/serious thing is that those who responded did it 80% by email as mode of communication. No wonder Facebook seems to be getting into email as per chirps on the interwebs.
    Le Why?
    The quick answer to this, I don’t know nor do I have the skills/education to pursue this other than half-baked observational theories which are dime a dozen. Maybe, someone will pick this up and explore but for that to happen, more data is needed and more people should report back broadcast/response ratios in their email.

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      13 November, 2010 at 19:00 2 comments

      State of Social Networking in India – ADD Version

      It might have been a tad late but Aseem Rastogi, a colleague at Trak has a nice analytical post on the state of social networking ranks in India circa July 2010 using ComScore Media Metrix. Here is an ADD version for all you lazy Dicks and Ginas –

      Facebook is #1 by a thin margin over Orkut which while at #2 is said to be slowly dying. I second (pun intended and proud of wordplay) the conclusion because web services are like sharks: if they are stagnant, they drown. Another key observation is Twitter on steroids jetpack growing by leaps and bounds.
      PS: Rankings based on July YoY growth and unique visitors of ages 15 and up.

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        1 August, 2010 at 16:22 2 comments

        Mathematics of War – 3 – Reality, Why and Other

        A wise person (who inadvertently happens to be your parents or grandparents once you are old enough) once said that if one looks at just about anything, closely and long enough, one can always find faults, patterns, cracks. Be it images of perfect airbrushed models or character traits of arguably greatest of men like Mahatma Gandhi or cruelest of men like Adolf Hitler. So, it was no surprise that on marinating the “Common Ecology Quantifies Human Insurgency” paper (popularly – oh the horror of laying it out to the man on the street – known as ‘Mathematics of War’ or ‘Ecology of War’ depending on how stupid the publisher is) in my consciousness long enough, I found many quantitative and qualitative faults, patterns and cracks in the assumptions, data, analysis and conclusions to the extent of being tempted to say it is not entirely devoid of errors and it is not entirely out of line to say it is a load of crap – the suspect scholarship itself, evident oversimplification of ground reality by arm-chair theorizing and TED drummed hype that followed. But some stink more than the others. Like most of you who may have a life of sorts, and if not, get one, I have neither the time nor the inclination to go into details and till I see any sliver of feedback (monetory or otherwise), my detailed critique/review will remain in dark alleys of a rotten brain. This is a blog and I, and you, are entitled to my opinions. I will (try to) be brief. No promises. Here are a 1000 words for starters (with each frame and line and word having a story to tell on its own if not already so)…

        The cartoon (inspired by a classic stock trading madness one by Kal of Economist which also reflects the allusion of financial markets simile) tries to address 2 things at a high level. The ‘why’ and ‘other’ side of the coin. Allow me to elaborate –
        1) For a paper that flaunts to be the mathematics or ecology of war (strike-1: make up your mind), the core question of ‘why’ remains unanswered other than the broad strokes of generalizing it to violent primal animalistic human behaviour in a conflict scenario viz. ganging up and acting out of reptilian-minded self-preservation and just silly attention-seeking, message-sending, authority-opposing, loathing-fired, territory-protecting, family-first, religion-tampered, son-of-gun, honour-killing, blood-thirsty, cult-following, brain-washed, nepotism-led, arms-dealing corporate interest driven, virgin-seeking, nation-gaurding, eye-for-an-eye revenge. Out of the 6 wise questions of who, when, where, what, why and how of anything, it is the ‘why’ that is always most important and difficult one to answer. Unsurprisingly, it is not always forthcoming and so is the case with the current research/paper/letter/talk/hype/site in question. My answer to ‘why’ is not my answer because it has been addressed before. In any conflict, the main reason for all the tomfoolery is primarily a result of ye-olde mis-communication and bad decision-making. People act irrationally (or whatever it is the paper insinuates) because for all the wisdom of the world, groups only serve the purpose of amplifying stupidity and at discrete time-steps under pressure with only incomplete information and shrouded judgment as a way of life and we don’t have to observe a conflict to come to that conclusion. It is kinda obvious from shopping to ordering pizza. Patterns. Patterns. Everywhere
        2) The paper does not address the most important element to any conflict which is the ‘other’ side. It paints the terrorists (putting on my linguist hat ala Chomsky, this is a wrong word in itself because if it is used, it automatically implies the branded-as-such people as bad which is just one point-of-view) as villains from the word go and does not give due weight to the acts of the ‘other’ side, say the state police or occupying USA troops in Afghanistan. If you ask me, the patterns of behaviour of the ‘other’ side are just as irrational and fueled by internal politics (no matter how hierarchical they are organized) and media sound-bytes as the insurgents (again, a bad and violent word that should not have been used in interests of neutrality). We all know it takes two to tango or two hands to make a clap or no smoke without fire or every action has an opposite reaction or what goes round comes around and such idioms. Not considering/mentioning, let alone understanding the role of the ‘other’ side and how they influence/provoke behaviour of freedom-fighters (terrorists by other name), is like saying – well, I cannot think of a suitable analogy because there are so many of them that apply here – the insurgents are evil by birth and all that the paper is trying to do, in a fly-on-wall (when it really should be cat-on-wall) manner is quantify their evil-doings somewhat like an overbearing God who at the same time turns a blind eye at the misdemeanours of his chosen people. It’s just plain wrong. Besides, there are too many Gods already responsible for much mess that has/going/will in the world but discussing religion is slightly off-topic, no?
        When seen with that lens of favouritism, it is of course obvious that patterns can be identified in the reactions (yes, not actions) of insurgents. Suffice to say that what we are seeing here is simply a human collective not showing the other cheek when slapped and that maybe, just maybe, we should perhaps be more concerned why did the slap happen and importantly, whose hand is it that was raised leading to harakiri? Again, there will be patterns to series of events that led to this situation. So, my question is this: Can we identify “that” pattern of circumstances that triggers insurgency? I believe we can (if one looks closely and long enough goes without saying). If so, that will be the right path to understand misunderstandings. To the best of my knowledge from private communication, Sean Gourley is already at work along these lines and I hope whatever comes out of that is not half as bad as the paper we are discussing, er, opiniating. Lest I forget, as for the errors in data and analysis, I informally tried applying their methods to Kashmir situation and I was disappointed and felt cheated. The first thing that came into my mind was that maybe my data was not clean or my interpretations of the paper and formulae. It takes a great and beautiful mind to accept mistakes. Mine is certainly not. So there.

