Friday, April 25, 2014

How Hollywood actors look ripped

Sean Connery in the 1960s vs. Daniel Craig in 2006
Brando never did crunches. Al Pacino didn't slurp protein shakes. ... But not one of today's leading men can afford the luxury of a gym-free life. You simply don't get your name on a movie poster these days unless you've got a superhero's physique... Today's actors spend more time in the gym than they do rehearsing, more time with their trainers than with their directors. ...

For much of Hollywood history, only women's bodies were objectified to such absurd degrees. Now objectification makes no gender distinctions...

Since 5 percent body fat is nobody's natural condition, fitness plans are geared to peak on the days of the sex scenes or shirtless moments. To prep for these days, trainers will dehydrate a client like a boxing manager sweats a fighter down to weight. They often switch him to a low- or no-sodium diet three or four days in advance, fade out the carbohydrates, brew up diuretics like herbal teas, and then push cardio to sweat out water – all to accentuate muscle definition for the key scenes.

The last-minute pump comes right before the cameras roll. Philip Winchester, the hero of Cinemax's action series Strike Back, recalls seeing the technique for the first time on the set of Snatch: "Hundreds of extras were standing around," he recalls, "and Brad Pitt would drop down and do 25 push-ups before each scene. I thought, 'Why is he showing off?' " Then Winchester figured it out. "I realized he was just jacking himself up: getting blood flowing to the muscles. I'd always wondered, 'How do actors look so jacked all the time?' Well, they don't. Now we ask: Is it a push-up scene? When I shot that Strike Back poster, I was doing push-ups like a madman, saying, 'Take the picture now! Take it now!' " ...

Sometimes a superhero's journey begins with the needle prick of a syringe full of human growth hormone (HGH), testosterone, or steroids. ...

Zim has seen the benefits of hormone therapy firsthand. "These people who look younger and fitter – a lot of them are using growth hormone and testosterone; the size comes from the testosterone, the virility and the youth come from the growth hormone."

On set, actors swap tricks of the fitness trade – and the phone numbers of trainers and doctors who will prescribe testosterone or HGH, no questions asked. ...

Tom Hardy's more caustic explanation of his Dark Knight Rises physique: "No, I took Smarties," he replied when a reporter asked if he'd juiced for the role. "What do you... think?"
--Logan Hill, Men's Journal, on how the action hero look is made. HT: Marginal Revolution. See also the previous post on preparations for the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Endnotes suck

I call down a painful pox on publishers who put the footnotes at the end of the book instead of the bottom of the page where they belong, thus making sure that readers like me will skip many of them.
--Nobel laureate Robert Solow, New Republic, on the endnote inconvenience tax

Diet probably doesn't significantly affect your cancer risk

A trip to almost any bookstore or a cruise around the Internet might leave the impression that avoiding cancer is mostly a matter of watching what you eat. ...

But there is a yawning divide between this nutritional folklore and science. During the last two decades the connection between the foods we eat and the cellular anarchy called cancer has been unraveling string by string.

This month at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, a mammoth event that drew more than 18,500 researchers and other professionals here, the latest results about diet and cancer were relegated to a single poster session and a few scattered presentations. There were new hints that coffee may lower the risk of some cancers and more about the possible benefits of vitamin D. Beyond that there wasn’t much to say.

In the opening plenary session, Dr. Walter C. Willett, a Harvard epidemiologist who has spent many years studying cancer and nutrition, sounded almost rueful as he gave a status report. Whatever is true for other diseases, when it comes to cancer there was little evidence that fruits and vegetables are protective or that fatty foods are bad.

About all that can be said with any assurance is that controlling obesity is important, as it also is for heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, stroke and other threats to life. Avoiding an excess of alcohol has clear benefits. But unless a person is seriously malnourished, the influence of specific foods is so weak that the signal is easily swamped by noise.
--George Johnson, NYT, on the case for worrying less about what you eat

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Can the church provide psychiatric care?

These churches are not trying to supplant traditional mental health care. “When someone asks, Should I take medication or pray?” one speaker remarked, “I say, ‘yes.’ ” But they think that there aren’t enough services available for people who are really sick, and they think that many people don’t turn to them anyway because of the stigma. ...

The public mental health system is a woefully underfunded crazy-quilt of uncoordinated agencies whose missions shift depending on who gives them money and for what. It can be hideously difficult to navigate even for someone who is not hearing hallucinated voices. Many people with serious mental illness use the public mental health system at best intermittently for psychiatric care. ... Many psychiatric clients hate the idea of being forcibly medicated.

But they do often go to church. More than 40 percent of Americans say that they attend church nearly every week. Even people who have nowhere to live often go to church. ...

In my formal sample of nearly 90 women, only one in four said that they liked psychiatric services. But fully half of them said that they had a church and that they went to that church at least twice each month, and over 80 percent of them said that God was their best friend — some, that he was their only friend. ...

