Friday, October 27, 2006

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Does TV cause autism?

Among the diseases that have increased in the last few decades, autism is one of the most commonly mentioned.
The alarming rise in autism rates in the U.S. and some other developed nations is one of the most anguishing mysteries of modern medicine — and the source of much desperate speculation by parents. In 1970, its incidence was thought to be just 1 in 2,500; today about 1 in 170 kids born in the U.S. fall somewhere on the autism spectrum.
The problem is, nobody can say for sure what has caused that increase. Some say that it is the mercury-based preservative in vaccines and others say it has only increased due to broader definitions and better detection, not actual incidence.

Now, however, a study has been released that seems to show a correlation between TV watching prior to age 3 and autism. Causation seems to be a little trickier to nail down, but the study is certainly intriguing. The hypothesis does seem to make sense. Gregg Easterbrook pondered approximately a month ago (prior to the study's release),
The autism rise began around 1980, about the same time cable television and VCRs became common, allowing children to watch television aimed at them any time. Since the brain is organizing during the first years of life and since human beings evolved responding to three-dimensional stimuli, I wondered if exposing toddlers to lots of colorful two-dimensional stimulation could be harmful to brain development.
Now, he notes,

Cornell University researchers are reporting what appears to be a statistically significant relationship between autism rates and television watching...The Cornell study represents a potential bombshell in the autism debate.
Needless to say, not all reaction to the study has been positive. Further research will tell whether a new piece of evidence has indeed been found in puzzling together the mystery of autism.

But could our proclivity to babysit via video be damaging our children? It is worth wondering.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Hot Zones

I thought this was interesting. Planners here in Chicago have used special satellite images to show which Chicago neighborhoods are the hottest. Literally, the hottest. Urban areas create a 'heat island' effect due to the black tar roofs and asphalt parking lots abundant in the city, which release hot blasts back into the surrounding environment. Vegetation, on the other hand, holds down temps by creating shade and evaporating water.

As it turns out, the study shows that tree cover is linked to lower temps, which makes sense. Those areas with the fewest trees and vegetation also were the most likely to exhibit the 'heat island' effect. The treeless (and hotter) areas were mapped and identified.

Using this, the planners are able to plan tree planting and development of vegetation-covered 'green roofs,' hopefully alleviating some of the heat in these neighborhoods. Pretty cool, I thought.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

A Wild Finish in the Chicago Marathon

Whoah, talk about a wild finish to a marathon! Today's winner, Robert Cheruiyot slipped and fell backwards, landing flat on his back and hitting his head, as he crossed the finish line. I was watching the race live as it happened (see video here), and he literally slipped under the finish banner, never touching it. Cheruiyot had just finished holding off Daniel Njenga in a push to the finish, but for a moment there was question as to whether he had officially crossed the finish line. He was ruled the winner, however, as most of his body crossed the line as he slipped. Said official race referee, Pat Savage,
He just slipped. Luckily for him, he slipped...forward. The finish line is right at the beginning of the mat, and he ended up sliding right across it. ... There is no doubt about it; he's the winner.
Undoubtedly feeling somewhat better because he is the winner, Cheruiyot is recovering overnight at a local hospital after suffering some external and internal bleeding in his head.

How ironic that he had just successfully won a 26.2 mile race only to be felled by the finish line.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Celebrity Adoptions

Last week, Madonna caused quite a stir by swooping into Africa and choosing a little boy from an orphanage for adoption. She was criticized because she sidestepped certain rules in order to make the adoption happen quickly. The question is, who benefits from celebrity adoptions? Does the child? Or does the celebrity just gain positive press? Often these children will end up in situations entirely different than what their home was.

CNN asks,
A mother or a motherland?
What a choice to make: a heritage or a home. African orphans need and want parents. Well-known White Americans -- Angelina Jolie and Madonna -- are looking to adopt. But the way those celebrities are adding to their families raises an interesting question: Is it OK for white families to raise African children? And if it is, at what cost to those orphans' identities?
Is it okay for any person wealthy enough to adopt to do so? The alternative often is very bleak.

Personally, I think that a good home for all these children is the hope. Unfortunately, when celebrities begin doing this for their own publicity or to make themselves feel better, I'm not sure it's best.

