Sunday, May 29, 2005

Freakonomics : A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner

Freakonomics : A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner - William Morrow, 2005, ISBN 006073132, Hardcover, 256p. Beautiful, absolutely beautiful volume. Of course, it’s far from “everything”. There are just few questions explored like why our schools fail, why real estate agents are not really interested in getting a higher price for your home, or what helps children succeed in school and what does not. What matters is that in all these questions the matter is carefully turned upside down with the real facts and confirmed data. For reference, you don’t have to agree with the data, you may consider what the book tells and stay on your existing point of view. However, a little shattering of the common beliefs is helpful for the mind disinfection. The key premise of this book is that experts in any field tend to create a closed group guarding their guild interests at your expense – right, big surprise, and that they don’t hesitate to feed you some false statements if it works in their interests. All in good faith, of course, most of them really believe in what they say, but still they do. In our society we rely on experts a lot, so this book is really useful to an average American. It’s not only a ready-to-use disinfectant against some specific mind viruses, it’s also like an extra training to be not swayed by experts. By the way, they have to use mind viruses to get the sale and make you spread the word – remember, most of this folk builds their business on referrals. Of course, usually “experts”, let it be a high-paid corporate consultant or a mortgage company customer service representative, tend to talk to you like you are an idiot and they are the wizards who make the Earth spin, and turning the table does not usually yield a good response from them. But if the matter matters, you may prefer to live with this little disappointment for the sake of a better result. Of course, I’d like you to go to Amazon and buy this book their (bringing me an associate commission J). Incidentally they have 40% sale on this book. Or you may walk into your local Barnes&Noble who have right now a 30% off sale on this book.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

The Step Diet Book by James O. Hill, John C. Peters et al.

The Step Diet Book: Count Steps, not Calories, to Lose Weight and Keep it Off Forever by James O. Hill, John C. Peters et al. – Workman Publishing Company, 2004, ISBN 0761133240, 302p. Frankly speaking, I am fan of walking and hiking. Especially, just walking. Driving to some God-forgotten place just to walk does not strike with me as especially fun idea, but walking feels good. So, not much seems to be wrong with the idea. What puzzled me is the cover. It includes a boxed pedometer to count your steps, and the box of the pedometer has a little chart at how many steps you need to counteract some bad foods or save by downsizing them. For example, cover says:

Small Order of Fries vs. Large Order – Save – 6,520 steps
My god… Most of us don’t make so many steps in day! I did not looked inside the book, but I remember the previous edition of this book without a pedometer. It was pretty decent, not much off the truth, and not swarming with mind viruses like some other diet book. Of course, inside they asked for a little more than just steps: you had to have enough sleep, drink a lot of water, and make few other adjustments to your lifestyle other than just walking a lot, but that’s rather a positive side, as we all know that there is no single weight-loss factor, it’s always a combination of factors. But the box was clearly prepared by marketing people, and that’s a completely different crowd. Long story short, if you look into the book, it says that normal number of steps per day to maintain your weight is about 6,000, average number of steps we really do in a day is about 3,000, and for a weight loss they recommend 8 to 10 thousands steps per day. As usual, marketing guys did not bother to read the book, they promote. However, people who will look at the cover in the bookstore, especially if they know the number of steps they do, are likely to decide that “this thing is not for me”. Even worse, they will spread the word, because now we have a classic mind virus. It has a good anchor (weight loss), a good carrier (the news that this particular thing cannot work, although a completely wrong one), and it will essentially harm the sales in the long run. Why am I writing about that here? First, it’s a good example how some mild mind viruses are born. In this case there was no design or evil genius behind, there was just one stupid marketing guy who picked the wrong data to illustrate the point and reflected it in a particularly wrong way. And the second, I wanted to show you how easy is sometimes to defuse a potential mind virus from getting roots in your mind. All I had to do was to look inside the book and find a discrepancy. And I did not had to read the whole book, if this information would not be available easily, I would discard the whole book and cover information as untrusted source (like you would a website badbadguys.com on Internet…), that’s it. See more in the “Test Against Reality” chapter of my upcoming book “Disinfect Your Mind”.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Self-Healing With Sound & Music by Andrew Weil, Kimba Arem

