Saturday, July 31, 2010

Protein Energy Bar Review

Protein bars are super convenient. Nothing is easier and faster. I want something that is satisfying, and won't make me hungry quickly like a high carb snack would. Finally it should taste good too or at least decent.  Protein bars are the complicated, highly engineered foods with lots of ingredients.

PowerBar Protein plus are my favorite. Most flavors taste good and they are satisfying in the sense that I feel full when I am done eating one.

The first ingredient is a protein isolate blend made from soy whey and casein (milk), the second ingredient is maltitol. Maltitol is one of the main ingredients in corn syrup. In some countries, warning labels are required because of its laxative effect.  The third ingredient is chocolate-like frosting. The frosting is not healthy, but I like it.

I like the peanut butter flavor best, but others are similar. I don't care for the vanilla-frosting.

Regular size is 2.75 oz/78g with  300 calories, 23 g of protein; 9 grams of fat fortified with many vitamins including 15% iron and 25% biotin. I paid $2.19.

Take care NOT to buy the low protein versions, called Energize, Pure and Simple, Nut Naturals and Harvest. These lower cost bars could be good for hiking or biking, but they are too low in protein to count as protein bars. I never buy them, so I can't comment on the flavor.

There is a Protein Plus 30 gram of protein size, and it is the same as the Protein Plus regular size, but bigger.

PowerBars are from Nestle, the international food company.

Myoplex is from the pharmaceutical company Abbott. I got it in the pharmacy department of the grocery for $1.99.

 It features whey protein, and its second and third ingredients are sugar. It is sweet and has a strong chocolate-flavor -- almost too strong.  Good with coffee.

The bar is 2.65oz/75g with 280 calories, 25g of protein, 8g of fat, contains vitamins and minerals including the highest iron at 35% daily value, biotin, selenium and molybdenium.

This is the most nutritious product in terms vitamins and minerals.

Clif Builder's advantage is that it has "more natural" ingredients. The main protein is soy, it is colored with beet juice, sweetened with organic rice syrup (rather than corn syrup) and cane sugar.

I don't like the flavor as well. I don't buy that this is a better quality bar since it is natural. It is pretty artificial to me. If you want natural, eat some peanuts.

It is a larger sized bar at 2.4 oz/68 grams with 270 calories, 20 grams of protein; many vitamins and minerals with 25% iron which is relatively high.

 Muscle milk bars don't taste very good. They have a chemically taste, and I did not finish it. The bar is also hard to chew. If I were at home, I might have microwaved it to soften it.

Big 100 Colossal taste OK, but it is just too big for one serving. I would cut it in two in order to eat it. It is from the same maker as the Protein Plus bar below.

Odwalla Original Super Protein Bar has a better flavor than some and it does not have the chocolate-like frosting on the outside. Instead it has raisins and dates for fruitiness.

I like these for a change, but sadly I prefer the fake chocolate-like frosting of the others for day-to-day.

Odwalla has a more "natural" set of ingredients. It is based on soy protein, raisins are the second ingredient, and rice syrup is the main sweetener as with Clif's.

Odwalla mainly makes beverages, and its website is obnoxiously cute.

210 calories, 14 g of protein; many vitamins with 10% iron.  Odwalla is more natural, but it has the least protein per calorie. I'd buy this if I wanted a fruity bar rather than a chocolatey one.

Met-Rx Protein Plus Protein Bar is from a small Florida company. It is based on milk proteins, although the first ingredient is chocolate-flavor frosting. Despite this the flavor was not that chocolatey.

This bar was smaller at 1.76 ounces, 180 calories, with 19 grams of protein and 6 grams of fat. It also has vitamins, but only 8% iron.  This bar has the most protein with the lowest calories.

It has a warning about the indigestibility of sugar alcohols, presumably the maltitol in the frosting. I did not have a problem with eating this though.

Pure Protein High Protein Bar is chewy, sweet and chocolatey -- so much that it does not seem healthy to eat.

It is from Worldwide Sport Nutritional Supplements, whose website has a 'Roid Rage video that is creepy. There are no protein bars on the website -- only protein drinks.

The protein is from whey with some soy crisps and peanuts. All the usual vitamins, but only 8% iron.  It has 200 calories in 1.76 oz = 50 grams overall; 20 g of protein; 3 g of fat. It is primarily sweetened with maltitol, as with Met-Rx above.

The most important thing for me is protein content per calorie, because I want the muscle-building and appetite-quenching benefits of protein without getting fat. The graph below shows that the Met Rx Protein Plus is the best. The Odwalla Original is the worst.

The highest protein bars have the lowest iron content.
Myoplex looks like a good balance. 

