Friday, December 31, 2010

Sewell Chan: Economists consider ethics code

It's about time.  I do think it is a good thing when economists participate in both business and policy--such things inform both teaching and research.  But disclosure is important.  We may all think of ourselves as forthright and objective, but we are in fact shaped by experiences (and as economists never cease to remind us, by our paychecks).  Gary Becker's line in Chan's piece about replicability curing all ethical problems doesn't really hold up, because lots of economic theory has never been or has been inadequately tested against data (George Akerlof does a very good job demonstrating this in his AEA Presidential Address from 2007).

We seem as a profession to have a difficult time dealing with ethics--it makes us squeamish, because mainstream economics often celebrates avarice.  But one of Adam Smith's earth shattering works was called The Theory of Moral Sentiments, so he wasn't squeamish about thinking about such things as all.

I have within this blog from time-to-time disclosed my relationships when such things might matter to what I am writing.   The two most important are with Realtors (when I was a graduate student I worked for the Wisconsin Realtors Association, and I was a consultant on Existing Home Sales in the late 1990s and early 2000s) and with Freddie Mac (where I worked for less than a year and a half in 2002-03).  My center at USC has a large number of donor members.   I have also consulted for the World Bank.  These relationships have been rewarding to me financially and intellectually, and while I like to think I play things straight, I would be foolish to pretend that these experiences have had no influence on my outlook.  I leave it to readers to determine the impact of such influence on the validity of what I write.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

How the NCAA undermines the academic enterprise

I love major college sports; I have enjoyed having athletes in class--they actually tend to run the gamut in terms of how well they do, and I appreciate the time management skills required to be a varsity athlete while performing well in class.

But part of the academic enterprise is instilling in students the importance of not bullshitting.  The NCAA undermines this when it states things like:
Money is not a motivator or factor as to why one school would get a particular decision versus another. Any insinuation that revenue from bowl games in particular would influence NCAA decisions is absurd, because schools and conferences receive that revenue, not the NCAA.
But who are the members of the NCAA?  The schools!  This statement meets Harry Frankfurt's criteria for bullshit, and is an example of why bullshit is harmful.  Frankfurt:
Someone who lies and someone who tells the truth are playing on opposite sides, so to speak, in the same game. Each responds to the facts as he understands them, although the response of the one is guided by the authority of the truth, while the response of the other defies that authority and refuses to meet its demands. The bullshitter ignores these demands altogether. He does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it. He pays no attention to it all. By virtue of this, bullshit is the greater enemy of the truth than lies are.
It seems to me that those of us who have anything to do with colleges and universities have an obligation to avoid bullshit.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2010 in review

As 2010 draws to a close it’s time for a few reflections. It has been a roller coaster ride for me with sad personal events, a few joyful moments but mostly lots of hard work throughout the year. I will focus on the last bit only as it directly relates to my online adventures.

Good news, and some statistics first, starting with this blog. You have noticed probably increased level of activity in the last few weeks but this was just my attempt to clear the deck - I have a lot of material which I started drafting earlier in the year but never got to finish. All in all I published over 80 posts and the blog is averaging just over 2,000 visits a month. Tiny but more on the “measured value” I get from it below. This year I also updated the design of the blog a bit but it is still "work in progress".

My main mapping site is doing well in terms of visitors and unique browsers. The traffic doubled this year to almost 45,000 uniques, 100,000 visits and 900,000 pages per month. Freebies like weather widget, postcode finder widget and YouTube player delivered the most of the increase but regular pages also are up by 10-50%. But I am constantly battling with fixing broken services and I had to drop some due to significant cost increases. I didn’t really add much new inventory this year so the number of ads served increased only proportionately to the increase in traffic volume for regular pages. The overall ad revenue increased by over 30% in 2010.

On a less positive note, due to disruptions of personal nature I didn’t really get to do much from my list of “to do’s” so, majority is carried forward to the next year. LollyPollies and related sites remain unfinished, reference maps and thematic reports sign up module have just been launched and I only started testing new partnering concept so it’s hard to assess the success of those initiatives as yet.

I would like to finish with some “hard figures”. Just to put a dollar value on some intangible aspects of my activities, I calculated the value of free traffic to my site based on $0.20 per visit, which is equivalent to what I would have to pay on average to Adwords to generate the traffic. I included only what I can specifically account for so, the overall value is probably understated but, here it is:

  • Blog and my limited so far "social activities" delivered 2,400 clicks or $480 worth of traffic
  • Associated parties provided 3,000 clicks or $600 worth of traffic
  • Freebies (mentioned above) supplied 18.5K clicks through to the main site or $3,700 worth of traffic
Total of $4,780 worth of traffic in 2010 came from "intangibles". It doesn't seem like much, but that's the money I did not have to put up myself.

As to the overall revenue, well, I will only say that I am facing a dilemma – it would be a pity to give it all up yet, comparing to a “real job in IT”, I am rather grossly underpaid :-) . Overall, good but not a spectacular year. But now it is time for a holiday…


All the best for the coming year and lots of successes in your endeavours!

My colleague Lisa Schweitzer gently scolds me, and then teaches me something about LA Metro project management

In response to my post, she starts by writing:

First off, it’s a bad idea to conclude anything about work effort based on what you observe by walking by. That’s like the people who judge professors by saying we “only teach two hours a week.” It’s not a valid sample, and it’s very had to evaluate other people’s work effort when you have never done the job yourself— and that’s particularly true of white collar workers passing judgment on blue collar workers engaged in dangerous and often tiring work–during a recession, no less, where anything that extends their work hours has direct implications for their family’s ability to eat and pay rent (unlike salaried work).


More to the point, Richard is mistaken when he concludes that people are not upset. The LA Weekly recently published a story called L.A.’s Light-Rail Fiasco which eviscerates the CEO of the Exposition Metro Line Construction Authority, Rick Thorpe, for salary and his conduct. Rick Thorpe is exactly the sort of transit guy who becomes a free agent and CEO: relentlessly self-promotional and confident, any previous successes get attributed to his leadership. So he picks up stakes, gets recruited away, commands an enormous salary, and builds a brand for himself that he delivers projects on time and on budget.
It is worth reading the whole thing.

Suddenly, some members of the GOP realize they actually will be part of the government

Alan Zibel writes in the Wall Street Journal:

Earlier this year, leading House Republicans proposed to privatize mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac or place them in receivership starting in two years.


Now, as Republicans prepare to assume control of the House next week, they aren't in as big a rush, cautioning that withdrawing government support in the housing market should be gradual.

