Book Review: The Laws of Thermodynamics by Dr. Peter Atkins

9780199572199Thermodynamics – The laws that summarize the properties of energy from one form to another.

So the books author, Professor Peter Atkins, begins telling us in this short story of Thermodynamics. The science sprung up during the 19th century along with the invention with the steam engine. While Thermodynamics does a good job of explaining the mechanical functions of the steam engine, it also explains just about everything in our universe. Included within the study of Thermodynamics are chemical reactions, the relationships between power plants and refrigerators, how lasers function to the fundamental aspects of the human metabolism to include ATP, the biological currency of energy.

There are four laws of Thermodynamics inconveniently beginning with the Zeroth Law, The concept of temperature. The concept of temperature states that when two or more objects come into contact with each other, they will eventually reach a point of thermal equilibrium. Imagine taking a piece of cast iron out of a furnace and dropping into a cold bath of water. The red hotness from disappears while steam escapes from the pool. The steam will stop escaping once the iron and water are at thermal equilibrium.

The first law of Thermodynamics is the conservation of energy. Of all four laws, the first law is the easiest to grasp. It simply states that all of the energy that existed in the beginning of the universe, will exist at the end. Energy cannot be created and it cannot be destroyed. Energy, despite its seemingly endless supply from our vantage point, is still a limited commodity throughout the universe. Energy is defined simply as potential work or schematically written as 1J = Kg*m/s^2 (one joule equals one kilogram-meter per second squared). The trickiest part about this law is defining work, and then differentiating work from energy. For example, lifting a weight is work, but it takes energy to lift the weight. Reading this chapter, I kept thinking about a man squatting. Squatting 100kg takes work, but it expends (costs) energy. Put another way, squatting 100kg up -not down- one meter costs 980J of energy. Doing work costs energy. From reading, that was the best way I could think of the first law.

The increase in entropy is the second law. Often understood as the most difficult law to grasp, the law describes any change that occurs in the universe. It is able to describe why the rocks, particle and dust eventually turned into our Solar System. Entropy describes how you awoke in the morning, even why the wind blows or how a man squats. Any and all changes can always be directed back to the second law of thermodynamics, entropy. Entropy is a bit of a tough nugget to crack. The basic premise is that the natural order, or “spontaneously” in the language of science and thermodynamics, of things is to move from an ordered state to a disordered state. It is natural for entropy to spontaneously increase over time. Going against spontaneously increasing entropy takes work. Doing my best to explain entropy with the squatter above. It is natural for a 100kg barbell to move spontaneously -not quickly, but naturally- to be pulled towards the ground by the force of gravity. The human body may be likened to an efficient machine, but not perfectly so. Much of the energy that the muscles and the central nervous system are using are being used for work to push the bar against gravity, but not all. A small or fair amount of that energy is being lost to heat; the transference of energy and heat sink must be created to cover for the lost energy. Hence, you sweat when you work hard. There is, of course, much more to be discussed with phenomenon of entropy, but they are outside the scope of this blog.

The third and final law is often thought of a trivial law. The third law simply refers to the unattainability of zero. That is to say that reaching a temperature of zero kelvins (T=0) is impossible in a world of finite possibilities. Going below zero kelvins is certainly possible and is observed in lasers on a DVD player, for example. Beyond that, there really isn’t much to say about the third law.

Summarizing the science of thermodynamics as the study of the transference of energy seems to be a lot more than that. Studying temperature, heat and energy describes everything that is found in nature and may even give us some insight on how to produce better athletes. The transference of energy from food to performance is entirely in the realm of Thermodynamics.


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Book Review: the Ketogenic Diet by Lyle McDonald



The Ketogenic Diet explains the process by which the body forgoes the use of glucose from carbohydrate to the use of free fatty acids (FFA) and ketones for the energy throughout the body. More generally, when a person doesn’t consume carbohydrates in certain amounts, thought to be below 100 grams of carbohydrate per day, determines whether or not a person will be in a state of ketosis. Many dieters are drawn to the ketogenic diet in an effort to burn more fat mass while sparing lean body mass (LBM).