In summary, I am going to get some Myoplex and Met Rx Protein Plus next time I am at the store. I will update the taste test info down the road.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Are Robust Recoveries From Recessions Just a Myth?

The rate of job growth after a recession for the last five recessions. Notice how job growth after recent recessions has been shallower.
From The Atlantic

Worry about the economy is making the  Consumer Confidence Index plummet, although I believe that the Gulf Oil Spill is also hurting American confidence.

Interestingly job growth after a recession has been getting more and more sluggish over the last few economic cycles.  Why? Who really knows?  I think that better computer tools are allowing better automation. Recessions really allow the economy to retool, and become more efficient.

This recession may be worse in that the interest-sensitive housing sector is not able to pull us out.

Rutgers has more statistics on this recession,  see below.


Monday, July 26, 2010

Coca Cola Love

Who Doesn't Like These Cute Christmas Coke Bottles
I love Coca Cola. I feel an attraction to the Coke image. Why? I don't drink Coke. I am too hard-core about calories to consume sugary soda.   I drink Diet Coke, and Diet Coke isn't really Coke.

I think that Coke benefits from a half century of outstanding ads and image making. Who does not like the Coke bottles at left?

I know I love Coke because I read "Neural Correlates of Behavioral Preference for Culturally Familiar Drinks", which is the most high-brow Coke vs. Pepsi study you could want to see.

The study is creepy because these marketing people were trying to peer into your brain to understand why you buy things and how to manipulate you.

This is Your Brain on Coke [Brand Soda.]

It is an MRI image of a person who saw a Coke logo and drank a sample of Coke while in the MRI. The image is different from someone who saw a light while drinking Coke.
Second, it is not a very good study, and barely concludes anything. It seems to say Coke has more cultural resonance than Pepsi and makes the beverage taste better. It is six years old, and is back from the days when people were publishing any brain map that came out of an MRI.

I found the above study while reading The Art of Choosing, by Sheena Iyangar. She pointed out the emotional investment people have in their soft drink choices.

So why is Coke branding better than Pepsi branding?  It has great graphic design, and it has generally just had one color -- red. Pepsi's  All-American Red, White and Blue does not seem to look as good.  Pepsi has also changed its look more radically over time.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Now Genetic Tests for Cellulite -- as if Teenage Girls' Self-Esteem Were Not Low Enough!

I decided to save my readers from having to look at a cellulite illustration.
In a new evil quest to steal the happiness from teenagers, DermaGenoma launched a $250 genetic test so that skinny teenagers can find out if they are going to have mattress folds of jiggly fat someday.

Why would anyone want this?

If there ever is anything that I would want peaceful ignorance about it would be cellulite -- afterall people say there is nearly nothing you can do to make it go away.

The test is an easy: just a cheek swab that your doc mails in.

The product is based on an Italian study published just in January, so kudos for getting this to market so fast.

Below is a news report on the test. It is a fairly straight-up story, and is not humorous beyond the basic absurdity of the whole thing.

DermaGenoma has lots of equally awful products, one will tell you if you are going to get bald, another if you will get arthritis, and a third if you are going to get frequent herpes outbreaks.

More:  Now you can be Facebook Friends with DermaGenoma!!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Factors in Viral Popularity

What are the factors in viral popularity? How an idea or a video catches people's imagination and they send it around the internet until "everyone" knows about it?

Viral popularity is worth a lot to marketing firms, as illustrated illustrated by the Old Spice Man. Proctor and Gamble, who sells Old Spice, set out to create a viral phenomenon with slick, funny ads and chose the right actor (unknown Isaiah Mustafa.)

Proctor and Gamble sought to popularize the ads by seeding influential bloggers and twitterers with links to their stuff.  Craig Reise gives his views on why this campaign is so effective.   Proctor and Gamble has advantages no little guy has: they bought a commercial on the Superbowl with the Old Spice Man. This was five months before the big break out, but many people see and rewatch Superbowl ads. See it below.

According Social Capital Blog, seeding influential users is one of the keystones of getting a viral campaign started. Mathematical analysis of the internet shows that some users have far more influence than others since they are more linked in. If you can get just a small fraction of users interested, that can start the ball rolling.

According to everyone, the genius in the Old Spice Man campaign was filming quips to individual Twitterers. This was clever and speedy and got a lot of notice. "For example. They made 180 quips to Twitters and bloggers.

There is bad advice around about viral marketing especially: "It starts with the product." The smell of Old Spice does not matter at all to how many downloads or links there are.  I can't think of anything less relevant. Classic targeted marketing is wrong because the internet viral phenomenon will always chaotic. The marketer just better be OK with that.