"We recognize that some things can be done overnight and other things can't be," said Rep. Scott Garrett (R., N.J.), incoming chairman of the House Financial Services subcommittee, which oversees Fannie and Freddie. "You have to recognize what the impact would be on the fragile housing market as it stands right now."
I actually don't think the mortgage market will ever be truly a private sector enterprise.  Suppose Fannie and Freddie were to go away: the most likley entities to step into the residential finance market would be banks.  Would this be privitization?  Not really.  Banks receive explicit guarantees (FDIC) and, as we know from recent events, implicit guarantees as well (TARP was nothing if not the execution of an implicit Federal guarantee). 

The conservative complaint about Fannie and Freddie is that they privatized profit while socializing risk.  This is doubtless true.  I just don't see how it is any less true for banks.

[update: just to be clear, I am all for FDIC, and I think on net TARP left the country better off.  The point is that we will always rely on the public sector to some extent, whether some people like it or not].

Monday, December 27, 2010

Keynes on the "Psychology of Society"

My wife gave me a Kindle for Christmas.  The first thing I should say is that it is really great: my eyesight isn't what it once was, and I find it very easy to read..  The second is that I will continue to buy books at Vroman's (a Pasadena bookstore), because I want them to stay in business.  Third, I downloaded the Economic Consequences of the Peace, which I hadn't read in four or five years.  It has a section early on that really struck me:

Europe was so organized socially and economically as to secure the maximum accumulation of capital.  While there were some continuous improvements in the daily conditions of life of the mass of the population, Society was so framed to to throw a great part of the increased income into the control of the class least likely to consume it.  The new rich of the 19th century were not brought up to large expenditures, and preferred the power which investment gave them to the pleasures of immediate consumption.  In fact, it was precisely the inequality of the distribution of wealth which made possible those vast accumulations of fixed wealth and of capital improvements which distinguished that age from all others.  Herein lay, in fact, the main justification of the Capitalist System.  If the rich had spent their new wealth on their own enjoyments, the world long ago would have found such a regime intolerable.  But like bees they saved and accumulated, not less to the advantage of the whole community because they themselves held narrower ends in prospect.

The immense accumulations of fixed capital which, to the great benefit of mankind, were built up during the half century before the war [WWI], could never have come about in a Society where wealth was divided equitably.  The railways of the world, which that age built as a monument to posterity, were, not less than the Pyramids of Eqypt, the work of labor which was not free to consume in immediate enjoyment the full equivalent of its efforts.

Thus this remarkable system depended for its growth on a double bluff or deception.  On the one hand the laboring classes accepted from ignorance or powerlessness, or were compelled, perusade or cajoled by custom, convention, authority, and the well-established order of Society into accepting a situation in which they could call their own very little of the cake that they and Nature and the capitalists were co-operating to produce.  And on the other hand the capitalist classes were allowed to call the best part of the cake theirs and were theoretically free to consume it, on the tacit underlying condition that they consumed very little of it in practice.

Christmas Present

I'm so sorry if I'm totally driving you crazy with our Better Homes & Gardens article but I've been meaning to share the article on here for readers who weren't able to get a copy.  (And, it really was the hi-light of our year; I'm not gonna lie.)  If you click on the pics (photos by Helen Norman), you should be able to see them larger. 


{Stockings by Handmade Pretties on etsy...  I loved the title of the article because "Christmas present" applies to living in the present moment which we really try to do and also to our baby Justin who was born on December 22nd just 3 days before Christmas... Go Joanna! }



{I'm always walking into the house carrying beautiful flowers with my cutie sitting there waiting on the stairs for me;) ;)  .. hee hee I wish.  I've gotten lots of emails/ calls about my bag & boots.  The bag is by UGG and the boots I'm wearing are MUDD... both from a few years ago.}




{You might notice they brought in a new coffee table by Wisteria to replace our lucite one & my cow hide rug wasn't in the shot.  We filled one of my glass lamps with glass ornaments. } 

Here's a photo to compare: 

{A year later at our house means changes...  Obviously I've rearranged the floorplan since then.  (This happens a lot.)  I've also replaced the Arteriors glass table lamp with the Arteriors glass floor lamp.  (It actually took over 4 months to get to me and was once of the first things I ordered for our living room but wasn't here in time for the shoot.)  I've also moved our cow hide into our bedroom and reaplaced it with an antiqued wool rug.}


{I love how beautifully these gifts were wrapped and I love that they were able to use so many of our own things in the shoot.}



{Isn't it funny to read your own quotes???   hahaha  I think I meant that nothing's really set in stone around here, that we're picking thigns up and adding traditions as we go each year.  I took the photo of Dave & Christian making the showman last January during one of the snowstorms before the photo shoot in February.  }


{looooooove this pic...  On the shelves, they brought in some copper to add to my white ware which was so pretty & warm.  Of course now I want some.  We borrowed the ironstone platters & cakestand from my friend Donna at On a Whim Antiques in Lucketts, VA for the shoot. The rest of the pieces are mine and I found the ceiling medallion I propped up on the shelves for only $1 at Goodwill five or so years ago.}



{and they were able to sneak an extra little page in at the end which I love...  Christian had such a blast opening the bulldozer toy over & over.  what a champ.  The food was beautiful and we used a milk glass urn turned upside down with a plate above & below for a makeshift cakestand.}

And here's a close-up of the beautiful table Jessica Thomas did:

She used my silverware & china over my Pottery Barn plates and little polar bear Christmas ornaments for name tags.  - my handwriting on them- yay! ha    The vintage fabric draped over the parsons chairs really added something.  I found it at Goodwill years ago as a set of curtains and it's gotten a lot of use.  I even made a blanket out of some of it for Justin's room. 

And, I was also picked as the blogger of the month which was such a nice surprise:



The funniest thing is that I was at an antique store this Fall & almost bought that exact little squirrel nutcracker (old, not new of course)  for Christian.  He was $32 and I didn't buy him- what is wrong with me?- and had regretted it since.  When I saw it on the page I wanted to kick myself! :)


Thank you so much again to the team at Better Homes & Gardens: editor & writer Joanna Linberg, stylist/producer Jessica Thomas, and photographer Helen Norman  & her assistant F.J. Hughes. and all of the in-house people like Shelley Caldwell who put the story together and to field scout Bonnie Broten...  You guys are truly the BEST.  Thank you, thank you. 


xoxo, Lauren

ps- I'm really trying to take a break & stay off of the computer this week so you won't see much of me until Monday!! :)

If you'd like help creating a home you absolutely love, contact me about our design services.

