Your belly fat could be making you hungrier…o-ybf041608.php

A fascinating study on how our belly fat can almost turn into a sort-of self-regulating cancer that grows and grows regardless of the intended regulation of the rest of the body. This is sort of like cellular anarchy and rule of fat:

The extra fat we carry around our middle could be making us hungrier, so we eat more, which in turn leads to even more belly fat. Dr. Kaiping Yang and his colleagues at the Lawson Health Research Institute affiliated with The University of Western Ontario found abdominal fat tissue can produce a hormone that stimulates fat cell production. The researchers hope this discovery will change in the way we think about and treat abdominal obesity.

Yang identified that the hormone Neuropeptide Y (NPY) is produced by abdominal fat tissue. Previously, it was believed to only be produced by the brain. Yang believes this novel finding may lead to new therapeutic targets for combating obesity. Their findings were reported in a recent issue of The FASEB Journal.

The traditional view is that one of the main reasons why overweight people eat more food is because their brains produce the hormone NPY in excessive amounts. NPY is the most potent appetite stimulating hormone known, sending signals to the individual that they are constantly hungry. However, Yang, a Professor in the Departments of Obstetrics & Gynaecology and Physiology & Pharmacology at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry at The University of Western Ontario, has provided evidence that in obese rat models NPY is also produced locally by abdominal fat.

A fat cell cannot replicate itself. But the researchers found NPY increases fat cell number by stimulating the replication of fat cell precursor cells, which then change into fat cells.

Yang says “this may lead to a vicious cycle where NPY produced in the brain causes you to eat more and therefore gain more fat around your middle, and then that fat produces more NYP hormone which leads to even more fat cells.”

Being overweight, regardless of where the fat is located, is unhealthy. However, because of its anatomical location and its byproducts, abdominal fat or the apple-shape is known to be the most dangerous. People predisposed to the apple shape are at an elevated risk for heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and some cancers.

Next, the researchers will be investigating whether NPY produced by fat is released into the body’s circulatory system. “We want to know if NPY could potentially be transported in the blood to the brain where it in turn has an impact on the brain to stimulate feelings of hunger,” says Yang. If the researchers find that NPY is in fact transported in the blood circulation then it may be possible to develop a simple blood test to detect increased levels of NPY. “If you can detect NPY early and identify those at risk for abdominal obesity we can then target therapy to turn off NPY. It would be much easier to use drugs to prevent obesity than to treat the diseases caused by obesity.”

That Belly Fat Colony

Art had this to say back when the post was still live:

Aside from NPY, belly fat secretes tumor necrosis factor and a host of other hormones and messengers that make other tissues resistant to the action of insulin. This, in effect, redirects nutrients to them away from other tissues such as muscle, organ and brain. They also elevate serum triglycerides that can directly poison insulin beta cells and receptors.

Artificial Sweeteners Cause Energy Disregulation – Devany

Note: Art moved this post, so it’s offline, but the cited link is where it originally was located.

Some interesting findings regarding artificial sweeteners reducing the predictive abilities of the body (body expects sugar but receives none – false positive). Apparently, the research indicates that this may lead to obesity and other problems.


We found that reducing the correlation between sweet taste and the caloric content of foods using artificial sweeteners in rats resulted in increased caloric intake, increased body weight, and increased adiposity, as well as diminished caloric compensation and blunted thermic responses to sweet-tasting diets. These results suggest that consumption of products containing artificial sweeteners may lead to increased body weight and obesity by interfering with fundamental homeostatic, physiological processes.

Dietary Fiber and Mineral Availability – Whole Health Source


A common nutrition meme is that fiber is fantastic for you and you should eat large quantities of it. However, that widespread belief may very well be false. It would seem that not only is it difficult for our bodies to extract the abundant nutrients within fibrous and mineral-dense whole grain foods, but these foods frequently have anti-nutrients that may make you even worse off by hurting absorption of nutrients in the other foods you are eating.

The study cited below doesn’t quite damn fiber; however, it does indicate that it’s not the panacea its claimed to be and individuals probably don’t need to up their fiber intakes.

Even though its a sidenote in his post, Stephan’s comments about polyphenols are worthy of follow-up research.

Finally, Stephan expounds upon fermentation as a means to up nutrient absorption. It seems to me that fermentation is the oldest food processing technique in human history — even as food rots a hungry hunter gatherer is still going to eat it!