In regard to Old Spice, the men's fragrance market has been trending down for years, recovering briefly with the metrosexual fad in the early 00's. I know, I poured my last bottle of Old Spice down the drain years ago.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Is There a Population Crisis? Are Schools the Solution?

My wife insists that the world population is growing fast, and that shortages in water and food are coming fast. She sites Limits to Growth from the Club of Rome, and its sequel.

I tell her that countries like Japan, Italy and indeed China now have (or will soon have) declining populations. While India and 3rd world countries are growing fast, the recipe for population control has been found, and that is education of girls.

Surprisingly the population crisis in China today is too few babies due to the alarmingly successful one-child policy.

From Japan to Spain the Northern hemisphere is no longer growing in population.  Further we know that US population based on births is nearly 0.6%, but 0.9% after immigration. It is more extreme in Canada.

Average population growth rate from the World Bank. 
Compare this to the map of literacy.
Literacy rates generally follow the same pattern as population increase.

The next two exhibits are from the Asian Times, and the article concerns Muslim populations, but the data is the same for Muslim and non-Muslim populations.

The red or pink graphs show that population growth, on the right, goes down as literacy increases. This is true for 168 countries when considered together.

Some developed countries have moved to negative growth, like the Czech Republic.

On the other hand, basket-case countries like Afghanistan are growing by 4.8% per year.   The problem of population growth is now a localized problem, and localized in countries that are poorly run generally.

My wife points out that on the scale of centuries population is going up rapidly, but I argue that things have changed recently. One should also notice that population was stable in the 1800s, so it is not impossible to have population stability. If one is a pessimist, and extrapolates from the past, then the future will be dim indeed.

World Population 
The important graph in my opinion is the growth rate, which is trending down since 1964.

Population Growth Rate
In one is an optimist, and extrapolates the trend, then the future will be fine. Secondly, we know that by educating girls, birth rates can go down.


Sunday, July 11, 2010

High Frequency Computer Trading: How Does It Work?

High Frequency Trading did not start with the Flash Crash on May 6th, but the crash made High Frequency Trading HFT more visible.

Major investment banks and hedge funds have been building computer centers within yards of Wall Street computer center to gain milliseconds of advantage in rapid algorithmically-driven trades. How does this work?

I wanted to know whether HFT was just computerization of what floor traders have always done, or it is some new kind of scam. Second, the financial press always says HFT techniques are "too complicated to understand"  similar to derivatives trading. In time I have learned that derivatives trading is not really that hard, and so I set out to learn ways that HFT makes money.

Automated trades may account for 80% of total stock trading volume. This is somewhat controversial because to get a number this high journalists include all computerized trading schemes for whatever purpose. Some of these are long terms trading schemes and not high frequency.

Trading houses are executing trades for a few hundreths of a cent per share. This is far less than retail investors pay, and it makes makes it economical to go after small opportunities in the market. In this sense the high trade volumes were see are caused by the low price of trading, which only makes sense.

The following are ways to make money using high frequency trading techniques.

Ten Ways to Make Money using HFT

1. Suppose someone is trading a large block of stock in pieces to hide it. One can analyze lots of trades to find a pattern of sales that are the sign of a large transaction. The program then buys or sells to capitalize on the trade, that is to copy the original trade.. This disadvantages the original trader, but is no different than what a floor trader would have done.  There is an advantage of having fast access to the market, and it is parasitic on the knowledge of the original investor. This HFT hurts liquidity because it makes each trade more extreme.

2. Placing trades where one party is both buyer and seller to manipulate the price. When one gets the price where one wants it, then place a bid trade to profit from it. This is illegal.

3. Like #2, but not actually making the trade -- this is legal. One offers to make trades and then withdraws the offer milliseconds later before anyone can respond. If one floods the system with zillions of trades that don't execute, it confuses competitors. It will take them time to figure out that I am masking something, and in the meantime I can concentrate on the real trading. That is, I can execute a big trade or analyze the other trades for information without distraction.

4. Like #3, we place tiny trades in an attempt to determine the elasticity of demand; that is how much is the market willing to pay; then we use that knowledge in our future trading. Alternatively, the tiny trades may confuse simple-minded competitors ( who only look at numbers of trades and not dollars) into thinking the market is trending on-way or the other.

5. Market Making - I place an offer to sell above the current price, and a bid to buy below the current price. Market volatility and the illiquidity of the market will ensure I get some orders, and I benefit from the bid-ask spread.   This is the classic high frequency trading play.

According to Wikipedia, ATD Automated Trading Desk owned by Citigroup does this, and accounts for 5% of all trades. Kansas City based TradeBot accounts for another 5%.