*The caged lantern in our entryway is by Minka Lavery...  I have gotten tons of phonecalls & emails about it and I think may have been discontinued.  The wallpaper in our breakfast nook is also discontinued.  Our front door is "maple leaf" by Behr and our kitchen cabinets are "witch hazel" by Behr.  I used the book Leonardo's Notebooks for the sketches in the entry.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Water colour studies of early dry lake racers

Watercolour on Bristol Board
In 1938 Ernie McAfee (90 MPH Club) recorded the fastest speed at an SCTA meet at 137.41 mph. It had a Winifield flathead on a four cylinder Ford engine.
Watercolour on Bristol Board
Here is Charles Beck's (Centuries Streamliner..With Four-cylinder power the little streamliner took first place at the August 1942 SCTA meet with a 131.96 mph speed. Note the wheel covers from a World War I Jenny Airplane.

Here are two quick watercolour studies based on photographs taken from the Don Montgomery book "Old Hot Rods Scrap Book"

More info on Dons amazing books can be seen at his site:
www.montgomeryhotrodbooks.com

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Is the Mortgage Interest Deduction a "Middle-class" benefit?

Yesterday, I was on the Larry Mantle program on KPCC debating Lawrence Yun about the merits of the mortgage interest deduction.  Lawrence is the chief economist of NAR, and is, as such, not disinterested about the issue, but he is an honest advocate (full disclosure: when I was a graduate student, I worked for Wisconsin Realtors, and I consulted on benchmarking the Existing Home Sales series in the late 90s and around 2002 or so ).

He said a couple of things, however, that bothered me.  He sort of dissed renters, by saying they pay only five percent of federal income taxes, ignoring the fact that they pay FICA, state and local taxes.  One would think Realtors would like renters, since they do, after all, pay rent to property owners.  But he also characterized the mortgage interest deduction as being a "middle-class" deduction.  This all depends on the defintion of "middle-class."

Let me turn to Eric Toder and colleagues:

The percentage reduction in after-tax income from eliminating the deduction would be largest for taxpayers in the 80th to 99th percentiles of the distribution. These upper-middle-income households would be affected more than tax units in the bottom four quintiles because they are more likely to own homes and itemize deductions and because the higher marginal tax rates they face make deductions worth more to them than to lower-income taxpayers. The very highest income taxpayers, however, will experience a relatively small drop in income (about 0.4 percent on average) because, at the very highest income levels, mortgage interest payments decline sharply as a share of income.
So it is probably correct to characterize the mortgage interest deduction as an "upper-middle-class" deduction.  The very rich don't benefit that much from it, because they don't really need mortgages.  The bottom 80 percent don't benefit much, because their marginal tax rates are low, they are more likely to be renters and perhaps don't itemize their tax deductions.  My guess is that people between the 80th and 99th percentile don't need a lot of encouragement to become homeowners.

A Gluten-free January

Are You Gluten Sensitive?

Many people are totally unaware of the fact that they react poorly to gluten. Because they've been eating wheat, barley and/or rye products every day for virtually their entire lives, they don't know what their bodies feel like without gluten. In susceptible people, eating gluten is linked to a dizzying array of health problems that stem from an immune reaction to gliadins and other proteins in gluten (1). Are you a susceptible person? How do you know?

The gold standard way to detect a gluten sensitivity is to do a gluten "challenge" after a period of avoidance and see how you feel. People who react poorly to gluten may feel better after a period of avoidance. After a gluten challenge, symptoms can range from digestive upset, to skin symptoms, to fatigue or irritability within minutes to days of the gluten challenge.

With 2011 approaching, why not make your new year's resolution to go gluten-free for a month? A man named Matt Lentzner e-mailed me this week to ask if I would help with his (non-commercial) project, "A Gluten-free January". I said I'd be delighted. Although I don't typically eat much gluten, this January I'm going 100% gluten-free. Are you on board? Read on.

A Message from Matt Lentzner


Hi There.

My name is Matt Lentzner. I'm just some guy who lifts weights on his patio and tries to eat healthy. That's not important, but I have an idea that just might be.

I am trying to get as many people as possible to go gluten-free for one month - this January 2011.

I've considered this whole ancestral diet thing and I've come to a conclusion. If you could only do just one thing to improve your health then not eating gluten would be it. This is not to say that avoiding other nasty things like fructose or industrial vegetable oil is not important. They are, but you'd get the most bang for your buck from not eating gluten.

"Eat No Gluten" is simple and easy to remember. I think that sometimes the rules get so complicated and overwhelming and people just give up on it. We're keeping it simple here. Even at this simplified level I see that it's difficult for a lot of folks. I think people, Americans especially, tend not to pay much attention to what they're eating - what it is, where it came from, etc.

Getting people to get out of their eating ruts and think a little about what goes into their mouths is a valuable exercise. It sets the stage for better choices in the future. I hope that some success with the simple step will encourage people to further improve their diets.

I have a website at www.glutenfreejan.com. If you want to sign up just send an email with your first name, last initial, and town of residence to glutenfreejan@gmail.com. If you are on Facebook there's a community you can 'Like' called: Gluten Free January. So far I have over 120 people all over the world signed up. If you are already gluten-free then I still want you to sign up - the more the merrier. You can also use this opportunity to spread the word and sign up your family and friends.

Merry Christmas - Looking forward to a gluten-free New Year.

Matt

Countdown & treats

{3 more days!!!}
{The Better Homes & Gardens team made the adorable glittered construction paper chain garland over the chalkboard for us & I love it!!  It's one of those things I'd planned on making more of but didn't.  Glad we saved it.}

Yesterday our babysitter. Lizzie, surprised us with a box full of homemade cookies.  Her mother is a friend of ours and teaches at the high school with Dave -and has brought cookies in for the family before from Lizzie- which mysteriously never seem to make it home. 
So this time Lizzie brought 'em home to mama.  ahhhhhh yessss...  I was all alone when she dropped them off and got to work on them immediately:


But, unlike my husband, I didn't eat them all and saved some for my family. 
(I tried... there were too many.)

I also have a neighbor who is one of those people who seems to do it all.  (Melissa, if you're reading, this proves my point because -somehow- you even  have time to pop in here!!)  She & her daughter Claire dropped off some pumpkin bread the other week and I didn't get a picture of it because it was gobbled up too quickly but it looked like this and it was Heaven:


{photo from allrecipes.com}

I'm always so touched (and thrilled to be the recipient!) when people bake for the holidays and share it with others.  It's just one of those fun things that I try to do every year but don't always get to.  (like this year...  although there's still time??  maybe tomorrow??  There's always Tollhouse break'n bake.)  