Mainstream health authorities are constantly telling us to eat more fiber for health, particularly whole grains, fruit and vegetables. Yet the only clinical trial that has ever isolated the effect of eating a high-fiber diet on overall risk of death, the Diet and Reinfarction Trial, came up with this graph:

Oops! How embarrassing. At two years, the group that doubled its fiber intake had a 27% greater chance of dying and a 23% greater chance of having a heart attack. The extra fiber was coming from whole grains. I should say, out of fairness, that the result wasn’t quite statistically significant (p less than 0.05) at two years. But at the very least, this doesn’t support the idea that increasing fiber will extend your life. . . .

Chief among these is phytic acid, with smaller contributions from tannins (polyphenols) and oxalates. The paper makes a strong case that phytic acid is the main reason fiber prevents mineral absorption, rather than the insoluble fiber fraction. This notion was confirmed here.

As a little side note, polyphenols are those wonderful plant antioxidants that are one of the main justifications for the supposed health benefits of vegetables, tea, chocolate, fruits and antioxidant supplements. The problem is, they’re actually toxins. They reduce mineral absorption, and the antioxidant effect seen in human plasma after eating them is due largely to our own bodies secreting uric acid into the blood (a defense mechanism?), rather than the polyphenols themselves. The main antioxidants in blood are uric acid, vitamin C and vitamin E, with almost no direct contribution from polyphenols. I’m open to the idea that some polyphenols could be beneficial if someone can show me convincing data, but in any case they are not the panacea they’re made out to be. Thanks to Peter for cluing me in on this. . . .

A more effective method is to grind grains and soak them before cooking, which helps the phytase function more effectively, especially in gluten grains and buckwheat. The most effective method by far, and the method of choice among healthy traditional cultures around the world, is to soak, grind and ferment whole grains. This breaks down nearly all the phytic acid, making whole grains a good source of both minerals and vitamins.

The Scientific Method Simplified…simplified.html

Brad Pilon of brings a simple reminder that I should challenge my beliefs.

I understand the tendency towards confirmation bias (See Confirmation Bias and the Internet). Yet awareness isn’t quite enough, I don’t think. I should actively seek out the destruction of my own beliefs if I really care about knowing anything.

Here’s Brad:

. . . one of the best ways to grow intellectually is to take things you believe to be right, and methodically and logically try to prove them wrong. . . .

. . . you will see amazing growth in your understanding and knowledge if every once in a while you systematically and logically try and disprove the things that you believe to be right, instead of always trying to reaffirm their correctness.

The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Nassim Taleb’s The Black Swan is a fantastic, eye-opening book that will challenge not only what you know but also what you think you know. Taleb is widely renowned as the guy who made beaucoup amounts of money off of the 1987 stock market crash. He profited not by predicting the crash would happen, but that the system would eventually produce a “black swan” event that would make options insanely profitable.

Recommendation — Nassim Nicholas Taleb (or “NNT” as I like to refer to him) opened my eyes with this book. Any book that can blow open your understanding of the world is a must-read — and this is one of those books. The role that randomness and unpredictability play in our lives is completely under-appreciated, when it is acknowledged at all. Just one attempt at appreciation I’ve made can be found in my post “But For,” which is an attempt to string together a series of unplanned events that have cumulatively had an enormous impact on my life.

Going forward, I want to garner a greater appreciation for power law, stochasticity, black swan events, and living in “Extremistan.” On my immediate reading list are related books: The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives, Stumbling on Happiness and The Luck Factor: The Four Essential Principles. I’ve yet to order it, but NNT’s first book, Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets, is also on my list.

I’ve become a bit of a Nassim Taleb junkie and typically link down stuff he puts out (videos, articles, posts to his low-tech blog “Opacity,” etc.).

Review — Rather than recant what others have said better, I’ll selectively quote a thorough and informative review of the book from Amazon:

The Black Swan is probably the strongest statement of enlightened empiricism since Ernst Mach refused to acknowledge the existence of the atom. Of course, in theory, everyone today is supposed to be an empiricist – all right-thinking intellectuals claim to base their views solely on positive scientific observation. But very few sincerely confront the implications of rigorous empiricism. Specifically, few confront “the problem of induction,” illustrated here by the story of the black swan.

Briefly: observing an event once does not predict it will occur again in the future. This remains true regardless of the number of observations one adds to the pile. Or, as Taleb, recapitulating David Hume, has it: the observation of even a million white swans does not justify the statement “all swans are white.” There is no way to know that somewhere out there a black swan is not hiding, disproving the rule and nullifying our “knowledge” of swans. The problem of induction tells us that we cannot really learn from our experiences. It makes knowledge very problematic, if not impossible. And yet, humans do behave -almost without exception- as though they believe that experience teaches us lessons. This is forgivable; there is no better path to knowledge. But before proceeding, one must account for the limits that the problem of induction places on our claims to knowledge. And humans seem, at every turn, to lack this critical self-awareness.

