After a long weekend of staying up late, drinking merrily and enjoying the company of many close friends I found myself being a little under the weather. This is pretty atypical for me as I’ve only ever had the flu twice and I usually pass through the cold season relatively unscathed. Whilst there’s thousands of possible reasons for this I’ve always found that should I find myself in the beginnings of an infection a strong dose of chilli seems to make it subside, or at least take my mind off it long enough to start feeling better. I realised yesterday that whilst I might have some anecdotal evidence to support this I hadn’t really looked into the science behind it and the stuff I uncovered in my search has been pretty intriguing.
For starters there are some strange experiments out there that have used chilli (well the chemical that gives it the burn, capsaicin) as an apparently reliable method to induce coughing in test subjects. The first one I came across was testing whether or not coughing is a voluntary action and the results seem to indicate that the coughing we get with the common cold is a mixture of both. Other experiments showed that people with an upper respiratory tract infection (which includes things like the common cold) are more prone to coughing when exposed to a capsaicin/citric acid mixture. None of these really helped me in understanding whether or not chilli aids in reducing the symptoms of the common cold or helping to cure it but a couple other studies do provide some potential paths for benefits.
Subjects with perennial rhinitis, a permanent allergic reaction to stimulus that doesn’t vary by season, showed a marked decrease in nasal complaints when treated with a solution of 0.15mg of capsaicin per nostal every 2nd or 3rd day for 7 treatments. The benefits lasted up to 9 months after the treatment and incredibly there were no adverse effects on cellular homeostasis or overall neurogenic staining (which sounds rather impressive but is a little out of my league to explain). Whilst this doesn’t directly support the idea that consumption helps the common cold it does provide a potential mechanism for it to relieve symptoms. However how much capsaicin ends up in your sinuses while eating it isn’t something I could find any data on.
Other studies have found similar effects when capsaicin solutions have been sprayed into the nasal cavity with the improvements lasting for up to 6 months. That particular study was a little on the small side though with only 10 patients and no controls present but the result do fall in line with the previous study which had much more rigorous controls. The theme appears to resonate through most of the other studies that I could find: topical application in the sinuses is good, inhaling it will cause you to erupt in a coughing fit.
Anecdotally that seems to line up with the experiences I’ve had and it’s good to see it backed up by some proper science. As for consumed chilli helping overall however there doesn’t appear to be any studies that support that idea but there are potential avenues for it to work. So like many scientists I’ll have to say that the results are interesting but require a lot more research to be done. Whether it’s worthy of investigating is something I’ll leave up as an exercise to the reader, but I’m sure we’d find no shortage of spice loving test subjects who’d be willing to participate.
If there’s one notion that just doesn’t seem to die it’s that email is always a bane to someone’s productivity. Personally after using the Internet daily for the better part of 15 years I’ve gotten the whole email thing down pretty good and I don’t personally find it a distraction. Still no matter how many people I talk to they still seem to struggle with their inbox every day with people inundating them request after request or including them in a discussion that they just have to respond to. This is just one of the great many examples of people using technology to control someone else’s behaviour and it surprises me how many people still fall for it.
In the most traditional sense email was to be the electronic replacement for good old fashioned letters. In that sense they do carry a sense of urgency about them as when someone takes the time to write to you about something you can be sure that they want a response. However the low barrier to entry for writing an email as opposed to a real letter opened the floodgates for those who would not usually take the time to write and thus proceed to unleash their fury on unsuspecting victims. For myself I’ve noticed in a work place many people will often forego face to face contact with someone who’s mere meters away by using email instead, turning a 5 minute conversation into a 2 hour email ordeal that still doesn’t satisfy either party. This could also be due to my career being almost wholly contained within the public service, but I’ve seen similar behaviour at large private entities.