Adoption is one of the most vital things a stable family can offer to the world. Kids the world over need loving homes, and at the very least, if Ms. Jolie and Madonna have inspired some such families to action, that is a good thing.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The University of Illinois -- A Millionaire Factory?

Congratulations have to go out this week to a couple classmates of mine at the University of Illinois. Former U of I students Jawed Karim and Steve Chen are two of the three co-founders (along with Chad Hurley) of YouTube. As I have mentioned previously, YouTube is a free web-based video sharing site.

Founded in February 2005, this week it was purchased by Google. For $1.65 billion. Yeah, that's a lot. So it seems that my former classmates are now amongst the wealthiest people in the world my age. Wow.

As it turns out, Jawed, who attended high school in Minnesota, lived across the hall in the dorms from another one of my former classmates, who is now one of my co-workers, at Allan Hall. He and Steve, who graduated from high school in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, both initially didn't finish school as they went to work with Illinois alum Max Levchin at the company he co-founded, Paypal. During that time, Jawed continued coursework and got his B.S. and so he's a fellow U of I alum. He currently is a grad student at Stanford and of course now has a little more cash.

What this points to of course is the quality of students Illinois is attracting, especially in engineering. When you look at the list of accomplished alumni, it truly is amazing. The University of Illinois continues to prove itself as one of the premier universities in the country. Just in the last 15 years alone, graduates have included the founders of Netscape, Paypal, and YouTube. Other famous companies formed by Illinois alums include Oracle, AMD, Lotus, W.W. Grainger, and BET. Jerry Colangelo, Roger Ebert, and Jack Welch are all alums.

Its history seems to suggest it is as likely as any place in the country to produce future millionaires. I probably won't be one of them, however.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

A Tale of Survival

New York Times reporter Joe Sharkey was on a freelance assignment last Friday in Brazil, flying over the Amazon. What follows is his firsthand account of what would become an incredible tale of survival.
It had been an uneventful, comfortable flight...

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Blind Side

I definitely recommend reading this recent NYT article, called The Ballad of Big Mike, on inner city lost child turned NFL prospect Michael Oher.

It's an excerpt from the new book called The Blind Side by Michael Lewis (yes, of Moneyball fame). To me, it was fascinating because it reminded me of how many people similar to Michael Oher who maybe don't make it. What do you think as you read the article? Has anyone read the book yet? Malcom Gladwell has his review here.

Now news comes that it's being made into a movie. Before that comes out, you had better make sure you read the book.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


As Rocket in the Bocket pointed out yesterday, the status of education in our state is frustrating. The inequality between highly funded districts and underfunded ones is puzzling. It notes,
A great example is education and its systemic effects can be seen right here in Chicagoland. Take for instance the college success rate of students from New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois, versus public schools in the Chicago Public School system. Fascinatingly, it is as hard to fail at New Trier as it is to succeed in the Chicago Public Schools. At New Trier, approximately 95% of students go on to a four-year bachelor program. Another 3% go to two-year colleges. (see New Trier Profile). Contrastingly, at the Chicago Public Schools, only 6% of students (only 3% for African-Americans and Latinos) will go on to earn a college bachelor’s degree by the age of 25. (see Chicago Tribune). 27% of Chicago Public School students will go to a four-year college, but the majority of them will fail.
The need for a tax swap such that schools are funded via sales or income tax evenly distributed across the state rather than property tax by district is overwhelming. I cannot understand why this initiative has continued to fail to gain momentum.

Could it be that the continuing achievement gaps and especially the expanding plight of the young African-American male are largely linked to inequitable funding? Or are other factors the root cause?

Monday, October 02, 2006

Win Twins Win

Let the baseball theme continue as today congratulations go out to the AL Central champions, the Minnesota Twins!

For the first time in major league history, a team won their division and only led it one day all year--the last. What a comeback by the Twins.

This will be the third year in the last four that the Twins are in the playoffs, and my hope is this will be the furthest they go. Let's make it two years in a row the AL Central is home to the World Series champions. Much credit is due the Twins management in keeping their current run going. GM Terry Ryan is the best in the business. The NYT had a great piece this weekend detailing some of his success. They cite Mr. Ryan as the brains behind what (especially compared to the Yankees) is a low-budget success.

Congratulations Minnesota Twins. And good luck.
MLB Batting Champion Joe Mauer celebrates with Twins fans after they won the division. (Eric Miller/Reuters)