Tradebot, ATD and competitor Getco are more than schemes to make money. They are mini-stock exchanges that allows brokerages to save money on zillions of retail trades. The bid-ask spread is a measure of the inefficiency of the market, and operations like ATD make that spread smaller -- thus making the market more efficient. Nothing the matter with that. [Tradebot also has more speculative operations, besides only this.]

6. Technical Analysis = Quantitiative Analysis = Statistical Trend Analysis - Some would argue that technical analysis is not high frequency trading because it involves holding positions over a series of days. Others argue that its principles can be applied within a day. Technical analysis involves predicting future price trends from past price trends using fairly straight-forward statistics on the price and volume of trading. I think technical analysis is worthless, so I find it hard to explain how it works, i.e. it doesn't work.

7. Statistical Arbitrage - Assume that over the years, a group of stocks A, B and C always moves together - not exactly together, but that their movements are correlated. If there is a news event or investment reason that independent investors buy stock A, there is a significant chance the same factors will affect B and C, so the high frequency trading program buys B and C too.

This assumes that the correlations between A, B and C are real enough to persist into today's trading, and sometimes it does not, but on average it does.

Manoj Narang says, "Because there are far fewer systematic drivers than there are securities which depend on them, correlation between securities is guaranteed to exist!"  This makes a lot of sense.

One would have thought that finding correlations between news events and stock prices required a human, but the machines can automatically trade on some average stock correlation and get a short term gain. A human analyst could do a better job of linking a particular news item, say a weather report, to those stocks dependent on it, but the high frequency trader would have already gotten his/her cut. When the human investors arrive, the HFT program exits.

Statistical arbitrage is probably the best most legitimate HFT strategy. It takes knowledge from the market and combines it with additional analysis to make short term profitable trades. When investment banks talk about "Black Box" secret trading programs, I think this is what they mean.

So far I have been discussing statistical arbitrage applied to stocks, but one can use it for bonds, commodities, currencies, or futures. One can use it synchronize results between exchanges or interest rates between countries.

8. Intermarket Sweep Orders - These allow some traders to have priority over other traders. If there are more buy offers at price A, than there are sell offers at price A, some will get executed and others won't.  Intermarket Sweep Orders ISOs get an earlier place in line and get executed before others. Traders like me without access to ISO's pay more.  Smaller investors pay an average of $0.013 more per share when buying for this reason. 

9. Latency Trading - The same idea as above where the HFT trader gets trades executed faster simply because they have high speed connections and are physically close to the exchange. I get some priority because I am nearby. If an event happens, I get an advantage because I am closer to the market. This is just a computerized version of proximity advantages that have always existed.

If I am reacting to trades on the market, then also get an advantage in learning about these trades if I am nearby. In-coming knowledge is a second kind of latency advantage.

10. Rebate Capture - Some exchanges offer rebates to brokerage firms who place trades with them. Some firms will place trades on both buy and sell sides to generate fake volume to earn rebate income from the exchanges. Obviously this is a sleazy practice that adds nothing to economic value. I doubt one could actually make money doing this because the rebates are small between 0.01-0.25 cents per share depending on the stock and the market. NASDAQ rebates are higher; NYSE rebates are lower. Rates are structured so big traders get more generous rebate rates.

Closing thoughts

On the May 6, 2010 Flash Crash, the high frequency traders all made tons of money because they profit on volatility. They argue -- and I tend to agree -- that their systems stabilize the market since they win by reducing fluctuations.

High frequency traders keep their shares less than a day, perhaps an average of ten minutes. They argue that they simply cannot influence the daily price of a stock because they have executed both sides of the transaction during that day.

Who caused the Flashcrash? It was not one of the big-guy, high-frequency traders, but instead an interaction between automated investment programs with access to a substantial amount of stock. Whoever it was is probably out-of-work now, and whoever lost money on it is probably trying to keep quiet.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Women's Wages by Marital Status

Interesting figures from Carpe Diem with data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

This is interesting because woman's wages as a percentage of comparable men have been less forever. This shows that child rearing has a major factor. 

Annual Data from the BLS on women's wages as a percent of men's wages

Monday, July 5, 2010

CO2 into Alcohol

James Liao of University of California got the EPA's Green Chemistry award for creating microorganisms that convert CO2 into butanol for fuel.  Liao has shown that butanol has a higher energy content and is easier to transport because it is not miscible with water.

In addition, butanol would be easy to separate from water. One of the reasons ethanol is not a very efficient fuel source is that distilling it out from mixtures with water is very energy intensive.

