Hobby versus Job: Casa Pepe Guest House, Seoul

April 10, 2014

Yesterday I was in Seoul, at Casa Pepe Guest House. Sensationally good at a very low price. It really is a guest house — attached to a house — with a separate entrance. There are four rooms, with shared kitchen and bathroom. The owner is an renowned chef. The first evening he brought salad and wine from his (Japanese) restaurant. The first morning, he invited me to come with him to buy fish at the Seoul fish market. Every morning, he made breakfast — something different each time.

I found it through hotels.com. On their map, it was off by itself. I thought that meant bad location, but the opposite was true. It is the sort of good location you cannot normally get. It is near the Blue House (Korea’s White House) and many foreign embassies and is very safe. Dozens of interesting restaurants and cafes are nearby. (Even more than the rest of Seoul.) The neighborhood is the Beverly Hills of Korea, with better (and cheaper) restaurants and less pretentious architecture. Casa Pepe started about a year ago, with a remodelling. Everything is new and clean. The floor is heated. The building is up a steep path and has a nice view of streets, hills and houses. Free laundry. All for less than $50/day.

During my stay I briefly overlapped with a Tsinghua student (how could that possibly happen?) but otherwise I was the only person.

Why is it so nice? The owner said, “It’s my hobby.” I think that explains it.

I’ve said that doing a job and doing science are fundamentally incompatible. Any job requires steady and repeated output. You do the same thing over and over. The goal of science is discovery — and a discovery is inherently unpredictable and unrepeatable. (Art is a job with science-like elements — and artists were the first scientists.) Casa Pepe Guest House illustrates another side of the job/science conflict: A job is inherently conformist. You give people, especially customers and your boss, what they expect. Science is inherently nonconformist. The more a discovery challenges “what everyone knows”, the better. Hobbies make this point because they can vary more than jobs. If you make tables as a hobby, for example, your tables can vary more than if you make tables for a living. Casa Pepe is way outside (better) what one expects from a rented room.

Another way Casa Pepe is unusual is that it is very hard to find, even if you study the directions. I found it by knocking on a neighbor’s door. The neighbor called Casa Pepe. Someone from Casa Pepe came to meet the neighbor and me on the street — it was too hard to tell the neighbor where it was. Here are better directions. From Incheon Airport, take airport bus 6112 to the Hangsun University stop. Go to Exit 6 of the nearby subway station (Hangsun University Station on Line 4). Walk up the street (Seongbuk-ro) indicated by Exit 6 — toward the hills. After walking about 13 minutes, where the road veers right, you will see a sign that says Seongbuk-ro 19-gil (gil = side street), which points almost exactly to a steep concrete path on the left perpendicular to the street. It is the width of a driveway. Go up about 40 meters. Casa Pepe is on the right — a white house with a red door, with a sign that says “casa pepe”. Don’t be misled by the fact that the listed address is not on Seongbuk-ro 19-gil.

Assorted Links

April 9, 2014
  • how to self-experiment with resistant starch. See comments.
  • A list of health benefits of honey says nothing about sleep
  • Someone says “I told you so” about the demise of Better Place, the Israeli car-battery-swap company. Better Place raised an insane amount of money, something like $1 billion.
  • Behind the New York Times series on health care costs. “The social media team analyzed the remarks and discovered that there were deep frustrations about the cost of inhalers and medications for asthma, the most common chronic condition affecting people of all ages.” There should be deep frustration that anyone still has asthma. The notion that figuring out what causes asthma is possible — and will cost about a million times less than continuing to buy inhalers and medicine — has not occurred to enough people.

Thanks to Tuck.

Assorted Links

April 8, 2014

Thanks to Casey Manion, Phil Alexander, Viorel Tulica, Melody McLaren, Christian Pekeler, Donna Warnock and Tom Passin.

What is Teaching?

April 6, 2014

Russ Roberts says:

Great teaching is more than passing on information. For that you can read a book or watch a video. A great teacher provokes and takes you on a journey of understanding. That requires grappling with the material and making it your own. Usually that means applying your knowledge to a problem you haven’t see before. At least that’s often the case in economics. I think Doug Lemov said it in his EconTalk episode — you haven’t taught it until they’ve learned it and learning is more than just hearing the facts or the answer to a problem.

This was the view I heard at UC Berkeley among faculty — when they weren’t complaining about teaching.