Do you have any special pre-holiday tradtions?



xoxo, Lauren

If you'd like help creating a home you absolutely love, contact me about our design services.

Monday, December 20, 2010

So Close!!

Sorry for the lack of posts - as you probably know, work's always nutty right before the holidays!  I just wanted to drop in with a little recap of what we've been up to.

{our front door}

This year we got a bit further as far as outside Christmas decorating goes than last...  We got lights up outside, but Christian wasn't happy with them because they're not the "pretty" colored lights. 

{image via mrlimodenver.com}

I feel his pain... I remember thinking that way back when.  I could possibly be swayed to the colorful side...  There's something wonderful about terrible Christmas decorations.  It's definitely got to be better than the dying leyland cypresses I strung up with pretty white lights...  It's a process.  (We planted them too close to our house so the roof overhang kept rain from getting them.. ehhhhhhh.)  Maybe next year we can have alive shrubs strung with lights.   I'm also kind of craving the big vintage colored lights my grandparents have on their house. 

We got a second tree this year for our family room.  It's artificial but I'm really into it because it's flocked:


I'll attempt to take better pics later!  Dave & I camped out in the family room this weekend because I love being near the tree so much.  I wish I had one in our bedroom too.
And, whenever we can squeeze it in, we've been playing Christmas music & dancing:



{I have really big hands}

In my area it's 97.1 that plays nonstop Christmas music.  love it.  I think they probably stay in business just because of their month of Christmas music. 


Delilah anyone???


xoxo, Lauren

Dairy Fat and Diabetes

Introduction

Having access to embargoed news from the Annals of Internal Medicine is really fun. I get to report on important studies at the same time as the news media. But this week, I got my hands on a study that I'm not sure will be widely reported (Mozaffarian et al. Trans-palmitoleic Acid, Metabolic Risk Factors, and New-Onset Diabetes in US Adults. Ann Internal Med. 2010). Why? Because it suggests that dairy fat may protect against diabetes.

The lead author is Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, whose meta-analysis of diet-heart controlled trials I recently criticized (1). I think this is a good opportunity for me to acknowledge that Dr. Mozaffarian and his colleagues have published some brave papers in the past that challenged conventional wisdom. For example, in a 2005 study, they found that postmenopausal women who ate the most saturated fat had the slowest rate of narrowing of their coronary arteries over time (2). It wasn't a popular finding but he has defended it. His colleague Dr. Walter Willett thinks dietary fat is fine (although he favors corn oil), whole eggs can be part of a healthy diet, and there are worse things than eating coconut from time to time. Dr. Willett is also a strong advocate of unrefined foods and home cooking, which I believe are two of the main pillars of healthy eating.

Let's hit the data


Investigators collected two measures of dairy fat intake in 3,736 Americans:
  1. 24 hour dietary recall questionnaires, six times. This records volunteers' food intake at the beginning of the study.
  2. Blood (plasma phospholipid) content of trans-palmitoleate. Dairy fat and red meat fat are virtually the only sources of this fatty acid, so it reflects the intake of these foods. Most of the trans-palmitoleate came from dairy in this study, although red meat was also a significant source.
After adjustment for confounding factors, trans-palmitoleate levels were associated with a smaller waist circumference, higher HDL cholesterol, lower serum triglycerides, lower C-reactive protein, lower fasting insulin and lower calculated insulin resistance. Furthermore, people with the highest trans-palmitoleate levels had 1/3 the risk of developing diabetes over the three years volunteers were followed. Keep in mind, however, that this is an observational study and does not prove that dairy fat prevents diabetes.

Even though certain blood fatty acids partially represent food intake, they can also represent metabolic conditions. For example, people on their way to type II diabetes tend to have more saturated blood lipids, independent of diet (3, 4)*. So it's reassuring to see that dietary trans-palmitoleate intake was closely related to the serum level. The investigators also noted that "greater whole-fat dairy consumption was associated with lower risk for diabetes," which increases my confidence that serum trans-palmitoleate is actually measuring dairy fat intake to some degree. However, in the end, I think the striking association they observed was partially due to dairy fat intake, but mostly due to metabolic factors that had nothing to do with dairy fat**.

Here's a nice quote:
Our findings support potential metabolic benefits of dairy consumption and suggest that trans-palmitoleate may mediate these effects***. They also suggest that efforts to promote exclusive consumption of low-fat and nonfat dairy products, which would lower population exposure to trans-palmitoleate, may be premature until the mediators of the health effects of dairy consumption are better established.
Never thought I'd see the day! Not bad, but I can do better:
Our findings support eating as much butter as possible****. Don't waste your money on low-fat cream, either (half-n-half). We're sorry that public health authorities have spent 30 years telling you to eat low-fat dairy when most studies are actually more consistent with the idea that dairy fat reduces the risk obesity and chronic disease.
What are these studies suggesting that dairy fat may be protective, you ask? That will be the topic of another post, my friends.


*Probably due to uncontrolled de novo lipogenesis because of insulin resistance. Many studies find that serum saturated fatty acids are higher in those with metabolic dysfunction, independent of diet. They sometimes interpret that as showing that people are lying about their diet, rather than that serum saturated fatty acids don't reflect diet very well. For example, in one study I cited, investigators found no relationship between dietary saturated fat and diabetes risk, but they did find a relationship between serum saturated fatty acids and diabetes risk (5). They then proceeded to refer to the serum measurements as "objective measurements" that can tease apart "important associations with diabetes incidence that may be missed when assessed by [food questionnaires]." They go on to say that serum fatty acids are "useful as biomarkers for fatty acid intake," which is true for some fatty acids but not remotely for most of the saturated ones, according to their own study. Basically, they try to insinuate that dietary saturated fat is the culprit, and the only reason they couldn't measure that association directly is that people who went on to develop diabetes inaccurately reported their diets! A more likely explanation is that elevated serum saturated fatty acids are simply a marker of insulin resistance (and thus uncontrolled de novo lipogenesis), and had nothing to do with diet.

**Why do I say that? Because mathematically adjusting for dairy and meat fat intake did not substantially weaken the association between phospholipid trans-palmitoleate and reduced diabetes risk (Table 4). In other words, if you believe their math, dairy/meat fat intake only accounted for a small part of the protective association. That implies that healthy people maintain a higher serum phospholipid trans-palmitoleate level than unhealthy people, even if both groups eat the same amount of trans-palmitoleate. If they hadn't mentioned that full-fat dairy fat intake was directly associated with a lower risk of diabetes, I would not find the study very interesting because I'd have my doubts that it was relevant to diet.