Self-Healing With Sound & Music by Andrew Weil, Kimba Arem - Sound True, 2004, Audio CD, ISBN 1591791987, 2 CDs + booklet. I know, you are practical and not much into spiritual mumbo-jumbo, but this one is interesting. In particular it speaks in details about main brain frequencies and their impact on our consciousness. There are four main frequencies:

  • Beta - alerted state, consciousness.
  • Alpha - relaxed state, consciousness.
  • Theta - subconsciousness, dream, meditation.
  • Delta - unconscious mind and deep sleep.
Why is this important? Because if you understand those, you understand when you are vulnerable. It also helps you to talk to your inner self, subconsciousness. See more in my book.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

"Weight Loss 4 Idiots" Oh....

Weight Loss 4 Idiots I cannot resist... Once I posted two notices on health programs, Google served the following ad on this blog: "Weight loss 4 idiots" Quotes from the front page: "2+2=5", "I am a certified idiot", "Lose 9 lbs. by May 31st" (today is May 19, but maybe they mean the next year?), "Click to Begin" I believe, no analysis is necessary... By the way, I kind of like them, it's just their first page... you know... To their defense, I have to mention that they use relatively subtle and not too dangerous mind viruses. You know, no death curses, no "leave this site and you will die!", nothing like that. As to their ideas, you can judge for yourself.

Fair notice - why I even mention such stuff

Just to clarify: my goal is not to criticize a specific vendor or a program. That's not so important or interesting. The imporant thing is to help you learn to recognize mind viruses instantly "on contact" -- the skill that highly increases your natural immunity to them. Thank you for a chance to help you! (I don't know, why am I doing this, probably some other mind virus... :-))

"The Greatest Vitamin in The World": the Case Study

The Greatest Vitamin in The World The page is extremely impressive... Ouch... The picture of a bunch of pills that contain: Stress, Joint Pain, Diabetes, Cancer, Heart Diseasy, Cholesterol, Indigestion, Stroke, Depression, and Make Money! Right before that a huge bottle of pills with a label: "Click Here to Order!" Do you already have fun? Good! Now the copy of the sales message. Quote: "us", "clogged up", "arteries", "we do have a heart attack", "get cancer", ... Got the idea? You can get sick by just reading such an advertising. The anchor is extremely heavy, sharp, and evident, especially if you read my book "Disinfect your mind" And once the anchor is in place, sure, you can order the stuff which saves your life (after the damage, the sales letter did) for mere ... wait!... it's worth $379, should sell at $150, and it costs you mere $48.60 ($39.95 + $8.65 S&H) And, of course, it's "100% risk-free". Also, the author "educated thousands of doctors around the country" and he has a book that is backed up by "over 500 studies" He even used ~100 of those studies to create his vitamin,and that's just "one bottle of vitamins, which is designed to nutritionally support the entire body". Cool! No matter, man, woman, child, elderly, any specific illnesses, just one bottle full of the health and happiness... probably, for the seller. Anchor: Fear of illness and death Carrier: External: Internet, Embedded: profit -- yes, the guy has an affiliate program Claim: See above. Disinfectant: See above. I don't list the name of the virus, because it's actually a family of related viruses actively promoted and distributed by individual enterpreneurs in the supplement industry.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

“The pH Miracle” mind virus

The pH Miracle for Weight Loss: Balance Your Body Chemistry, Achieve Your Ideal Weight by Robert O. Young, Shelley Redford Young, “Bestselling authors of pH Miracle” ISBN 0-446-57722-7

Also, “pH Miracle” by the same authors.

Name: pH Miracle

Type: Umbrella – family of closely related viruses with mostly the same payload and anchors

Anchor: Weight loss, health, longetivity, and, essentially, survival

External carrier: I am aware of commercially published books with a major publisher (Warner Books), website “pH Miracle”, authors also publish papers and pursue other marketing venues.