I disagree with this. The best teachers bring out what is inside their students. They provide the right environment so what is inside each student is expressed. How to do this will be different for each student, so you have to learn about them — not just generally, you have to learn about each one. (Or at least you have to grasp their diversity and allow for it.)

Learning is natural. Every student, in my experience, wants to learn something. What makes the situation much more difficult, is the false assumption that every student wants to learn the same thing or can be cajoled into learning the same thing. One of my Berkeley students said that in high school he had had a “great teacher” of philosophy, much like the teachers that Roberts praises. He had made philosophy so interesting that my student had originally majored in it. That had been a mistake, said my student.

I believe human nature has been shaped in many ways to make our economy work. Human economies center on trading. You make X, I make Y, we trade. If everyone made X, that would be bad economics. So we have been shaped to want to go in different occupational directions — you want to be an Xer, I want to be a Yer. This is deep inside us and impossible to change. When healthy students have trouble learning, I think the underlying problem is their teacher wants them to be an Xer (like the teacher) — but they want to be something else. A great teacher finds that something else.

Even the term great teacher is misleading, because it seems to imply that being a great teacher (= every student learns a lot) is difficult. I have found it’s easy, just as swimming with the current is easy. It requires a certain psychological ingenuity to fit this way of teaching into a system that doesn’t understand it. But after I figured out how to do it, it was so much easier than teaching the traditional way. I used to try to make all my students learn the same thing. That was really tiring — like swimming against the current. After class I’d be exhausted. Now I feel fine after class.

Bedtime Honey and Motivation

April 5, 2014

A friend writes:

The honey has been the biggest improvement in my life in several years. It’s not just the energy, I think I’m more motivated to do things.

I started the honey with 1 tablespoon, but like others who commented, I had some trouble getting to sleep, so I reduced the dose to about 2 teaspoons. I take the honey about 15 minutes before bedtime, and I have not missed a dose since starting.

The first morning after the honey I felt much more alert and rested. I had no trouble getting out of bed even on 5 hours sleep at around 6:30 – 7:00 AM PDT.

The motivation that has come since starting the honey doesn’t feel primarily psychological. It doesn’t wax and wane or change in response to events. It feels raw (no pun intended), more like a drive.

The motivation improvement (that might be due to honey) seemed to begin a few weeks after I started it. The main aspect of the motivation is that I feel impelled to do things. This feeling lasts all day. It’s not a manic feeling, because I still have priorities, and I can bail out of a task if I’m not making progress.

I noticed a similar change. After I started the bedtime honey, it became easier to do everything. Not a big change, but noticeable. When it started is hard to say.

Assorted Links

April 4, 2014

Thanks to Tucker Max and Barnaby Kerbel.

Journal of Personal Science: Molybdenum and Avoiding Sulfur Helped My IBS

April 3, 2014

by August Hurtel

I live in Shreveport, Louisiana and work in the interlibrary loans department at Shreve Memorial library. I am 39 years old.

I believe, due to experiences I will expand upon below, that excess sulfur compounds, especially sulfites, may contribute to and even cause irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). If you have IBS, you can try to verify this in a few ways.

1) Try molybdenum. I take Carlson Lab’s Moly-B 500 mcg tablets (one tablet/day).

2) Avoid foods and supplements high in sulfur.

3) If you have already purchased the services of 23&me or want to, you can look at this thread in the forums — “Reactions to food containing sulfites, sulfur dioxide, bisulfite, metabisulfite. SUOX gene” — and see if you have the same polymorphisms, though if you just do the first two, you’ll be able to guess. Read the rest of this entry »

Assorted Links

April 2, 2014

The Trouble with Critics of Science, Such as John Ioannidis

April 1, 2014

I haven’t been interested in the work of John Ioannidis because it seems unrelated to discovery. Ioannidis says too many papers are “wrong”. I don’t know how the fraction of “wrong” papers is related to the rate of discovery. For example, what percentage of “wrong” papers produces the most discovery? Ioannidis doesn’t seem to think about this. Yet that is the goal of science — better understanding. Not “right” papers. Read the rest of this entry »

Questions for Jeffrey Sachs

March 31, 2014

On Econtalk, Russ Roberts recently interviewed Jeffrey Sachs, author of The End of Poverty and head of the Millennium Village Project (MVP). I enjoyed it but thought Roberts was too easy on Sachs. Here’s what I wished he had asked:

Your book, The End of Poverty — did you get anything wrong?

What mistakes have you made with MVP?