***I find it highly doubtful that trans-palmitoleate entirely mediates the positive health outcomes associated with dairy fat intake. I think it's more likely to simply be a marker of milk fat, which contains a number of potentially protective substances such as CLA, vitamin K2, butyric acid, and the natural trans fats including trans-palmitoleate. In addition, dairy fat is low in omega-6 polyunsaturated fat. I find it unlikely that their fancy math was able to tease those factors apart, because those substances all travel together in dairy fat. trans-palmitoleate pills are not going to replace butter.

****That's a joke. I think butter can be part of healthy diet, but that doesn't mean gorging on it is a good idea. This study does not prove that dairy fat prevents diabetes, it simply suggests that it may.

Small reasons that government drives people crazy

A light rail line going by USC--the Exposition Line--has been under construction for some time now.  For a considerable time, the site featured a sign that said the line would open in 2010.  Now the estimates are that it will open some time in 2011 or 2012.  At the same time, when I walk by the project, I can't say that the workers building it show a great deal of, shall we say, urgency about getting the thing done.

At the same time, I don't hear a lot of people who are upset about how far behind schedule the project is. Maybe this is because no one is planning to take the Expo Line.  Maybe it is because peoople have such low expectations of LA Metro that they are not surprised, and therefore not outraged.  Either way, it suggests a problem.

I continue to believe that we need government to do certain things (rail tunnels under the Hudson and a more modern power grid, for starters) for the economy to perform well.  But when government doesn't perform well, it turns positive NPV projects into negative NPV projects, and it undermines political consensus for the necessity of government.

Why maps are still a niche

Two things that crossed my mind. The first issue is that online maps are still not easy to share. Not to mention the challenge of creating and publishing them! All in all, there is not enough good content in shareable format to go around. Google is trying hard but despite, it is not easy and straightforward for anybody to use MyMaps and/or Fusion Tables to create informative maps for sharing. It is also not easy to find user created content, either on MyMaps or via filetype:kml search on Google. Indeed, I am struggling to find content for my reference map – with a few exceptions, like for example USGS earthquakes, there is virtually nothing immediately useable! Flood affected areas in NSW – zero. Fires in Israel – one… You get the picture.

True, there are some nice examples of map creation services but they are not quite yet up to the task – either too clunky for portability (eg. built with Flex requiring a hefty download to run) or can only be viewed on a specific site, or if embedding is allowed, show only a single map at a time. And since there are no communities like YouTube for sharing maps, again with exception of a few tiny by web standards portals, there are no critical mass enabling maps "to go viral"...

The second problem, as I see it, is that the spatial industry participants are looking too much inward rather than reaching out to the broader community. The focus is on selling software, data, services and solutions to fellow professionals and not much effort goes to providing tools for “solving problems and improving lives” of citizens in general. So, beyond a few specific applications, like online street directories or GPS navigation devices, and maybe a few more location aware tools, “doing thing the spatial way” does not have much broader appeal. Majority of people just don’t associate “information” with maps – rather only with text, lists or tables, eventually graphs. An example from the last few days – there are many road closure announcements due to recent flooding but try to find this information presented on a map. Not a chance! Yet without a reference to a map/ street directory/ road atlas, information like “…X road closed between Y junction and Z road” is completely useless for most.

Don’t get me wrong. Google did tremendous job with Google Maps, introducing masses to something otherwise considered a kind of a “black art”. Many valuable and community focused initiatives have been started in the last few years and individual professionals are doing tremendously important job creating, analysing and disseminating spatial information and maps but, as mentioned in the first point above, still much more work needs to be done to make spatial technologies and information widely understood and easy to apply. I hope that my reference map concept can contribute to that objective in some way.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Potato Diet Interpretation

If you read my post on December 16th, you know that Chris Voigt saw remarkable fat loss and improvements in health markers as a result of two months of eating almost nothing but potatoes. This has left many people scratching their heads, because potatoes are not generally viewed as a healthy food. This is partially due to the fact that potatoes are very rich in carbohydrate, which also happens to be a quickly digested type, resulting in a high glycemic index. The glycemic index refers to the degree to which a particular food increases blood glucose when it's eaten, and I've questioned the relevance of this concept to health outcomes in the past (1, 2, 3). I think Mr. Voigt's results once again argue against the importance of the glycemic index as a diet-health concept.

It's often pointed out that potatoes are low in vitamins and minerals compared to vegetables on a per-calorie basis, but I think it's a misleading comparison because potatoes are much more calorie-dense than most vegetables. Potatoes compare favorably to other starchy staples such as bread, rice and taro.

Over the course of two months, Mr. Voigt lost 21 pounds. No one knows exactly how much of that weight came out of fat and how much out of lean mass, but the fact that he reported a decrease in waist and neck circumference indicates that most of it probably came out of fat. Previous long-term potato feeding experiments have indicated that it's possible to maintain an athletic muscle mass on the amount of protein in whole potatoes alone (4). So yes, Mr. Voigt lost fat on a very high-carbohydrate diet (75-80% carbohydrate, up to 440g per day).

On to the most interesting question: why did he lose fat? Losing fat requires that energy leaving the body exceed energy entering the body. But of course, that's obvious but it doesn't get us anywhere. In the first three weeks of his diet, Mr. Voigt estimates that he was only eating 1,600 calories per day. Aha! That's why he lost weight! Well, yes. But let's look into this more deeply. Mr. Voigt was not deliberately restricting his calorie intake at all, and he did not intend this as a weight loss diet. In my interview, I asked him if he was hungry during the diet. He said that he was not hungry, and that he ate to appetite during this period, realizing only after three weeks that he was not eating nearly enough calories to maintain his weight*. I also asked him how his energy level was, and he said repeatedly that it was very good, perhaps even better than usual. Those were not idle questions.

Calorie restriction causes a predictable physiological response in humans that includes hunger and decreased energy. It's the starvation response, and it's powerful in both lean and overweight people, as anyone knows who has tried to lose fat by decreasing calorie intake alone. The fact that he didn't experience hunger or fatigue implies that his body did not think it was starving. Why would that be?

I believe Mr. Voigt's diet lowered his fat mass 'setpoint'. In other words, for whatever reason, the diet made his body 'want' to be leaner that it already was. His body began releasing stored fat that it considered excess, and therefore he had to eat less food to complete his energy needs. You see this same phenomenon very clearly in rodent feeding studies. Changes in diet composition/quality can cause dramatic shifts in the fat mass setpoint (5, 6). Mr. Voigt's appetite would eventually have returned to normal once he had stabilized at a lower body fat mass, just as rodents do.