His primary work is taking biochem pathways that convert the three carbon pyruvate into the four carbon amino acid valine, and diverting it to butrylaldehyde and then butanol.

As discussed in Aug-09 and July 09, algae is attracting a surprising amount of attention from practical minded companies as a way of making biofuel. If one could make butanol instead of sugary biomass, that would be more efficient.

James Liao of UCLA

He has been working on doing this in e coli for fifteen years, but the new award seemingly is in because it is able to use photosynthesis to build the amino acid.  This uses up CO2 and would create greenhouse gas credits if these were implemented in the future.

It also eliminates the problem of  using starch or cellulose as a food source for the e coli.

Easel Biotechnologies is his company working on the commercial applications.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

China Motors

This China GM picture is probably a joke, but it is a great image anyway. Don't you love the look on the old man's face and how it is framed by the truck cab.

GM sells more cars in China than in the USA. GM and its joint-ventures sold 1.21 million cars in China through June 30, and it sold 1.08 million cars in the US.

My headline is a little disingenuous, because it includes the SAIC-GM company which GM only owns 1/3 of.

This is interesting because it reinforces that China is huge country, and that countries in the midst of their industrial revolution get huge productivity gains from mechanizing agriculture and shfting labor into manufacturing. Because of the huge population in China, it will be an big fraction of the world economy. GM expects their car sales in China to grow to 3 million.

China's car market grew 46% to 13.6 million to be the largest in the world, as US car sales fell 21% to 10.6 million. Of course the US car sales fall was propelled by the Great Recession.

This reminds me of the Japanese maker Honda who sells more cars in the US than in Japan.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Does Reason Breed Insanity?

G.K. Chesterton
G. K. Chesterton wrote:
Imagination does not breed insanity. Exactly what does breed insanity is reason. Poets do not go mad; but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom. I am not, as will be seen, in any sense attacking logic: I only say that this danger does lie in logic, not in imagination.

There is a lot to say about the Chesterton quote in Orthodoxy in the year 1900. First, the whole book is online, and its FREE on the Kindle. Chesterton follows this quote with a discussion on famous insane people as examples.

Second, his book is an orthodox Christian apologetic, so Chesterton is explaining to his peers why it is OK/Good to be Christian, and he feels it necessary to address the poetic reality of Orthodoxy.  

Third, Chesterton's book reminds me of Don Cupitt's idea of Non-realism, that is he understands that his views aren't completely logical, and that is OK. Don Cupitt is a priest in the Church of England. He is about the most liberal theologian one could find. Some consider him an atheist -- me too. There is an interesting interview on this podcast.

I have looked for data on insanity and occupation, and there is little, chiefly work by Norwegian Professor Odegari, and some of these studies are fifty years old. Unfortunately most are in journals not accessible online. I'll post an update if I find something.

Finally, there was a tradition from the beginning of the twentieth century that using your mind more caused more insanity, that is that factory workers or farmers were less likely to go crazy. I view this as elite "brain" workers feeling sorry for themselves. Chesterton was probably echoing this point of view in his book. 

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Unabomber Subject of Sadistic CIA Experiment: Truth is Stranger than Fiction

Police Sketch circa 1983
A terrorist bomber was the subject of sadistic mind control experiments funded by the CIA. Strange as it sounds Theodore Kacynski was the subject of psychological experiments while he was a sophomore at Harvard that were directed at understanding brainwashing and mind-control techniques that be used on enemy soldiers. 

Theodore Kaczynski was an anarchist terrorist from 1978 to 1995 whose weapon was the mail bomb. The bombs were artfully constructed from handmade wood pieces. The FBI and the press called these bombings the Unabomber case, because he initial victims were at universities.

The experiments of Harvard Professor Murray were highlighted in the June 28 episode of RadioLab. This is a detailed account of Kacynski's mental history.

Murray subjected his unwitting students, including Kaczynski, to intensive interrogation -- what Murray himself called "vehement, sweeping, and personally abusive" attacks, assaulting his subjects' egos and most-cherished ideals and beliefs.

He video taped the interrogations and then played back recordings of the students being humiliated over-and-over again for them to watch.

In fairness, Murray's research was a part of a much larger effort to assemble a tremendously through understanding of the study group through deep and wide ranging psychological and sociological tests. The sadistic testing described above was supplemented by hundreds of hours of other tests. The video playbacks were thought to allow self-knowledge within the participants rather than create emotional scars. 

This is so much like Robert Ludlem's Borne trilogy of a mind-controlled soldier who snaps and turns on his handlers.  One can only guess what Kaczynski's life would have been like without the psychological experiments. Is it possible the CIA unwittingly created a social misfit who morphed into a bomber? Yes.