You say Nina Munk [author of The Idealist] chose a non-representative village. [Sachs said that Munk spent her time in the only village in "a war zone."] Did you tell her that? If not, why not?

Munk was on your side when she began reporting, but changed her mind. Why is that?

Why was the project set up in such a way that evaluation is difficult? Why not pick ten villages and randomly select five for treatment?

You say the MVP project is successful because people are copying it — but those people are government officials. Is it plausible they are copying it because they see it as a good way to make money for themselves or improve their career? You must know many worthless medical treatments have been widely copied. Is this your best evidence of success?

No doubt your employees have often told you what you wanted to hear rather than the truth. What’s an example? What have you done to get honest assessments of how things are going?

What did you learn from Nina Munk’s book?

Roberts says he didn’t ask Sachs certain questions because there wasn’t enough time.

More Cereal Fiber, Much Less Heart Disease

March 30, 2014

In Vitamin D and Cholesterol: The Importance of the Sun (2009) by David Grimes, an excellent book, I came across a 1977 study of healthy middle-aged men. The researchers measured their diet and watched them from 1966 to 1976. The question: What diets were associated with better health? There turned out to be associations with cholesterol (lower better) and systolic blood pressure (lower better), but these were less interesting than two strong dietary associations. One was between energy intake and heart disease. Men in the lowest third of energy intake had 23 cases of heart disease; men in the highest third had 7 cases. That’s probably due to exercise: the more you exercise the more you eat. We already know exercise is good.

The other association was with cereal fiber. Men in the lowest third of consumption (2-7 g/day) had 25 cases of heart disease; men in the highest third (8-34 g/day) had 5 cases. (A Wasa cracker has about 2 g cereal fiber.) You might dismiss this as healthy-person bias: healthy people do many healthy things, such as eat fiber. However, there was no association of heart disease and fiber from fruit and nuts. They’re healthy too. “The advantage of a diet high in cereal fibre cannot be explained [by us],” said the authors.

Later studies have found the same thing. For example, a 2006 review reached a similar conclusion: “There is an increasing body of evidence, including that from prospective population studies and epidemiological observational studies, suggesting a strong inverse relationship between increased consumption of wholegrain foods and reduced risk of CVD.” A study of health-conscious people — to reduce healthy-person bias — found a similar association: “Persons who habitually ate wholemeal bread had a lower mortality from cerebrovascular disease.” A 2002 review and a 2013 review provide even more evidence for the association.

Shant Mesrobian has emphasized the importance of fiber for health. Whereas paleo gurus usually say grains are bad. Here, for example, are “10 reasons to avoid grains”.

Teaching Histology: Lessons for Other Teaching?

March 29, 2014

Edward Edmonds is an histologist at the Albany Stratton VA Medical Center, Albany, New York. He has been an histologist since 2002. Previously he worked at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Landstuhl, Germany, the Ehrling Bergquist Hospital Offutt AFB, Nebraska, and the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (now Joint Pathology Center), Washington D.C.

Recently he left an interesting comment on this blog: Read the rest of this entry »

Larger Lesson of “We Were Wrong about Saturated Fat”

March 28, 2014

My sister sent me a link to an article (“Butter is Back”) by Mark Bittman, the New York Times food columnist, about a recent review that found saturated fat didn’t cause heart disease. I told my sister I had clicked on the link but had forgotten to read the article.

My sister was incredulous. How could you not want to say “I told you so”? she wondered. (In a 2010 talk I questioned the danger of butter.)

Here is the relevant passage, according to my sister:

A meta-analysis published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine found that there’s just no evidence to support the notion that saturated fat increases the risk of heart disease. (In fact, there’s some evidence that a lack of saturated fat may be damaging.) The researchers looked at 72 different studies.

I told you so. But this part interests me more:

No study is perfect and few are definitive. But the real villains in our diet — sugar and ultra-processed foods — are becoming increasingly apparent.

Uh-huh. The experts were staggeringly wrong about saturated fat…but they couldn’t possibly be wrong about “sugar and ultra-processed foods”. That makes no sense, but that’s what Bittman wrote (“increasingly apparent”). To me, what is increasingly apparent is that nutrition experts shouldn’t be trusted.

I don’t know what “ultra-processed foods” are but I am beginning to believe the experts are utterly wrong about sugar, too. As far as I can tell, sugar in the evening improves sleep — by a lot, if you get the details right — and nothing is more important than good sleep. If you have read The Shangri-La Diet, you already know that sugar alone cannot have caused the obesity epidemic. It is more complicated than that.