Embedded carriers: Vegetarianism and extreme claims should attract vegan/new age spiritual activists as volunteer carriers.
If you belong to such a group, be cautious – your beliefs may be exploited

Claim:

The reason for modern weight crisis is the high acidity of our bodies internal environment, primarily blood, caused by wrong food and wrong habits. Once you start to correct your eating habits and turn your body pH (chemical way to measure acidity/alkalinity) to higher (alkaline) values slightly above 7.0 (neutral), your weight will go away at a speed of about 2 pounds per day.

Quote: “Let’s start with a simple math. How many excess pounds do you need to shed to achieve your ideal, healthy weight – 10, 30, 100? Whatever your answer, multiply by two. You now have the MAXIMUM number of days it will take you to reach your goal, if you follow…”

Disinfection:

It is hard to argue that the diet of an average American seems to be somewhat suicidal. Although, I have to admit, I know not so many average Americans in a sense of the mythical diet of French fries and coke. Most average Americans, that I know of, are well aware of damaging effects of such stuff. But, anyway, numbers of McDonald sales speak for themselves.

It is also hard to argue that many things they recommend are clearly beneficial. Examples include, but not limited to: drink a lot of clean pure water every day, eat vegetables, do not eat processed food.

It is, however, hard to establish, if the key claim of authors is right or wrong. They may be right, or they may be wrong. It is very hard to tell, because the credibility of authors is heavily damaged by how they promote their ideas.

First, you need to realize that the authors build a nice market niche out of the ideas: they promote: three sorts of “pH Miracle Water”, they have trademarked and, probably, patented recipes (like “Esther’s Hearty Sprouted Lentil Burgers”, see the chapter on Pathos and Capital letters in my book), they advertise a number of commercial companies in the “Resources” section, including a trademarked “pH Miracle Living Centers” franchise http://www.thephmiraclecenter.com, http://www.thephmiracle.us) that will analyze your blood, provide consultations, and even arrange a “health retreat”, as well as “pH Miracle” supplement and nutrition stores and referral centers on Internet (http://www.phmiracleliving.com, http://www.phmiraclenutrition.com). Of course, there is nothing wrong with making a nice living by helping other people. It’s not bad, it’s just a factor you need to keep in mind.

Second, they use in their books almost every relevant marketing trick, I can think of. The book is beefed up with photos “Simple Joe before” and “Simple Joe after”, as well as satisfied customers testimonials, that you all, probably, have seen in abundance in the direct mail pieces that advertise wonder pills and patches that make people slim in days. 

To improve the effect, there are also plenty of “before and after” pictures of live and dried blood under a microscope. It does not matter that without a degree in medicine you hardly can tell which one is good and which one is bad. Good Doctor Young is here to tell you right away which one is good – of course the one after his diet. Speaking seriously, the blood is simply used as a powerful symbol associated deeply in our genetic knowledge with life and death. It is used as a ram to break through your rational mind directly into the subconsciousness.

Some claims of the authors just don’t make sense. For example, on page 65 they claim: “You need to make sure you are drinking high pH water with extra electrons for increased energy.” How can you get high pH in a pure water free of contaminants? 

Let's recall few basic facts here: the water chemical formula is H2O. Essentially, it means that it consists of two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen. More chemically-wise, it consists of one ion of hydrogen H+ (that means that the hydrogen atom lost its only electron) and hydroxyl group OH- (that means that the atom of oxygen grabbed two extra electrons and keeps also H+ ion around).

There are substances with molecules that have extra easily detachable H+ ion. These substances are called acids. Example of such a substance is H+Cl- – hydrochloric acid used by your stomach to disintegrate the food, mostly the proteins. Salt in the grocery store in your neighborhood is the sodium salt of hydrochloric acid -- Na+Cl-, where hydrogen ion is replaced with sodium ion. There are also substances with an easily detachable hydroxyl group OH-. These substances are called alkalis (singular form “alkali”).