Rodent studies have made it clear that diet composition has a massive effect on the level of fat mass that the body will 'defend' against changes in calorie intake (5, 6). Human studies have shown similar effects from changes in diet composition/quality. For example, in controlled diet trials, low-carbohydrate dieters spontaneously reduce their calorie intake quite significantly and lose body fat, without being asked to restrict calories (7). In Dr. Staffan Lindeberg's Paleolithic diet trials, participants lost a remarkable amount of fat, yet a recent publication from his group shows that the satiety (fullness) level of the Paleolithic group was not different from a non-Paleolithic comparison group despite a considerably lower calorie intake over 12 weeks (8, 9). I'll discuss this important new paper soon. Together, this suggests that diet composition/quality can have a dominant impact on the fat mass setpoint.

One possibility is that cutting the wheat, sugar, most vegetable oil and other processed food out of Mr. Voigt's diet was responsible for the fat loss.  Many people find, for example, that they lose fat simply by eliminating wheat from their diet.

Another possibility that I've been exploring recently is that changes in palatability (pleasantness of flavor) influence the fat mass setpoint. There is evidence in rodents that it does, although it's not entirely consistent. For example, rats will become massively obese if you provide them with chocolate flavored Ensure (a meal replacement drink), but not with vanilla or strawberry Ensure (10). They will defend their elevated fat mass against calorie restriction (i.e. they show a physiological starvation response when you try to bring them down to a lower weight by feeding them less chocolate Ensure) while they're eating chocolate Ensure, but as soon as you put them back on unpurified rodent pellets, they will lose fat and defend the lower fat mass. Giving them food in liquid or paste form often causes obesity, while the same food in solid pellet form will not. Eating nothing but potatoes is obviously a diet with a low overall palatability.

So I think that both a change in diet composition/quality and a decrease in palatability probably contributed to a decrease in Mr. Voigt's fat mass setpoint, which allowed him to lose fat mass without triggering a starvation response (hunger, fatigue).

The rest of his improvements in health markers were partially due to the fat loss, including his decreased fasting glucose, decreased triglycerides, and presumably increased insulin sensitivity. They may also have been partially due to a lack of industrial food and increased intake of certain micronutrients such as magnesium.

One of the most striking changes was in his calculated LDL cholesterol ("bad" cholesterol), which decreased by 41%, putting him in a range that's more typical of healthy non-industrial cultures including hunter-gatherers. Yet hunter-gatherers didn't eat nothing but potatoes, often didn't eat much starch, and in some cases had a high intake of fat and saturated fat, so what gives? It's possible that a reduced saturated fat intake had an impact on his LDL, given the relatively short timescale of the diet. But I think there's something mysterious about this setpoint mechanism that has a much broader impact on metabolism than is generally appreciated. For example, calorie restriction in humans has a massive impact on LDL, much larger than the impact of saturated fat (11). And in any case, the latter appears to be a short-term phenomenon (12). It's just beginning to be appreciated that energy balance control systems in the brain influence cholesterol metabolism.

Mr. Voigt's digestion appeared to be just fine on his potato diet, even though he generally ate the skins. This makes me even more skeptical of the idea that potato glycoalkaloids in common potato varieties are a health concern, especially if you were to eliminate most of the glycoalkaloids by peeling.

I asked Mr. Voigt about what foods he was craving during the diet to get an idea of whether he was experiencing any major deficiencies. The fact that Mr. Voigt did not mention craving meat or other high-protein foods reinforces the fact that potatoes are a reasonable source of complete protein. The only thing he craved was crunchy/juicy food, which I'm not sure how to interpret.

He also stopped snoring during the diet, and began again immediately upon resuming his normal diet, perhaps indicating that his potato diet reduced airway inflammation. This could be due to avoiding food allergies and irritants (wheat anyone?) and also fat loss.

Overall, a very informative experiment! Enjoy your potatoes.


*Until the last 5.5 weeks, when he deliberately stuffed himself beyond his appetite because his rapid weight loss worried him. Yet, even with deliberate overfeeding up to his estimated calorie requirement of 2,200 calories per day, he continued to lose weight. He probably was not quite reaching his calorie goal, or his requirement is higher than he thought.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Trouble With RSS Feed?

I've received several comments that my blog posts are no longer showing up in peoples' RSS feeds. I've gone into my settings, and the blog is still set to full feed mode, so I don't know why that would be. I'm trying to understand if the problem is widespread or only affects a few people. Please let me know in the comments section if new posts (since the potatoes and human health series) are not showing up in your reader. Also, please let me know if new posts are showing up. Thanks!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Inspiration


You know when you see something ordinary that's just so beautiful?  You get excited about it, maybe take a picture if you can & file it away for the future.   This succulent I came across was one of them.  It was massive and composed of the most luminous shades of green.  It seemed to glow in the sunlight.


I love the feeling of this plant and realized it's often the mood I go for in my own house, particularly our living room.  Fresh & happy with a calmness about it.  It almost looks like a velvet.  It also reminds me a bit of a rug I found that woke up my living room when I brought it in.  Or an old oil painting...  It's that perfect blurring of color.  Ah just love it!! 

Anyway, I'm thinking I want to be better in the new year about collecting my inspiration photos & ideas.  Maybe a massive board in my office that's ever-growing??


{image via apartment therapy}

Or since I have no free walls in my office, maybe down the lonely hallway off of my office???  I might have to go start right now...  The walls are peeling anyway in there.  (One of our future projects! ;)

And...  we got snow here yesterday and so it's really starting to feel like Christmas- yay!!!  Have a great weekend!!



xoxo, Lauren

If you'd like help creating a home you absolutely love, contact me about our design services.


...** UPDATE*** 
......Ok, I'm back (10:15 :)  and my new inspiration wall has begun!! yay!!  It's small but it's a start:

{Thoughts I'd been collecting for a new project I'm working on}

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Bethany McLean on the GOP "primer" on the financial crisis

She writes:


This narrative isn't completely wrong—but it is shockingly incomplete, which makes it, in the end, a ludicrous distortion of what happened.
Three points.  First, I have never, ever, seen Peter Wallison suggest that banks are ever anything by morally upright and wise, despite lots of evidence to the contrary (I would welcome a correction on this point). 