I think the problem many people have with electronic mediums is the urgency that they associate with it. When you get a real, physical letter from someone or some corporation there’s a real sense of “I have to do something about this” and that feeling translates into its electronic form. Seeing your inbox with dozens of emails left unread conveys that sense of leaving something important undone as each one of them is a call to your attention, begging for a response. The key is to recognise the low barrier of entry that electronic forms of communication have and to treat them as such. Of course simply ignoring your emails doesn’t solve the problem but establishing rules of engagement for people contacting you through various mediums ensures that you cut the unnecessary communications to a minimum, freeing yourself from their technological grasp.
I experienced this myself just recently when experimenting with “proper” Twitter use. The second I dropped my rules of engagement with the service was the second that I became a slave to it and the people on the other side. Sure this might be considered the norm when using Twitter but frankly the value I derive from the service is rendered moot when diverts my attention away from what I consider to be more valuable exploits. The same should be said for any form of communication you use, if the value you’re deriving or creating from using a communication method is less than the most optimal thing you could be doing in lieu of that, well maybe you should reconsider replying to those 50 emails that came in over lunch.
It’s gotten to the point where even whole companies are being founded on the idea of streamlining communication, like Xobni an email inbox searching tool. Google has also attempted to fix the email problem by developing the priority inbox which is a clever yet completely unnecessary tool. Whilst it does do a good job of showing me the emails I need to see I’d argue the problem is more that the ones it doesn’t promote simply did not need to be written. Thus we have a technological solution to a problem that’s entirely caused by its human users and would be better solved with a switch in mindset.
In the end it comes down to people letting themselves be controlled by something rather than the other way around. People know that if they want me to do something immediately they’ll come see me or phone me. If they want it done whenever I damn well feel like it they’ll send an email and no amount of important flags or all caps titles will change that. In the end it means people actually think about what they want before approaching me, meaning that the time I do actually spend communicating with them is productive and we can both get back to our priorities without too much interruption.
Back in the early days of the Internet only technological giants and the technical elite were able to put up a website and make people aware of it. When things like search engines relied on you submitting your website to them it was obvious that the majority of the web would not be available to you unless someone in the know pointed you in the right direction. As with any technology this started to change very rapidly as it became more mainstream and this caused a major shift in the direction many sites took.
Enter the wonderful world of user generated content. In essence the idea outlines a publicly available system whereby the content of the site isn’t driven by the webmasters and contributors, but by the users of the site. Whilst this initially started off with text based sites like message boards and mailing lists it as the capacity of the Internet grew so did the range of applications that these user focused sites could provide. Sites like Flickr and Youtube began popping up all over the place and long established websites, like Amazon, began augmenting their sites with user reviews and so on. No longer did the websites have to rely entirely on their own staff to generate data for the website, the world at large would do it for them.
It’s an interesting idea for a website to undertake, basically relying on the assumption of if they build it, they will come. There’s got to be something attractive about the website initially to draw the crowds in and then it has to be provocative enough to get people to share something with everyone else. Message boards do this well since they are usually dedicated for a purpose and are more like a social club then just a plain website. Sites dedicated to just sharing content with each other have the tougher task of enticing people in and the ones who are really successful are either the first to market or ones that provide value-add services on top of what their competitors offer.
Although it’s typically seen as the lazy way of building a website there’s still quite a bit of work involved in providing a web framework for people to thrive in. Granted it’s a lot less technical and most of the work is around brand management and marketing (which is probably why they’ve proved so successful, they’re starting from the ground up as marketing ploys) but since the content is driven by the users webmasters will often find the direction that site takes driven by them as well. I guess the cost of not having to provide content for the site is submitting control of the site to the crowd.
With so many user based services already established these days anyone trying to enter this market really has to provide something new and innovative in order to gain any traction. This is a great thing for the Internet services industry as it promotes innovation rather than stagnation. Granted there’s a lot of services out there are just mash-ups of several online services (which can do well in their own right) but the majority of new user-content based services are trying to offer a slight spin on the current concept often capturing their own niche market.
Now I just have to work out how to mash up something like FaceMyTubeDigg……. 😉