Fasting and the Ketogenic Diet

In many ways, the ketogenic diet attempts to mimic the metabolic state of fasting, the complete absence of food. Both fasting and the ketogenic diet primarily affect the two hormones, insulin and glucagon. Insulin is the body’s “anabolic” storage hormone while glucagon, which can be thought of as insulin’s opposite twin, is the body’s “catabolic” hormone which directs the breaking down of tissue, such as liver glycogen and FFA, for use as energy throughout the body. When carbohydrates are consumed, and to a lesser extent protein, are consumed insulin rises. After feeding, insulin lowers. As insulin lowers glucagon is released throughout the body. The level of insulin relative to glucagon is called the I/G ratio. In the absence of carbohydrates, whether through fasting or the ketogenic diet, glucagon will stay elevated relative to insulin.

Fueling the Body

Under normal dietary conditions glucose, derived from sufficient carbohydrates, is the body’s preferred energy source. As glucose is burned off, the body turns to its fat store and begins to use FFA for fuel for most organs throughout the body. There are a few organs that are unable to use FFA for energy, primarily the brain. Since the brain and few other small organs are unable to use to use FFA for energy, another energy source is needed in the absence of glucose, hence ketones. Ketones are derived from FFA, converted into ketones in the liver and then used to power the brain.

Protein can also be used to power the body. The author notes that for the first few weeks during the ketogenic diet protein requirements remain quite high. This is because there are couple amino acids that can be readily converted into glucose. The reason for this is that brain needs some time to adjust from converting its energy requirements from glucose to ketones. The time it takes for the brain to get used to ketones for fuel is roughly three weeks. After three weeks, protein requirements may be relaxed slightly depending on the weight of the dieter.

So there you have it. All you need to do is stop consuming those insulin spiking carbs. Converting to diet high in protein and fat while keeping carbohydrates to an absolute minimum will keep insulin low, thereby keeping glucagon high. When glucagon is high fuel from FFA is mobilized to be used to power the body. FFA is converted to ketones in the liver to power the brain, heart as well as few other organs. You are now a lean mean fat burning machine. Well…

Complications Exist

Complications exist due to the inability of the ketogenic diet to sustain any amount of at least moderately intense exercise. The ketogenic diet may be able to sustain a regimen of brisk walking, but that is about it. Also, assuming the dieter is on a fat loss diet, exercise must accompany the diet. Study after study, over and over again, has determined that no fat loss diet has been sustained successfully without the incorporation of regular exercise.

Glucose and Glycogen

The fate of any carbohydrate, whether from starches, fruits or sugary cookies is used to power the body as glucose or to be stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen. The liver can store roughly about one hundred grams from carbohydrate for stored glycogen in the liver. Remember that the keto threshold is roughly one hundred grams of carbohydrate per day. Muscle glycogen is used to power the muscles in times of stress, or exercise. When glycogen levels in the muscles fall below a certain threshold, exercise becomes severely impaired. Interesting to note as well, when carbohydrates are consumed after exercise, muscle glycogen levels are topped off before liver glycogen begins to store. This matters to those wishing to remain in a state of ketosis as it is the level of liver glycogen that ultimately determines ketosis. Exercise creates a type of carbohydrate “sink.”

Exercise, The SKD, The CKD and The TKD

The Standard (strict) Ketogenic Diet, or SKD, is a diet where the consumption of carbohydrates is limited at all times in order to keep the body in perpetual state of ketosis. Assuming this is the ketogenic diet is being used as aid for fat loss, and even general health more broadly; exercise must be a necessary component to any dietary regimen. The SKD may be able to support brisk walking twenty to thirty minutes, but nothing more. It is a basic physiological fact that carbohydrates will be needed.