Second, to say that the Affordable Housing Goals were major contributors to the crisis is silly, because as people like Wallison liked to point out, the GSE's continually lagged the market when it came to advancing mortgages to low income borrowers and underserved areas.  Wallison specifically said in 2006 that GSEs were "not doing the job they should for low income borrowers.  Finally, the Community Reinvestment Act did not cover many of the financial institutions that originated the most toxic loans.

What bothers me about the entire Republican narrative is that it continues a pattern of argument that suggests that when it comes to finding fault, borrowers are always more culpable than lenders; low income people are always more culpable than high income people; and underrepresented minorities somehow have gotten an unwarranted good deal. 

Update: Barry Ritholtz has 10 questions for the GOP members of the commission.

Interview with Chris Voigt of 20 Potatoes a Day

Introduction

Chris Voigt is the executive director of the Washington State Potato Commission, which supports and promotes the Washington state potato industry (1). On October 1st, Mr. Voigt began a two month, potato-only diet to raise awareness about the health properties of potatoes. It was partially in response to the recent decision by the federal WIC (Women, Infants and Children) low-income assistance program to remove potatoes from the list of vegetables it will pay for. Mr. Voigt's potato diet has been a media sensation, leading to widespread coverage in several countries. He maintains a website and blog called 20 Potatoes a Day.


Diet Facts


For 60 days, Mr Voigt's diet consisted of nothing but potatoes and a small amount of cooking oil (canola and olive), with no added nutritional supplements. Based on what he has told me, I estimate that 10-15% of his calories came from fat, 10% from protein and 75-80% from high-glycemic carbohydrate. His calorie intake ranged from 1,600 kcal (first 3 weeks) to 2,200 kcal (remaining 5.5 weeks) per day. Prior to the diet, he estimated that his calorie requirement was 2,200 kcal, so he attempted to stay as close to that as possible.

Health Markers

Mr. Voigt has posted the results of physical examinations, including bloodwork, from the beginning, middle and end of the diet. The change he experienced during that time is nothing short of remarkable. He shed 21 pounds, his fasting glucose decreased by 10 mg/dL (104 to 94 mg/dL), his serum triglycerides dropped by nearly 50%, his HDL cholesterol increased slightly, and his calculated LDL cholesterol dropped by a stunning 41% (142 to 84 mg/dL). The changes in his HDL, triglycerides and fasting glucose are consistent with improved insulin sensitivity (2, 3), and are not consistent with a shift of LDL particle size to the dangerous "small, dense" variety (4).

Interview
What was your diet like prior to the potato diet?
My best estimate is that it was probably a little better than the average US citizen only because of a high rate of produce consumption. I generally would eat about 10 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. But I ate everything else too. I would eat a wide range of food, a little bit of everything, including foods that aren’t considered “healthy”.
You essentially ate nothing but potatoes, fat and flavorings for two months. Can you give us an idea of how much fat you were eating? What kind of fat was it?
I averaged about 2 tablespoons of cooking oil a day over the span of the 60 days. Canola oil was used for frying and olive oil was used for roasting.


How was your digestion?
Potatoes are pretty easy on the digestive system. I actually got a lot of emails from people who suffer from severe digestive disorders and literally, potatoes are the only thing they can eat. My 60 days of potatoes was nothing compared to some folks with these digestive disorders. I was getting a lot of fiber so things were pretty regular, but not too regular :)

You lost 21 pounds during your two months of eating only potatoes. Do you have a sense of whether it came out of fat, muscle or both? For example, did your pants become looser?
Pants definitely became looser. I also noticed it in my neck size for shirts. I’m assuming most all of it was due to fat loss.

Do you think you were able to meet your calorie goal of 2,200 calories per day? Were you hungry during the diet?
I was not meeting the goal of 2,200 calories a day during the first 3 weeks of the diet. During the first three weeks of the diet I only ate until I was full. I didn’t realize that potatoes would give me such a high sense of fullness after each meal. So for those first 3 weeks, I was only consuming about 1,600 calories a day. After the third week I had lost 12 pounds and realized that I needed to change strategy. I then began to eat more potatoes despite the sense of fullness I was experiencing. So for the remaining 5 ½ weeks I was very diligent about eating the 2,200 calories. I continued to lose weight but at a slower place. I lost an additional 9 pounds over the course of those remaining 5 1/2 weeks. At the start of my diet I estimated, via a couple different on line calorie calculators, that I burn about 2,200 calories a day. Since I continued to lose weight, I’m assuming I actually burn closer to 2,800 calories a day. Something that may have also played a role in continued weight loss was the amount of resistant starch I was getting from potatoes. I ate a lot of cooked potatoes that had been refrigerated. These are generally higher in resistant starch. If I were to do the diet again, I would like to set up an experiment to gauge the effect of resistant starch.
What foods did you crave the most?
I craved mostly foods that had a “juicy crunch”, like an apple, or cucumbers, or carrots, or celery. I never acquired a taste for raw potatoes so virtually all the potatoes I consumed were cooked. No matter how you cook your potatoes, you always get that same soft cooked texture. I craved foods with a crisper texture.
How was your energy level?
My energy level was very good the entire time of the diet. I really didn’t notice a change in energy at the start of the diet so I assumed that the potato diet didn’t have a positive or negative effect on my energy level. It wasn’t until I finished the diet and started to consume other foods that I noticed my energy level has seemed to drop a bit.

How did you feel overall? Were there any unexpected effects of the diet?
I felt really good on the diet. I had lots of energy, slept good at night, and seemed to avoid the cold viruses that circulated at home and work.

The only unusual thing that occurred is what my wife told me. I’m a habitual snorer. The day I started eating only potatoes, my snoring stopped. It restarted the day I started to include other foods in my diet. I’m assuming it was just some weird coincidence but that’s what she tells me.

My doctor and I expected my cholesterol to drop but not at the level we saw. I’ve had borderline high cholesterol for the past decade. I started the diet at 214 and saw it drop to 147 at the end of 60 days. We anticipated a drop of maybe 10-25 points. It was a huge surprise to see a 67 point drop.
Your fasting glucose went from 104 mg/dL, which I consider high, to 94 mg/dL, which is on the high side for someone eating a high-carbohydrate diet, but within the clinically normal range. Do you have a family history of diabetes?
No history of diabetes. My parents are in their early eighties and their parents lived to their 70’s and 80’s with no history of type one or two diabetes.

