What’s this I hear about people being anti-Vax? Don’t they realize that without the Vax, and its older sibling, the PDP 11, there might not have been the Internet as we know it? I mean, Unix was developed for the Vaxxen. Oh, wait, I wanted to write about a different Vax. Nevermind.
Seriously, now that we’re past that bad but obligatory pun, I’d like to talk to you about a different sort of “vax” — vaccines, and their well-publicized opposition, the “anti-vaxxers”. These folks have been in the news lately because of a recently enacted California law that requires parents to vaccinate their children except when medically-contraindicated (no exemption for belief or parent choice), and a Federal Judge upholding that law. Do a search on the Internet related to that law, and you are overwhelmed by the anti-vax opposition sites, such as this one, masquerading as an information site. Closer to home, the subject is on my mind because of a recent discussion with a relative who is in the anti-vax camp, where she asked if she was anti-science because she was skeptical of many things such as the planethood of Pluto, the accuracy of meteorologists, and science’s disbelief (until recently) about the value of the microbiome. This particular post was prompted by a “Fuck You Anti-Vaxxer” rant a different friend posted, which made me realize that a more reasoned screen was necessary.
Let’s work through this and some of the arguments together. The BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front) is that being an anti-vaxxer is not necessarily being anti-science, but it is a clear demonstration of how humans want to blame something or someone when something goes wrong, how humans have difficulty separating correlation and causality, and how bad we are at judging and assessing risk. When properly assessed, the best way that a parent can reduce risk for their child is to ensure they are vaccinated.
Last night, we had a Shabbabaque at Temple (“Shabbat” + “Barbeque”). There was a bunch of food leftover, and so I brought some home — the sliced tomatoes and roasted zucchini — and threw it into a crockpot. That’s a great thing to do with leftovers: make a stew (and I intend to suggest formalizing that next year*). Just like at the Shabbabaque, I’ve got loads of leftovers — onsies and twosies of news articles — that don’t make a coherent dish. Perhaps they’ll make a good stew. What do you think?
Jewish Summer Camp
Food and Eating
Local Returns and Departures
Although you’re probably still wondering why an article written in Spring 1995 seems so eerily accurate about Donald Trump today, I’d like to give you some more things that you probably haven’t thought about:
- Gases and the Body. You’ve probably become more and more aware of the microbiome in our bodies. You probably haven’t given a lot of thought to the gasses in our bodies, except when they escape from ends of the digestive track. However, a new study shows how the gases swirling inside our bodies can power our brains and affect the way we act. Some gaseous neurotransmitters (or gasotransmitters) are produced by your organs and tissues. Others—such as nitric oxide (NO), carbon monoxide (CO), hydrogen sulfide (H2S), methane (CH4), hydrogen (H2), and ammonia (NH3)—are the products of fermentation in your gut by microscopic organisms like bacteria. These tiny molecules feed and help regulate your cells and those of the microbes living inside you—complex relationships that can have much larger consequences. An interesting addendum: biological processes can also be harnessed to turn Carbon Dioxide into a fuel.
- Drywall. It know, it sounds like something out of Surprisingly Awesome: The exciting history of drywall (gypsum board). Gypsum is noncombustible, and compared to other wall materials, like solid wood and plaster, gypsum boards are much lighter and cheaper. As a result, drywall is popular in homes across the U.S.: According to the Gypsum Association, more than 20 billion square feet of drywall is manufactured each year in North America. It’s the staple of a billion-dollar construction industry that depends on quick demolition and building. It can also be deadly.
- Architectural Security. Have you ever closely looked at the architectural characteristics when you are out and about. It turns out that many of them exist to enhance security. “The inside of a building in it of itself can be a security tool,” says Geoff Manaugh, an architecture writer and blogger of BLDGBLOG. “If you don’t think about buildings in terms of security and you don’t think of architecture in terms of burglary, you can really easily overlook these things.”