The question then becomes how does a dieter support exercise while remaining in a state of ketosis? Energy is still necessary. Two ways discussed in the book are The Cyclical Ketogenic Diet (CKD) and The Targeted Ketogenic Diet. The goal of the CKD is to go five days on the ketogenic diet and then spend two days loading up on carbs. This can easily be done by abstaining from carbs Monday through Friday and then using the weekend to use a carb load to replenish glycogen stores. The author goes into quite a bit of detail regarding the CKD since that is something the author used while he maintained a ketogenic diet. Personally when I’m cutting weight, I like to use used the TKD. I suspect that more common dieters, common dieters not being professional body builders, will be more apt to use the TKD. The gist of the TKD is to only consume carbs around exercise. For example, a dieter may be on a three day split (that simply means the dieter is lifting weights three times per week), that person would consume carb rich sources directly after exercise to replenish glycogen stores. In other words, the dieter would eat three meals per week with carb rich sources while avoiding carbohydrates at all other times. Remember, as stated above, that muscle glycogen will be replenished before liver glycogen and ultimately it is liver glycogen that will determine whether or not a dieter remains in ketosis.

Summing Up:

The Ketogenic Diet is a diet whereby the consumption of carbohydrates is minimized to induce a metabolic state of ketosis. Of relevance to dieters, it is thought that ketosis mimics the state of fasting by releasing FFA for use for energy throughout the body. Certain organs, specifically the brain, are unable to use FFA for energy. Therefore, FFA is transported to the liver converted into ketones which are then used to power the brain. It is the fat burning component to the ketogenic diet that draws in many dieters. While the burning of fat from such a dietary strategy is an enticing one, complications still exist. It is well documented that any dietary strategy without the inclusion of exercise is doomed for failure. While FFA can be used to support light exercise such as twenty to thirty minutes of brisk walking, anything more intense will require glycogen, or carbohydrates stored in the liver and muscles. A couple of strategies can be used to replenish while, at least mostly, remaining in a state of ketosis. One is the CKD which involves five days of minimizing carbs followed by a two day carb up. The more practical strategy for the common dieter is the TKD. With the TKD, the dieter consumes carbohydrates only around exercise to replenish glycogen stores while avoiding carbohydrates at meals away from exercise.


You can find more about the Ketogenic Diet here. 

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Milton Friedman, Helicopters and Money Mischief

Below is a book review that I wrote at the Finance Site “Seeking Alpha” while in grad school. The article was published on June 10, 2010.

Milton Friedman, Helicopters and Money Mischief


“There is no subtler, no surer means of overturning the existing basis of society than to debauch the currency. The process engages all the forces of economic law of destruction and does it in a manner which not one man in a million is able to diagnose.” – John Maynard Keynes