[In] fact, Sangath, a program based in Goa, India, has demonstrated that it is indeed possible to train local community members to identify mental illness and deliver care. A study just published in the Lancet demonstrated that this community care even produced modestly better outcomes for patients with schizophrenia than care in the psychiatric facility. ...

Being in church automatically gives someone what the great sociologist Erving Goffman would have called an “unspoiled” identity. In the conference announcing the initiative, person after person said: “I am not defined by my mental illness. I am a person with mental illness, and I am defined by Christ.” In a world in which serious mental illness is like a punishing badge, that is a powerful shift. And the safer identity may make it easier for people to accept care.
--T. M. Luhrmann, NYT, on helping the sick among us

When a U.S. trial turns into a USSR trial

Two weeks ago, a pair of F.B.I. agents appeared unannounced at the door of a member of the defense team for one of the men accused of plotting the 9/11 terrorist attacks. As a contractor working with the defense team at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, the man was bound by the same confidentiality rules as a lawyer. But the agents wanted to talk.

They asked questions, lawyers say, about the legal teams for Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and other accused terrorists who will eventually stand trial before a military tribunal at Guantánamo. Before they left, the agents asked the contractor to sign an agreement promising not to tell anyone about the conversation.

With that signature, Mr. bin al-Shibh’s lawyers say, the government turned a member of their team into an F.B.I. informant. ...

Thirteen years after 9/11, nobody has been convicted in connection with the attacks and, because of the F.B.I. visit, a trial could be delayed even longer. ...

Last year, as a lawyer for Mr. Mohammed was speaking during another hearing, a red light began flashing. Then the videofeed from the courtroom abruptly cut out. The emergency censorship system had been activated. But why? And by whom? ... Days later, the military judge, Col. James L. Pohl, announced that he had been told that an “original classification authority” — meaning the C.I.A. — was secretly monitoring the proceedings. Unknown to everyone else, the agency had its own button, which the judge swiftly and angrily disconnected.

Last year, the government acknowledged that microphones were hidden inside what looked like smoke detectors in the rooms where detainees met with their lawyers. Those microphones gave officials the ability to eavesdrop on confidential conversations, but the military said it never did so. ...

The court has also been troubled by computer problems. A botched computer update gave prosecutors and defense lawyers access to the other side’s confidential work. And the Pentagon acknowledged inadvertently searching and copying defense lawyers’ emails but said nobody read them.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Clever ways to hack corporate computer networks

Unable to breach the computer network at a big oil company, hackers infected with malware the online menu of a Chinese restaurant that was popular with employees. When the workers browsed the menu, they inadvertently downloaded code that gave the attackers a foothold in the business’s vast computer network. ...

Hackers in the recent Target payment card breach gained access to the retailer’s records through its heating and cooling system. In other cases, hackers have used printers, thermostats and videoconferencing equipment. ...

Heating and cooling providers can now monitor and adjust office temperatures remotely, and vending machine suppliers can see when their clients are out of Diet Cokes and Cheetos. Those vendors often don’t have the same security standards as their clients, but for business reasons they are allowed behind the firewall that protects a network. ...

Billy Rios, director of threat intelligence at Qualys, a security firm, was one of those researchers. He said it was increasingly common for corporations to set up their networks sloppily, with their air-conditioning systems connected to the same network that leads to databases containing sensitive material like proprietary source code or customer credit cards.
--Nicole Perlroth, NYT, on hacking ninjas

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

No, changing fonts to Garamond will not save the government $400 million per year

A 14-year-old from Pittsburgh, Suvir Mirchandani, calculated that with a simple change of fonts, the federal government could save as much as $136 million per year. Following up on a middle-school science project, Mirchandani calculated that changing government documents from Times New Roman to Garamond—a narrower, lighter font—would slash the amount of ink required by a vast amount. And as he pointed out, laser-printer ink is far dearer than, say Chanel No. 5. ... Extrapolating his findings to state and local governments, Mirchandani found that the total savings for all governments in the U.S. could be as much as $394 million ...

Mirchandani's estimates of what the federal government spends on ink are on the high end:
A Government Services Administration study (6) had estimated the cost of ink (toner) to be 25.86% of the total cost of ownership of a printer (Footnote 2). Assuming this percentage, the estimated 2014 ink cost by the federal government is $467 million. A savings of 29.24% by switching to Garamond translates into an equivalent dollar amount of more than $136 million at the federal government level.
Mirchandani notes that feds are projected to spend about $1.8 billion on printing in 2014. The GPO [Government Printing Office] accounts for a little more than a third of that ($680 million), but in 2013 it spent only $750,000 on ink. Even if that number could be zeroed out, a logical impossibility, the savings north of $100 million look pretty unlikely.
--David Graham, The Atlantic, on a sad piece of mythbusting