Pure water chemically represents a perfect balance between acids and alkalis, for each hydrogen ion it has a hydroxyl group, and they are not easily separated. You can do that, the process is known and called electrolysis, but it requires a lot of energy. With some artistic license you can say that in water hydrogen ion and hydroxyl group are happily married to each other and it takes a lot of effort to “put asunder”. Hence, normal pure water is always pH neutral. The only real way to make it acidic or alkaline is to add some contaminants.

You may wonder what happens if you have a water where hydrogen ions and hydroxyl groups are not balanced, where there is a lot of free hydroxyl groups looking for the “happy marriage”, but all hydrogen ions are already bound in other molecules. That means that the water is statically charged. It’s technically possible, but – surprise – it’s really hard to commercially handle and ship statically charged substances. Such a situation is highly unstable, simply put, it’s likely that it will revert to standard pH neutral water during the shipping process.

What even more puzzling on that page, is the claim “the only two [tested commercially available sources of water] that had a pH above 9.5 carried a positive charge.” Here are two things that don’t make much sense. First, as you already know, high pH (alkaline) means that you have an excess of negatively charged hydroxyl groups. “Positively charged”? Huh? 

Even worse, positive charge means that the substance merely lacks electrons. Once you touch this water with your tongue, free electrons from your body rush into the water and unite with extra H+ ions resulting in free neutral hydrogen. Even more likely, this already happened during the shipping even before the magical water come into the contact with your body.

To save the time, here is another claim from this book which does not make much sense (there are just too many of those to list them all): “chicken or turkey… do not urinate, which means they absorb their own acidic urine into their fleshy tissue instead.” (page 118) Well, yes, birds don’t urinate, they also don’t hold the stuff in their guts for too long, it is expelled the moment it gets to the end of their digestive track. The reason for that is that birds evolved to fly, so it was essential to discard any extra weight the moment they don’t need it. To simplify the process, their urine goes straight into the end of their guts achieving two positive goals: immediately discarding extra weight and making their crap liquid and easy to expel. Everybody who lived in an old large city knows how acidic are droppings of city pigeons.

What is also especially bothering, is that the authors don’t hesitate to use damaging mind viruses as well as other marketing techniques. The part on proteins sounds pretty much like a bundle of the old vegan strategic-memes/mind viruses: “Eat pork and you will die”, “Eat chicken and you will die”, “Eat eggs and you will die.” Here is a quote (page 118 again): “Red meat intake has been associated with increased risk of colon cancer, and consumption of animal fat has been linked to prostate, breast, and other cancers.” Granted, they softened the blow and tried to look scientific, but in the essence the message is the ol' good brainwashing “Do what we prohibit and you will die.” This is not the only example, where the authors are too liberal with handling the reader subconsciousness. And with a lot of extremes, they require from their followers, like drinking a mix of water and pulverized grass, it looks like they are building a cult, not a healthy lifestyle. And, not a big surprise, they have a chapter of spirituality. So, after all, it could be that “Miracle” in the title of the book is not a metaphor. J

Friday, May 13, 2005

The Electric Meme: A New Theory of How We Think by Robert Aunger -- 0 stars

The Electric Meme: A New Theory of How We Think by Robert Aunger Oh, my... First, the author indulgently recognises Dawkins for introducing the term "meme". Then he dismisses the rest of the authors on the topic as "irresponsible". And the next thing you see are the following pearls of Aunger's wisdon: Socially transmitted information is central to the nature of culture. But when it is transmitted, is it replicated? Huh? Ok, maybe it's just an awkward wording. Let's read more... "... information has often been seen as a magical, protean kind of thing..." Mr. Aunger, artists, poets, and other artistic public may indulge themselves in such comparisons, but if you are pretending to do the science, information is a negative binary logarithm of the event's probability, that's it.