Reading your blog posts, it seemed like you were having a hard time with the diet at first, but after a while you complained less and even seemed to enjoy it at times. Did you get used to it?
I would say that week 2 and 3 were probably the hardest. The first week was easy probably because of the novelty of the diet. Then reality set in for week 2 and 3. After that, I found my groove and it got easier. During the work week was easy but weekends, particularly Sunday’s, were the hardest. During the work week I did most of my eating at my desk so I wasn’t around a lot of other people eating or surrounded by other foods. Weekends were more difficult because I was around other people every meal and always had other foods in front of me at home.
What kinds of potatoes did you eat?
I literally ate every kind of potato I could get my hands on. I ate yellow skin/yellow flesh potatoes, red skin/white flesh, red skin/red flesh, purple skin/white flesh, purple skin/purple flesh, russet potatoes with white flesh, russet potatoes with yellow flesh, white potatoes, yellow potatoes with white flesh, purple fingerlings, yellow fingerlings, red fingerlings and numerous experimental varieties.
Did you peel them or eat the skin?
I ate the skin at least 90% of the time if not more. There is a myth that all the nutrition in a potato is in the skin or right under the skin. That’s not true, there are nutrients spread throughout the potato but most of the fiber is located in the skin.
What variety of potato is your favorite?
It really depended on the cooking method. For frying, I preferred russet potatoes. For baking, I preferred red potatoes. For mashed, I preferred yellow potatoes. For roasting, a toss-up between russets and reds.
How long did it take you after the diet ended to eat another potato?
As strange as it sounds, potatoes were my first two meals after my diet ended. I was saving my first non-potato meal for a special event that was planned at the local Head Start facility. The beef, dairy, apple, and potato producers put together a nice dinner event and nutrition workshop for all the kids and their parents at the Head Start center in Moses Lake. I still eat potatoes pretty regularly, but most of the time now I’m eating them with more than just seasonings.
Are there any other facts about potatoes you think Whole Health Source readers might find interesting?
Just a reminder that I’m not encouraging anyone to follow in my footsteps and eat just potatoes. This diet is not intended to be the next “fad” diet but was simply a bold statement to remind people that there is a tremendous amount of nutrition in a potato. There is no one food product that can meet all of your nutritional needs. I fully support a well balanced healthy diet, which potatoes can be a part of.

In 2008, the United Nations declared it to be the “Year of the Potato”. This was done to bring attention to the fact that the potato is one of the most efficient crops for developing nations to grow, as a way of delivery a high level of nutrition to growing populations, with fewer needed resources than other traditional crops. In the summer of 2010, China approved new government policies that positioned the potato as the key crop to feed its growing population. The Chinese government formed a partnership with the International Potato Center in Peru to help them facilitate this new emphasis on the potato.
Thanks Chris, for doing your experiment and taking the time to share these details with us!

In the next post, I'll give my interpretation of all this.

Client Plan: New French Country

"Chicken with its head cut off" would hardly even describe my true state this week...  We've been running around like mad with pre-holiday final appointments and presentations and installs.   I actually love it when it's like this (haha maybe taken down one notch) but my body (more my throat) does not.  I'm one of those people who doesn't sleep well when I'm super-busy so I guess that doesn't help.  Although have you noticed that some of your best ideas come late at night?? 
Anyway, I thought I'd share a little peek of the fabrics in a client's plan we've been working on.  Although you know I'm not big on "themes," she loves French Country so we decided to do a more modern / less obvious version of  for her not-so-French home located in Northern Virginia.  The design needed to work for the here and now and not look like something trying to be what it's not, so we included some more graphic modern fabrics and are keeping the furnishings fairly classic. 




The striped dark brown velvet will go on this sofa (below) and the curtains are in the tapestry floral.  English arm chairs will be in the golden embroidered paisley and the black & brown graphic print will be on an unpholstered bench.  Other fabrics might work their way into pillows and walls are a soft beige-cream.
(Sofa available through Lauren Liess Interiors}


I looooove this pillow option.  Fringe typically isn't my thing but it will work beautifully in the room: 


{China Winds pillow also available through Lauren Liess Interiors}

On another note, over Christmas I'll be working on my design proposal for the DC Design Showhouse this Spring..   We had the walk-through and I chose my space.  I've started work with an insanely talented artist, Matthew Moore    and super-innovative lighting designer Rick Singleton (both introduced to me by Eddie Ross - thank you E!!) and am staying up late at night thinking of the space I'm competing for.  I'm seriously nervous- there was so many talented designers at the walk-through- and haven't wanted something this badly in a long time.  The panel of judges/ board will look through all of the design proposals/boards and make their selections in January.  I fell in love with the room I'm after and the house itself is just so incredible.  I've been debating about mentioning this on the blog- there is a huge chance I won't be chosen- but it's tough for me to keep anything I'm really excited about off of the blog.  At first I thought I'd be embarrassed to tell you if I didn't make it, but I pretty much lay it all out on here and figured you wouldn't hold it against me if I'm not accepted. (And send hugs my way  haha)


Anyway, let's just hope that this little door of opportunity is ready to open...  because I'm so ready.
eeeeeeeeeeeek ;)

xoxo, Lauren
If you'd like help creating a home you absolutely love, contact me about our design services.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

No copyright on databases and maps?

Telstra’s Sensis has just lost an appeal with regard to Federal Court judgement that said its White and Yellow pages are not protected by copyright law. The key to the decision was that those compilations lack “creative spark” and hence cannot be protected under copyright law that requires “independent intellectual effort” to create the works. This ruling has important implications for all kinds of factual data collections, including listings of real estate, names and addresses or… databases with map data. Sensis will be seeking leave to appeal to the High Court to revert the decision.

It begs an interesting question: does it mean that all that high resolution imagery of your neighbourhood and representation of local roads, or cadastre boundaries, or geocoded addresses, are “free for all”? Google and others who publish such information would have no legal grounds for preventing people from copying it all in droves…

Free data + maps = unique insights

I am launching today another service which is a part of a bigger development project I am currently implementing. It is called Thematic Reports Series – free PDF download module. There is so much interesting data floating around that can be converted, with a little bit of effort, to insightful information and knowledge! The tools to do that conversion and dissemination are not integrated into end-to-end solution so, I am taking on the challenge with aus-emaps.com site to bridge the gaps. The first module was the reference map service launched just a couple of weeks ago. PDF download is the second piece in the puzzle, and more are yet to come.

I have chosen personal taxation statistics as the topic for the first free report. “Canberra’s Investment Habits by Postcode” is not an easy read but I hope it will generate some interest in the local community. Information is published as a series of interactive maps and as a hardcopy report in PDF format. Users have to sign up with aus-emaps.com to download PDF version of the report but maps are fully shareable. More on the report content in the follow up post.