Assorted Links

March 27, 2014

Thanks to Alex Chernavsky.

“Why Fuss About Paleo Life?”

March 26, 2014

dearime asks:

Why do people fuss so much about paleo life? The population has grown so much since that it’s easy to believe that we’ve evolved a long way from then.

Jared Diamond wrote a paper about rapid evolution on an isolated island. When modern (factory) food was introduced to the island (in the 1940s?), there was a very high rate of diabetes, presumably due to the new food. Since then, the rate of diabetes on the island has gone way down, although they still eat modern food. Diamond took this to be due to evolution (people with diabetes-resistant genes had more offspring), supporting dearime’s point of view.

After the first Ancestral Health Symposium, Melissa McEwen commented how unhealthy many of the top people looked. On the other hand, Tucker Max commented how healthy the attendees looked in general. I agree with both observations. A paradox.

When I was an assistant professor, and wanted to sleep better, I believed wondering about paleo life was unhelpful because (a) we knew so little about it and (b) it must have differed in thousands of ways from modern life. Should I spend an hour trying to find out about paleo life and/or what paleo gurus recommend for bad sleep? Or should I spend an hour trying to find out how ordinary people have improved their sleep? My answer was the latter. I ignored paleo life.

Looking into how ordinary people improved their sleep did help. I eventually reached a non-trivial conclusion: Eating breakfast made my sleep worse. No paleo guru had said that — I had been right to ignore them. Yet it made evolutionary sense. Cavemen did not eat breakfast, I was pretty sure. (No refrigerators.) After that I paid more attention to what evolutionary thinking would suggest. This led to several discoveries: the effect of faces in the morning on mood, the effect of standing on sleep, and the Shangri-La Diet. It is incredibly hard to discover big new experimental effects (such as the effect of morning faces), especially in fields you know little about (my specialty in psychology was animal learning, not mood, sleep or weight control). I was impressed.

The effect of bedtime honey (more generally sweets in the evening) on sleep emphasizes the paradox or puzzle or whatever you call it. I found out about the honey effect by paying attention to what works. No paleo involved. Stuart King told me it improved his sleep. Here are three reasons to look at ordinary experience and avoid paleo theorists: 1. It turned out to help. 2. It’s a huge effect and very easy. 3. Paleo theorists have said the opposite: avoid carbs, avoid sugar. If you followed their advice, you would do the opposite of what helped Stuart and me. On the other hand, I increased my belief in the effect because it made evolutionary sense: 1. It makes sense of why we like sweets. 2. It makes sense of why our liking for sweets goes down when we are hungry (surely due to an evolved mechanism). 3. It makes sense of why we eat sweets more in the evening (presumably due to an evolved mechanism that makes sweets taste better in the evening).

The short answer to dearime’s question is that, in my experience, it is incredibly hard to learn anything about health. There are so many possibilities and evolutionary thinking helps choose among them — decide which to take the trouble to test.

Treat Everyone As Smart, Capable and Motivated?

March 25, 2014

A Vancouver drug center has started an unusual program: alcoholics bottle homemade beer.

The Drug Users Resource Centre, the Downtown Eastside non-profit famous for housing Canada’s first crack pipe vending machine, is also behind what may well be North America’s first program teaching severe alcoholics how to brew their own beer and wine.

Now the alcoholics just do bottling but the people behind the program intend to expand it to include other parts of the beer-making process, such as fermentation.

What’s interesting is that they are not treating severe alcoholics as passive or disabled — as recipients of treatment. At least not entirely.

This program reminds me of several things. Geel, a town in Belgium, treats people with mental illness as valued caregivers. Zeynep Ton says low-level retail employees should be treated as people who can learn many jobs, give good advice to both customers and management, make good use of free time, and so on. I treat my students as people who want to learn — who do not need to be scared into learning by threat of a bad grade — and are capable of inventing their own assignments.

Is there a general lesson to be drawn from these examples? (All are complicated, in spite of brief descriptions.) Could it be a good idea — as a default — to treat those you deal with as smart, capable and motivated? It is no great leap to treat alcoholics as motivated to make beer but it is a slight leap to treat them as capable of making beer. Is the next step is to treat them as smart?