Taleb explains that conventional social scientists use induction to collect data, which is then plotted on the good old Gaussian bellcurve. With characteristic silliness, Taleb dubs the land of the bellcurve “Mediocristan” – and informs us that it is the natural habitat of the white swan. He contrasts Mediocristan with “Extremistan” – where chaos reigns, the wholly unexpected happens, power laws and fractal geometry apply and the bellcurve does not. Taleb’s fictional/metaphorical ‘stans’ share something with the ‘stans’ of the real world: very ill-defined borders. Indeed, one can never tell whether one is in the relatively safe territory of Mediocristan or if one has wandered into the lawless tribal regions of Extremistan. The bellcurve can only help you in Mediocristan, but you have no way of knowing whether you have strayed into Extremistan – beyond the bellcurve’s jurisdiction. This means that bellcurves are of no reliable use, anywhere. The full implications of this take a while to sink in, and are sure to cause huge controversy. In July, Taleb will debate Charles Murray (author of -what else?- the Bell Curve). I’ll let you know who wins.

10 Steps to getting a job through Twitter…gh-twitter.html

Some advice on using twitter to secure a job. Some of the advice is obvious, even as it probably needs to be said — i.e. remember that your tweets are public, so think before you tweet. I’ve also now signed up with Mr Tweet, which has opened my eyes that I probably link too much.

It’s intriguing to see over and over again that:

  • Celebrities use twitter
  • Tweeting celebrities often interact with followers

I wouldn’t have expected that, but maybe twitter gives celebrities the opportunity to achieve a semblance of normal human interaction. This could happen as followers on twitter are removed enough (thanks to physical distance) to keep the celebrities’ walls/bubble intact while enabling followers to remain composed (even when a famous person is interacting with them). Hmm.

4. Ask people who to follow. Poke around the people that your friends follow. One person you should definitely ask is Mr. Tweet. By following the Mr. Tweet account, you’ll get a customized recommendation list based on the people in your network. This works if you know a lot of people in your industry, but probably won’t be as good if you’re a student or you’re looking to break out of what you’re doing. That’s why I suggested Twellow first. Just don’t follow too many people, though. When I see someone following 6,000 people, I automatically think they’re trying to just gain followers to sell something or they’re a bit too much of a self promoter–because clearly you can’t listen to 6,000 people. If you’re not really listening, I don’t have much interest in speaking with you.

5. On that note, listen! Yes, that’s right. Before you go blabbing your mouth off about all your brilliant insights, listen to what the people who work in the kinds of places you want to work and who are doing what you want to do are talking about. What articles are they reading? What events are they going to? This is the pulse of the most innovative part of the community. Look up what you don’t know and make sure you’re on top of this.

6. Use search creatively. Is anyone looking for someone with marketing experience? How about a product manager? Is anyone hiring?? Tweetdeck lets you create several saved searches that update live, so you can see up to the minute updates about your topics of interest. You can also feed them into a reader using RSS.

7. Cross-pollinate. Create thoughtful presentations on Slideshare about some research or thinking you did. Write blog posts about your take on what others are talking about. Create links for them on (so you know how many clicks you got) and share them on Twitter. Use creative and compelling titles like, “What you didn’t know about SEO” or “Buying drugs in the year 2020” versus boring ones like “My post about SEO” or “A presentation on the future of pharmaceuticals.”

8. Get in conversations. Ask questions directly to people, in public, about something they posted. You’d be surprised about how accessible some really high level people are on Twitter. Even celebrities seem to be pretty responsive. This is where your links to other places come in handy. When someone new responds to something I say, I generally check them out to see who they are. Don’t comment just to comment, but when you have something interesting to say or a good question, don’t be afraid to participate! One of the best ways to engage with people is to talk to the people already following you that you don’t know. They came in somehow–ask them about their jobs, their companies. Call out their interesting blog posts or things you like that their company does. It shows you’re paying attention.

(H/T Gary)

Building and Defusing a Pork Bomb


The “Bacon Explosion” is likely one of the most cooked (and craved) recipes to hit the Internet in recent months. Having created and eaten a variant of the “Pork Bomb” with my brothers a couple weeks back, I can attest to its tastiness.