          PS: If you are wondering what happened to part-2 of series, well, keep wondering. I did not think it was worth my typing and am famously lazy. You are however free to think of it as a forced workshop on imagining or maybe, Quentin Tarantino stylism

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          8 January, 2010 at 17:20 Leave a comment

          Greed Begets Capitalism Begets Scams, Corruption

          Some selected quotes from, “Scams that Launched a 1,000 Suits” by educator and commentator, Paranjoy Guha Thakurtha and, “Of Money, Greed and Risk-loving CEOs” by economist, Jayati Ghosh both of whom put the year-end focus on scams that rocked both India and the world, er, USA. While many people believe, (or are led to believe by the capitalist media which also have major stakes in the system) that capitalism is somehow more open, accountable and democratic that has led to an appreciation of the qualities that capitalist functioning is based on: individualism and the competitive spirit have something else coming in this post. It is a false illusion because capitalism as a system in based on greed, on the harnessing of individual self-interest to the common good. 2 words – human nature – which should be all-encompassing on how corporate games are played – dirty and fatally.

          In 1776, Adam Smith’s famous and still widely quoted passage in the “Wealth of Nations” noted that ‘It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages. More recently, the more famous quotation was probably that of Gordon Gekko, the fictional hero of the 1987 film “Wall Street”, ‘Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms — greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge — has marked the upward surge of mankind’. The proof is out there for all to see – well, to someone looking. A series of corporate scandals and failures rocked the US economy in 2001 and 2002 – from Enron and WorldCom to Adelphi and even one of the “Big Five” accounting firms, Arthur Andersen. It turned out that much of the much-hyped growth and profits were clearly illusory, based on fraud and data manipulation, or simply put, lies. Two points that emerged then are still relevant today. First, such scams are not new nor unexpected; in fact they are part of capitalism’s normal functioning. Only most naive interpretations of the history of capitalism would leave out the crucial role played by fraud, deceit and open crime in the accumulation of capital and its subsequent use. While many of the financial malpractices continued for several years, they were exposed only when economic slowdown and the stock market bear trend fed into each other. Yet another (policy created) bubble in the US — this time directed to the housing market and financial proliferation — once again diverted attention and brought back the glory days for risk-loving CEOs of large companies, especially financial firms. The period 2002 to 2007 thus became, in the US and globally, a repeat of the earlier 1990s process on an even larger scale. It was the same dance, to just a slightly different tune, and joined by many more economic agents all over the world. Greed and boundless market optimism were back in fashion again. And the current crisis is not over yet. The major imbalances that were at the heart of the crisis still persist: the imbalance between finance and the real economy; the global macroeconomic imbalances; and ecological imbalance resulting from the pattern of growth. This cycle will repeat for eternity.