What if doctors, before they saw a patient, told them: Please search the Internet for possible remedies. Bring a list of the ones you want to consider to our meeting. Is that crazy? The slightly subtle point is this may make the doctor happier.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Do Sweet Foods Taste Good? The Importance of a Simple Observation

March 23, 2014

Stuart King writes:

I was very hungry today at dinner and the thought of sweet food wasn’t appealing at all, but after filling up on some rice, chicken and coconut cream curry I immediately had ice cream and chocolate slice [= what Americans call a brownie], which had had no appeal 15 minutes or so before!

An everyday observation that anyone can make. Studies have shown what Stuart noticed: When you are hungry sweet foods are unappealing. This is why dessert is eaten after the rest of the meal.

The main way that psychologists explain an experimental effect — choose between explanations — is by finding out what makes the effect larger or smaller. For example, discovery of what makes learning more or less (what increases or decreases the effect of one learning trial) is the main way psychologists have chosen among different theories of learning. Different theories predict different interactions.

Why do we like sweet foods? The usual answers are that sweet foods are a “good source of energy” and they provide “quick energy”. But these explanations do nothing to explain what Stuart noticed. If sugar is a good (= better than average) source of energy, we should eat it before other foods (average sources of energy) when we are hungry (hunger signals lack of energy). The opposite is true. You may not want to call it a “contradiction” but there is no doubt the conventional view does not explain what Stuart noticed. Of course many nutrition experts, such as Weston Price, are/were entirely sure sugar is unhealthy.

As a tool for choosing among theories, Stuart’s observation is especially good because (a) it is very large (sweets go from unappealing to appealing) and (b) paradoxical (eating calories should make all calorie sources less appealing).

If you have been reading this blog, you know I explain Stuart’s observation by assuming that we need sugar in the evening to sleep well. Sugar (sucrose, fructose, glucose) eaten in the evening increases blood glucose, which increases glycogen. During sleep, glycogen becomes glucose, which the brain needs to work properly. Evolution shaped us to like sweet foods after a meal so that we will eat them closer to when we sleep. (The value of replenishing glycogen close to bedtime also explains why we eat sweet foods after dinner more than after breakfast or lunch.)

I can’t think of another case where what experts say is so out of line with what’s easily observed. For example, I’m sure cholesterol doesn’t cause heart disease, but there is no everyday observation that supports my belief.

I can’t think of another case where what experts say is so out of line with what’s easily observed. For example, I’m sure cholesterol doesn’t cause heart disease, but there is no everyday observation that supports my belief.

If sugar is helpful for sleep, why is it associated with diabetes? My guess is that sugar is almost always consumed in foods that taste exactly the same each time — what in The Shangri-La Diet I called ditto foods. For example, soft drinks. Ditto foods with sugar, because they have a strong precise CS (smell) and a strong fast US (calorie signal), produce an especially strong smell-calorie association. Such an association raises the body fat set point, thus causing obesity. Obesity causes diabetes. It’s also possible that eating sugar during the day — at the wrong time — hurts sleep. Maybe sugar during the day raises insulin and thus reduces the conversion of sugar to glycogen. Less glycogen causes bad sleep, bad sleep causes diabetes. My blood sugar levels clearly improved when I started eating sweets in the evening — opposite to what the sugar-diabetes link would predict.

Assorted Links

March 22, 2014

Thanks to Casey Manion.

Assorted Links

March 21, 2014

Thanks to Melody McLaren.

Cheap Accurate Home HbA1c Test

March 20, 2014

Walmart sells a kit for home measurement of HbA1c (brand name ReliOn) that costs $9 and provides results by email. It’s sold only at Walmart. I have been paying $30 for the same measurement at a test center (about 30 minutes away). If you use insurance, copay might be $15. Without insurance, a doctor’s office test might cost $90. The reviews suggest the test has roughly the same variability and average as a lab test. A few people had trouble getting enough blood on the dots but at $9 there is plenty of room for repeat testing.

My blood sugar improved when I started to walk an hour per day and when I started intermittent fasting (eating about half as much as usual every other day). I noticed the effects with blood sugar tests but frequent HbA1c tests (say, once/week) would have been much better.

Diabetes has become an enormous problem in China, where 10% of adults have Type 2 diabetes, roughly the same as in America. Americans often think obesity causes diabetes but this doesn’t explain why smoking — which makes people thinner — is associated with diabetes. People get diabetes who don’t smoke and aren’t fat. Whether anyone who walks an hour/day gets diabetes is less clear.

Thanks to Shant Mesrobian.