I = - lg2 ( P )
Again, he is anthropologist, not a mathematician. Some articstic license may be, probably, ok. Reading on. Here is the killer: ...aptly called replicator dynamic. This dynamic underlies all evolutionary processes and can be described mathematically as a generalized catalytic reaction." End quote. Here my Ph.D. in Mathematics and Computer Science finally made me to put his book down. Ouch, ouch, ouch... Yakk! Richard Dawkins was a zoologist. In his book "Selfish Gene" he was talking about something he new very well - genes. He coined the word meme as a distraction and an interesting observation. In contrast, Aunger is an anthropologist, and he is devoting the whole book to the subject, he seems to have no clue about... Don't waste your time on this book, it's not worth it. Better read "Virus of the mind" by Richard Brodie Granted, he has some problems of his own, but at least, after many years at Microsoft, he knows what information is and this is what memes are made from.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Cultural Software : A Theory of Ideology

Cultural Software : A Theory of Ideology by J.M. Balkin This book is rather interesting in its source -- Yale University. It completely explains ideology and propaganda in terms of memetics and argues that such an explanation overrides traditional explanations of these phenomena. For reference, G.W.Bush graduated from Yale Univeristy, and Condoleeza Rice was a professor there before joining the administration. See more on this book on the Yale site.

Monday, May 09, 2005

"The IQD Iraq Dinar" mind virus

Name: The IQD Iraq Dinar Category: Get rich quick Anchor: Money Vulnerabilities: Poverty, greed Carrier: Internet, associate programs, eBay Claim: Iraq national currency is devaluated to ~ IQD 1500 = 1 USD as a result of war, regime change and civilian upheavals. But (!), the oil is still there, so the economy of Iraq is bound to revive and strengthen. Historically Iraq currency was pretty high ($3 per dinar), so if you buy a million of Iraq dinars now for less that $1000, you can get a million of USD and more when the counrty will rebound. As examples of previously missed opportunities Deutsche Mark, Kuwait Dinar and Soviet Russian Ruble are quoted. Disinfection:

  • Iraq Dinar was declared to be equal to $3.22 in 1982 by Saddam Hussein. But it was not freely traded. Hence this exchange rate did not mean much.
  • Old Hussein's dinars are worthless now as they are now replaced by the new Iraq dinars.
  • New Iraq Dinar is not freely traded either and mostly limited to Iraq and a single exchange there.
  • Iraq Central Bank stated objective is to keep it "stable" and prevent it sinking down. So much for "growth prospective".
  • Reference to Soviet rubles is hilarious, as (1) the old ones were replaced with new rubles at 1000:1 rate, (2) the old ones are not accepted anymore and hence worthless now, and (3) even if they would, they would cost about 27000 Old Soviet rubles for $1 USD (new Russian Ruble is exchanged currently at about 1 USD = 27.8 RUR as of 5/9/2005.
See XE.com - Information on The IQD Iraq Dinar for more details. See also Dinar dupe: currency con man touts value of Iraqi money

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Virus of the Mind: The New Science of the Meme by Richard Brodie

Virus of the Mind: The New Science of the Meme by Richard Brodie - Integral Press, 2004, 251 pages, ISBN 0963600125 (first edition: 1995, ISBN 0963600117) Very vivid and internally logical representation of memetic, memes, and mind viruses. Few things are somewhat over the board, like "there is no truth" -- maybe he should have to make this piece more clear. But overall really good and considered one of the classic books on memetic.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The Meme Machine by Susan Blackmore

The Meme Machine by Susan Blackmore with Foreword by Richard Dawkins -- Oxford University Press; 2000, 264 pages, ISBN 019286212X, also, hardcover: Oxford University Press, 1999, 264 pages, ISBN 0198503652. This book is polemic with "The Selfish Gene" in terms that it shows how memes override our genetic-defined behavior. A good read if you want to clarify the memetic for yourself, although IMHO a little paranoid, I have to admit.

The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins

The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins - Oxford University Press; 2nd Ed edition, 1990, 368 pages, ISBN 0192860925 (first edition 1976) Here is the book that started it all. That's the actual book where the word "meme" appeared first. Although the book itself is mostly devoted to the biological genes (DNA) and their evolution.

This blog will be devoted to...

This blog will be devoted to the topic of mind viruses, protecting from them, and my new upcoming book on this subject. I'll also start posting the relevant links and bibliography here, which, probably, will be the main content of this blog for now. See you around! Ely