The concept between the ‘splosion is simple: you’re taking a couple pounds of ground meat (pork, beef, or a mix) and slow-cooking it on a grill or smoker. Since plopping that much ground meat alone onto a bald grill would be prone to fall apart, you wrap the entire “loaf” with weaved bacon.

Of course, as good as ground meat wrapped in delicious bacon may be, why stop there? To make this “pork-wrapped torpedo” even more delectable, you mix into the meat additional ingredients. This can mean more crispy bacon bits, onions, bell peppers, cheese, seasonings, olives, whatever! BBQ rubs liberally applied to the outside and inside of the bomb are also key.

Our own take involved a 50/50 mix of ground beef and pork. Dry rub and bbq sauce was applied to the interior and exterior of the bomb. “Mix-ins” included green and red peppers, onions, and sharp cheddar cheese. Food and grill preparation took between thirty minutes and an hour. The cooking took around two hours (Rule of thumb is an hour per pound). Have plenty of beer handy for the duration. We served the dish sliced with romaine lettuce and sliced tomatoes. ProNovice-tip: We had to use a few toothpicks to hold our bacon wrap together as our bomb was so big, we needed extra bacon “stitches” to bridge a gap in our weave. Yes, our bomb was high-tech.

The result is a slice-able, bacon-infused, barbecue-seasoned mouth-pleasing monstrosity that you owe it to your taste buds to try.

Rather than add to the volumes of data out there on the nitty gritty details of making your own pork bomb / bacon explosion, I’m just going to provide the relevant links to get you started as well as a few pictures from our BBQ.

Thanks to my brother Nathan (BBQ Zombie) and brother-in-law Michael for their assistance in making the bacon explosion possible. We’ll be taking another crack at cooking one or two of these up this weekend in honor of both these guys turning 30!

Thanks Nathan!

How bank bonuses let us all down…0077b07658.html

More from Nassim Nicholas Taleb (See prior at tag nassim-taleb) on our current system that fosters the “free option,” which is most easily summed up as, “Heads I win, tails you lose.”

NNT has previously argued that our banking system is built to blow up, and how can you argue with the reality that banks steadily earn profits for years only to suddenly blow up, losing all past profits and more?

Why does this happen? I think there are two reasons, only one of which gets press generally. The other is at the root of Taleb’s discussion on a broken incentive structure (free options).

The widely accepted and discussed reason for our current mess is leverage — a.k.a. credit. By way of a simple example of the power of leverage, in a booming housing market, leverage enables a homeowner to turn little-to-no-equity into a hefty profit ($10k down, $90k loan to buy a house; sell in two years for $150k and you made 500%!). However, when that housing market goes bust (or even just stops booming), the levered homeowner suddenly can’t cash out or see his minimal equity position wiped out. Since he has little skin in the game, he lets the loss go fully to the bank. We are now seeing this happen en masse.

Heads I win. Tails you lose.

It is the same with banks, except in a monstrous, centralized, global, and ridiculously more complicated (thanks to derivatives) way.

So it is becoming widely understood how credit and leverage can muck things up.

The less (or not-at-all) acknowledged problem is our corporatist legal system whereby businesses can incorporate and separate personal loss from business loss. By default, creating a corporation is essentially creating a public negative externality. How so? Well, a corporation can only bear the cost of its failures to the extent of the capital invested. So even without any leverage, the corporation is incentivized to take on more risk than it has capital to cover in order to maximize profits. When times are good, this is incredibly profitable. When times are bad, corporations go bankrupt even as the CEOs and risk-taking managers who messed up get off with their wages and bonuses!

Tack onto this corporatist system the aforementioned system of leverage you key a system built to blow-up.

Despite all of the free option discussion, I’m not sure NNT understands the bald-faced simplicity of the problem of severing risk from loss. However, Taleb hints at a clearcut understanding when he makes mention of Roman soldiers. Soldiers have skin in the game – their lives. If they screw up, they risk their own life. When a CEO of a corporation screws up, they risk the wealth of their investors and that of general stakeholders in the event that their screw-up pushes waste onto society.

In fact, the incentive scheme commonly in place does the exact opposite of what an “incentive” system should be about: it encourages a certain class of risk-hiding and deferred blow-up. It is the reason banks have never made money in the history of banking, losing the equivalent of all their past profits periodically – while bankers strike it rich. Furthermore, it is thatincentive scheme that got us in the current mess. . . .

If capitalism is about incentives, it should be about true incentives, those resistant to blow-ups. And there should be disincentives to remove the asymmetry of the free option. Entrepreneurs are rewarded for their gains; they are also penalised for their losses. . . .