Inflation classically defined is a rise in the supply of money; Inflation, commonly understood, is a rise in the price of goods and services. It is perhaps this distinction which partly contributes to the mysterious behavior of money, prices and inflation throughout society. Although the distinction of how money affects us personally against how it affects society is what really lies at the heart of monetary mystery and money mischief.
In Money Mischief Episodes in Monetary History, Dr. Milton Friedman writes about various episodes throughout recent history in order to simplify the understanding of the vicissitudes of the monetary phenomena. The first thing to understand about money, no matter what it is (i.e. circular stones, precious metals, pieces of paper or the amount of zeroes on a computer screen), is what the relation of the amount of money has to the price of goods and services throughout an economy. No matter how one may define inflation, Dr. Friedman was correct in stating that inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon.
As recently mentioned, the classical definition and the common understanding of inflation while seemingly different are actually related. The distinction comes from our personal biases. When the stock of money increases, there is inflation or more appropriately when the rate of money growth exceeds the amount of economic output, there is inflation. This inflation has societal implications. However, what we personally see is a rise in prices. In order to illustrate this distinction, Dr. Friedman brings up a hypothetical community where the average income is $20,000 and the amount of savings is 10%, or 5.2 weeks of their income. Unless mentioned, everything else in this situation is ceteris paribus, all things being equal.
Suppose then one day a helicopter, the helicopter representing a metaphor for the Federal Reserve in the United States, flies over this hypothetical community. The helicopter then drops an amount of money equaling $2,000 per citizen, or the amount of each individual’s savings. What would such an affect be when each individual is now $2,000 richer in nominal terms? Would savings automatically double to an average of cash balances of 10.4 weeks? Probably not as there is no incentive to hold the extra cash balances. In other words, instead of saving, people would spend or consume more. Yet the amount of goods, services and labor has remained equal while the amount of money has increased. The effect of what everyone sees from a personal level is a good one. People have more money to go shopping and businesses have more customers. Yet now is society better or worse off? Initially, the effect will most likely be a lower savings rate in real terms. The reason for this phenomenon is, assuming ceteris paribus, only the nominal values, or the relation between money and prices, have increased. Yet real values have not changed. Assuming this is a onetime event, the most likely outcome will be a similar return to the ex ante position only with higher nominal prices. With more money, consumers will bid up prices and as prices increase, people will save more until savings are back to about 5.2 weeks worth of cash balances. How the transition will play out is anyone’s guess as preferences and prices are always in flux, but society will eventually end up no better or worse off than before.
Suppose now that the helicopter drop is not a onetime event, but rather a continuous event. If such an event occurred, would society better or worse off? Again, from the individual’s point of view, this seems like a bonanza at first. The continuous money growth as real values remain constant will induce more people to spend more and save less. As the amount of credit throughout society increase, people spend more money and businesses are all too happy to cater to more customers. As credit initially increases, the boom begins. This is why business cycles are sometimes referred to as credit cycles. As the inflationary boom continues, more money is spent, less money is saved and customers will continue to bid up prices. Euphoria sets in among the various members of society almost blinding them to what the real prices actually are. Yet real values must eventually come back in line with the effects of the monetary expansion. A bust must necessarily occur to return to the realities of the ex ante world. The bust, a hangover period as some have described it, is period of painful adjustment so that real values can return to equilibrium. Nominal values decrease, unemployment increases and a pain ensues. Society has become worse off.
The primary reason for money mischief as Dr. Friedman pointed out is the distinction between what money means to an individual on the one hand and how the rate of money growth affects society on the other. Dr. Friedman goes through various points in history to illustrate such a point. Episodes such as how the cyanide process increased the global gold supply which was a factor leading to the defeat of William Jennings Bryon in 1896 to how FDR toyed with silver to placate a few powerful Senators. While seemingly insignificant, such a myopic policy had a hand in leading to the triumph of Chinese communists in 1949.
Money and credit are necessary corollaries of economic expansion. That is to say inflation, classically defined, isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it may be desirable to increase the money supply in an effort to ensure the most stable and predictable prices. The challenge is to keep the rate of monetary growth in line with the amount of economic expansion. In the United States, the historical rate of economic expansion has been about three to five per cent. Therefore, should the Federal Reserve keep money growth at a rate of 3% to 5% per annum, stable prices, wages and salaries will be seen over time.

Disclosure: “No Positons”


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Initial Thoughts

There are so many ideas out there and there are so many ways of accomplishing the same idea or challenge. Things can get murky as on the one hand we have all got access to so much information right at our finger tips. The question really is to figure out which information is correct for us and our goals.


I can easily peruse the vast database that exists on Pubmed and use the information to scare a person away from consuming saturated fats. Just as easily, I can scare a person in to completely avoiding sugar. Likewise, I could also use articles in Pubmed demonstrating the proven beneficial effects of both saturated fats and sugar.


If this all seems to confusing, it should be. The problem we have is information overload. Just because we have access to much information, so many studies all with conflicting data doesn’t mean it’s the correct or even incorrect for that matter. Both sugar and saturated fats can be beneficial or detrimental given anyone’s particular situation. Really, what I am trying to say in this first post, in the most convoluted way possible, is that it all depends.

by Ray Riordan

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