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Why am I recommending a beauty products blog?

December 11, 2011 4 comments

Recently I was introduced to a blog called FutureDerm, where one Nicki Zevola reviews beauty products. And I want to recommend her blog to anyone who cares about hair and skin products. I will use three of her recent posts to illustrate why I’m recommending it.

1) In this post about SPF makeup, she explains why the SPF rating on the product label doesn’t match its performance in real life:

…scientists test facial powders to determine SPF in a manner mandated by the FDA, assuming that 2mg of product will be used per cm2 of skin. The average face is about 600cm2 (although that varies from person to person, of course), meaning that a person needs to apply about 1.2g of facial powder to get the SPF stated on the product’s label. However, most women only apply about 0.085g of powder at a time – fourteen times less than you need to get the SPF listed on the package!

2) On whether retinol creams are likely to break down over time:

Other studies, such as this 2004 study in the Journal of Raman Spectroscopy, have shown retinol also becomes unstable in the presence of too much oxygen.  So both light and air cause retinol to break down into an oxidized species.

After a month of use, your retinol cream will undoubtedly have less potency than when it is first opened.  That’s just the nature of the beast, sorry.  However, if your retinol cream contains other antioxidants, is encapsulated in liposomes, or packaged in a light-protective container, then your retinol will have degraded far less than otherwise. … I would also add that an airtight pump, like in Green Cream or Skinceuticals Retinol Creams, are excellent choices.

3) In this review of a Proactiv mask, she addresses the ingredients and why they might be effective at improving skin:

Kaolin, a hydrated silicate of aluminum, has been established as an effective adsorbent for hundreds of years.  Kaolin has long been used to treat skin erythema, eczema, and inflammatory skin disorders.  It is an adsorbent ingredient that has been proven to absorb excess oil on the skin, as mentioned in The Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics.  In fact, kaolin is so adsorbent makes me hesitant to recommend this to anyone with dry skin!

Sulfur is an important mineral component of vitamin B, collagen, keratin, and several amino acids.  According to The Encyclopedia of Skin and Skin Disorders, sulfur is thought to slow bacterial growth as it dissolves the top layer of the skin and slows oil-gland activity within the skin.

What I like about her content is that she doesn’t limit it to reviewing her experience with a product. She cites a fair amount of scientific research that ties a product’s performance to its ingredients and method of formulation. And in #2, she proposes products that address an unavoidable issue with a key ingredient. This appeals to the scientist in me, and for anyone, this makes her blog a useful repository to predict how other products with similar ingredients might function. As far as how compounds like retinol degrade, I’m familiar with that from my line of work. I love being able to read stuff like this because it expands my thinking on how the science can be extended toward designing cool and useful products. Yes, even cosmetics.

And she keeps the FutureDerm blog going while handling the little side gig of being a medical student at Pitt. Well done.

(Picture from UK’s Telegraph)

My mother’s plan for me to marry a brown girl is doomed.

December 3, 2011 3 comments

Before I fly home for Thanksgiving, my mother tells me, “Bring a nice outfit. We’re invited to a party on Thursday night.” I ask her who’s hosting. From her answer, I establish my mother’s intent: for me to meet brown* girl(s) whom she imagines are potential wife material for me. After all, I pay attention to her stories, such as the time she returned from a dinner party at that house months ago. “Bhabi has a daughter around your age. She’s a [law/medical] student at [insert name of elite East Coast university]! I saw her. She’s very pretty!” [1]

On Thanksgiving night, we get to the party and most of the guests are already there. My family is shown to the kitchen where finger food appetizers await.

Click to enlarge.

I don’t know anyone there and I can’t see anyone my age I could talk to, so I decide to start the party hanging out with my sister in the kitchen, since (1) we’ll be able to gossip on our own a bit and (2) my sister wears amazing shoes so eventually the women WILL come by to compliment them and converse with her. And then my socially adroit sister could borrow a line from Barney to play a little game of “Haaaaave youmetmybrother?”

Within two minutes, this plan is derailed.

The host auntie [2] pries me away from our nascent gossip session to show me to the guys’ room, where her sons and those of the other aunties are watching the Cowboys game. I don’t get super excited for regular season NFL games, but I figure I’ll get to chat with people and it’ll feel like a party.

Nope, mistaken again. Everyone’s super absorbed with the game: one guy because his fantasy team’s players are involved; and, the rest because that’s what guys with peach-fuzz mustaches in high school do. I would know, I was there once. And after dinner is served, we get to watch the next NFL game. Yup, the young ladies will SWARM IN to watch football like bees drawn to nectar!!! Now, readers, don’t feel bad for me. This story you’re reading now? I drafted it in my head as the Cowboys kicked their game-winning field goal.

But! My mother is bound to be disappointed. She and I don’t always agree on what the path to happiness is, but she is certainly concerned with my happiness in life, and I am so blessed to have her care this much. So what went wrong in her plan? Read more…

Pittsburgh Bus System: Some Answers, More Questions

November 28, 2011 1 comment

I’d like to follow up my earlier post on the Pittsburgh bus system with a more careful examination of facts collected from the website of the Port Authority of Allegheny County (PAAC), who operate the public transportation systems in Pittsburgh and its surroundings. I’ll take this in two parts:

  1. First, a quick survey of the PAAC website to get a qualitative sense of what they might be doing to improve the bus system.
  2. A closer look at their financial statements to understand how we got to where we are today.

1. Quick Survey: It’s apparent to anyone who rides the bus routinely that there is a lot of room for improvement in its operation. Is the PAAC working to improve things? Their website – http://www.portauthority.orgstates that they’re doing work to improve the actual operations:

In 2010, Port Authority began instituting route changes under its Transit Development Plan (TDP), the result of more than two years of planning and feedback from thousands of riders, all with the aim to make transit smarter and more efficient. …

More improvements are in the works, including bus stop consolidation and streamlined Downtown circulation. …

Port Authority also recently installed new fareboxes on its entire vehicle fleet in preparation for a new smart card system – called ConnectCard – that will be introduced in the near future. This system promises to make fare payment easier and more convenient for riders.

Well, then, some of the ideas I wrote about – fewer stops, simpler no-cash payment – are already in the works. In fact, the card reader that Pitt ID holders use, where we just tap the box, is part of the new system being unveiled.

2. Financial Statements: It’s common knowledge around these parts that PAAC is short on money. Briefly, they fund their operations from transit revenues (ex: bus fares) and from tax money – mostly state and local. As of my writing this, you can find the budget book for each year going back to the late 90s. I focused on 2004-present, since this takes us back to the previous CEO’s tenure.

Each year’s budget book is ~ 200 pages long. So there are LOTS of financial data to parse, peruse, and plot. Let’s look at this figure I put together:

The blue bars show the total operating expense each year. Refer to the left axis. Operations are the cost of running the services each day and paying everyone responsible; separate from “capital projects”, which covers the purchase of new equipment and building new bridges or such. The actual numbers are shown, except for 2010 and 2011, which are projected numbers since the actual number is reported in the budget book two years later.

The purple bars show the bus-specific expenses from within the Transit Operations. Refer to the left axis. The bus-specific expenses include salaries and wages, “fringe benefits”, and material/supply costs, e.g., fuel. In some years’ books, these are reported as one number; in some, they are broken out between Bus Operation and Bus Maintenance. In those cases, I’ve added together Operation and Maintenance so we can compare different years directly.

The markers and line in black show the number of employees each year in within Transit Operations, specifically for the bus system. Again, in the years that they were reported separately between Operators and Maintenance, I’ve added the two together so we can compare different years directly.

So what conclusions could we draw from this figure? Read more…

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