However, when it comes to banks and other “too big to fail” entities, the problem is severe: we taxpayers in our respective countries are funding these global monsters and are coughing up money for mistakes made by bankers who retain their bonuses and are hijacking us because, as we are discovering (a little late), banking is a utility and we need them to clean up their mess. We, in fact, are the seller of that free option. We should claim it back. . . .

Indeed, the incentive system put in place by financial companies has produced the worst possible economic system mankind can imagine: capitalism for the profits and socialism for the losses.

Finally, I was involved in trading for 21 years and I can testify that traders consciously play the free option game. On the other hand, I worked (in my other job as risk adviser) with various military organisations and people watching over our safety. We trust military and homeland security people with our lives, yet they do not get a bonus. They get promotions, the honour of a job well done and the disincentive of shame if they fail. Roman soldiers signed a sacramentum accepting punishment in the event of failure. This is prompting me to call for the nationalisation of the utility part of banking as the only solution in which society does not grant individuals free options to look after its risks.

No incentive without disincentive. And never trust with your money anyone making a potential bonus.

“The Tale of the Slave”…aleofslave.html

Via Patri comes Nozick’s “The Tale of the Slave,” a thought experiment that illustrates how a system of democracy is little more than enslavement to a faceless master, the multitude, the majority.

I’ve alluded to this out elsewhere (and been misunderstood, unfortunately; another post on voting). We aren’t comfortable with the idea that we are slaves, and don’t think I’m in any way equating outright slavery as suffered by people throughout history with the part-time slavery of state control. I’m not.

Imagine a spectrum whereby liberty and freedom are on one end and slavery the other. Where on this spectrum do we fall? And is being a slave to faceless mass really any better in the long run than a tyrannical master whose face we know?

I’m not sure.

Consider the following sequence of cases, which we shall call the Tale of the Slave, and imagine it is about you.

  1. There is a slave completely at the mercy of his brutal master’s whims. He often is cruelly beaten, called out in the middle of the night, and so on.
  2. The master is kindlier and beats the slave only for stated infractions of his rules (not fulfilling the work quota, and so on). He gives the slave some free time.
  3. The master has a group of slaves, and he decides how things are to be allocated among them on nice grounds, taking into account their needs, merit, and so on.
  4. The master allows his slaves four days on their own and requires them to work only three days a week on his land. The rest of the time is their own.
  5. The master allows his slaves to go off and work in the city (or anywhere they wish) for wages. He requires only that they send back to him three-sevenths of their wages. He also retains the power to recall them to the plantation if some emergency threatens his land; and to raise or lower the three-sevenths amount required to be turned over to him. He further retains the right to restrict the slaves from participating in certain dangerous activities that threaten his financial return, for example, mountain climbing, cigarette smoking.
  6. The master allows all of his 10,000 slaves, except you, to vote, and the joint decision is made by all of them. There is open discussion, and so forth, among them, and they have the power to determine to what uses to put whatever percentage of your (and their) earnings they decide to take; what activities legitimately may be forbidden to you, and so on.

    Let us pause in this sequence of cases to take stock. If the master contracts this transfer of power so that he cannot withdraw it, you have a change of master. You now have 10,000 masters instead of just one; rather you have one 10,000-headed master. Perhaps the 10,000 even will be kindlier than the benevolent master in case 2. Still, they are your master. However, still more can be done. A kindly single master (as in case 2) might allow his slave(s) to speak up and try to persuade him to make a certain decision. The 10,000-headed monster can do this also.

  7. Though still not having the vote, you are at liberty (and are given the right) to enter into the discussions of the 10,000, to try to persuade them to adopt various policies and to treat you and themselves in a certain way. They then go off to vote to decide upon policies covering the vast range of their powers.
  8. In appreciation of your useful contributions to discussion, the 10,000 allow you to vote if they are deadlocked; they commit themselves to this procedure. After the discussion you mark your vote on a slip of paper, and they go off and vote. In the eventuality that they divide evenly on some issue, 5,000 for and 5,000 against, they look at your ballot and count it in. This has never yet happened; they have never yet had occasion to open your ballot. (A single master also might commit himself to letting his slave decide any issue concerning him about which he, the master, was absolutely indifferent.)
  9. They throw your vote in with theirs. If they are exactly tied your vote carries the issue. Otherwise it makes no difference to the electoral outcome.

The question is: which transition from case 1 to case 9 made it no longer the tale of a slave?

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