          When Deccan Chronicle asked me to draw up a list of the 10 biggest scams of the past decade, I didn’t realise there were so many over the last two years alone. I gave up counting. A group of bleeding-heart do-gooders by the name of ‘Transparency International’ ranked India at the 85th position out of 179 countries in its annual “corruption perceptions index” in 2008. In fact, India’s score improved dramatically from 2.7 (out of 10) in 2002 to 3.4 in 2008. Does it mean that corruption has become better or that India is more transparent in its corruption today than before? Everybody accepts it as a way of life. Of capitalism and bureaucracy taking its charted path. We draw distinctions between the more corrupt and the less corrupt, the corrupt-but-efficient and the corrupt-and-inefficient – “that fellow accepts bribes but still refuses to do his job”. We are a nicely nuanced lot. But as a majority is so poor, none of this actually affects them. They have their own fish to fry (this is figurative because there aren’t enough fish to feed all the ugly masses). Scams therefore, escape our scrutiny for the same reason. Harshad Mehta, former employee of the New India Assurance Company who became a notorious stockbroker by presiding over a financial scandal involving Rs 4,000 crores. Byrraju Ramalinga Raju, who headed Satyam Computer Services confessed that he cooked the books of account of his flagship firm to the tune of Rs 8,000 crores. Ketan Parekh is a pale shadow of his former cocky self and few remember C.R. Bhansali’s claim to infamy. The IPO scam involving India Bulls and stock-broking firm Karvy is a distant development. And, have you recently heard anything about Abdul Karim Telgi who started life as a fruit and vegetable seller before he decided to bribe his way into the Nashik security printing press and forged wads of stamp paper? Madhu Koda started off as a labourer in a mine and a window-grill fitter before a small-time flunky in the BJP to a big-time beneficiary of the vagaries of coalition politics. He reportedly almost bought up a couple of uranium mines in South Africa before celebrations abruptly ended. But Koda’s shenanigans faded into insignificance before the occurrence of the “biggest” scam in independent India, namely, allotment of electro-magnetic spectrum to a clutch of mobile operator telephone companies at prices that were at least one-seventh their true market value. What was the loss to the nation? Only Rs 50,000 crores! This is India, after all, the world’s greatest democracy, where sibling rivalry can paralyse the working of the government. Imagine a tycoon splurging on front-page advertisements in dozens of newspapers to tell the world how the Union ministry of petroleum and natural gas was depriving the exchequer of huge amounts by favouring a fraternal company by agreeing to pay a higher price for natural gas taken out of the bed of the ocean in the Bay of Bengal. More than 250 aircraft and helicopters valued at not less than Rs 16,000 crores that were imported into the country between May 2007 and July 2008 by more than 70 companies controlled by some of the country’s most prominent industrialists after evading customs duty worth Rs 4,000 crores. Noteworthy that most of these private aircrafts were used not merely by corporate honchos, family members and business associates but also by “politician friends” during their election campaigns.

          All said and done, capitalism works because it is first and foremost a monopoly – only because of a failure (and propagandic annihilation) of other systems to catch on, rather than any strict opposition or fair-play – because our pathetic little brains and genome vessels cannot think beyond self-preservation. During the cold war, the East looked in jealousy at West for the goods they have in their supermarkets. But now, the East which still suffers from poverty inspite of capitalism, looks in despair and hopelessness at the West for the debt-ridden luxury consumption that is the driver of growth more than industry. After all, we are animals who like cuckoos value trinkets like some yellow metal (read, gold) and pressurized rock (read, diamond) in high regard than that of the life of a fellow human and would be willing to commit unspeakable actions to the pursuit of stuff – white solids or black liquids or green paper or blue powder – that has absolutely no real tangible value if one really spends enough time to think and ponder about this madness.
          This is getting boring, isn’t it? If one were to start chronicling the stories of human greed, it would take a million lifetimes. The MD of Alcatel-Lucent India, Vivek Mohan spoke, “It is high time for India to move on from ‘Copy the West’ phenomenon and develop innovative, India-specific stuff. I strongly believe that India is home to the best entrepreneurial talent and Indians have innovation in their DNA”. It is so very true. We are innovators in corruption and scams today after successfully imitating the West at a scale that boggles the mind. It is in our blood to be apathetic and suffer. Connection between capitalist greed and scams and the nexus between business and evil politics is neither new nor unique. What’s a few billions among friends, eh? Let’s talk about the weather instead. Oh wait, there is a scam brewing here too. Of railroad engineers, Pachauri and failed Presidential candidates, Gore who could be the first carbon billionaires if not already, which would be even cooler – paradoxically – to cash-in on the haze of mitigating/combating global warming.

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          22 December, 2009 at 17:37 Leave a comment

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