- The Most Cost Effective Pizza. Due to the nature of geometric math, the larger pizza is almost always the most cost effective pizza. Just remember to refrigerate the leftovers. The math of why bigger pizzas are such a good deal is simple: A pizza is a circle, and the area of a circle increases with the square of the radius.
- Embedded Links. Much as you try not to do it, a determined hacker can design a link such that almost anyone will likely click on it. Human traits like curiosity “cannot be patched” against these kinds of vulnerabilities, says one leading computer science researcher. And so, you can be the smartest security buff in the world, yet researchers could probably still trick you into clicking on a dangerous link.
I know my last few posts have been political — it is just that my concerns over the Republican nominee have incited a passion in me that makes me want to ensure his defeat. So a last political note, and then we’ll move on to something different to chew: some news chum about food, medicine, and science.
… to those of you who cannot bring yourself to vote for Hillary because of her character and the character flaws you think you see, please read this article. You’ll learn how you’ve been fed a diet of genetically modified truth, something empty of nutrition and value, and that has spoiled your appetite for something that is actually healthy. Then read this article, and learn why the Clinton that you see in the news is very different than the Clinton those that work with her see, and why those who do work with her are fiercely loyal to her.
… to those who are Republican who still can’t bring themselves to vote for Clinton after seeing the truth — those who deny the truth about Clinton just as you deny climate science and the value of vaccines — then read this post. Learn how, as the DNC and Trump’s behavior has shown, he spits in the face of traditional Republican values, and has in fact ceded the Republican values of patriotism, love of country, belief in the people of this country, belief in the quality of the American military and support for Veterans to the Democratic party. The man is clearly not a Democrat, and does not reflect Republican values, and is not deserving of your support. If you can’t vote for Clinton, then vote for Gary Johnson or abstain for voting for President. Don’t vote for a man that clearly does not deserve to be the leader of your Republican party. (I note I say this as a Democrat, but a Democrat who believes we need a sane and valid Republican party, because it is the diversity of sane political views that leads to the compromises that makes this country strong).
And now, on to something different to chew upon:
- Bell Peppers. Just as I can’t stomach Donald Trump, I cannot stomach bell peppers. Here’s an interesting analysis of the chemical difference between green, yellow, and red bell peppers.
- Dealing with Tinnitus. The din of the election, and the constant irritant of the statements of Donald Trump, can be silenced by turning off the news and Facebook. Not so with the constant din of Tinnitus (which I deal with). Here’s an interesting article on some therapy to deal with Tinnitus.
- Belly Fat. Trump is a fat head, something loaded with empty calories and empty promises. You know what you can do to get rid of that fat. However, one of the problems I’m dealing with — and one which neither candidate addresses — is belly fat. Here’s a good article on the best way to get rid of belly fat.
- Wheat Sensitivity. Listening to the news and watching the behavior of Trump can make you sick to your stomach. So can eating wheat. It now appears that science has confirmed there are wheat sensitivities independent of Celiac disease.
- Risky Behavior. I’ve been pointing out for the last few days how risky it is to vote for Trump. It is also risky to answer quizzes on Facebook. They collect far too much data. For example, just today I saw a meme going around asking people to share where they were born. How many of you have seen a security question asking where the hospital you were born in was located? Be careful what you answer.
- Cybersecurity Risks. We all know how Trump has invited a foreign government to interfere in our elections by hacking into his opponent’s parties servers. What else could they hack into? Voting machines? 3-D printers? The latter is a real risk, for there are tons of risks that we can’t see in 3-D printing.
- Planned Obsolescense. Donald Trump has recently taken to discounting the opinions of respected generals and Gold Star parents. He would probably encourage the business sense of another famous general, General Electric, who specifically designed light bulbs to burn out. This turns out to be a big deal for LED bulbs, who have lifetimes measured in, well, human lifetimes. But don’t worry. LED manufacturers are now designing LEDs to intentionally fail early.
Hmmm, I guess I do have politics on my mind after all.
For some, this is the start of a 3 day weekend; for others, just the normal weekend craziness. Whichever it is, it’s been a busy week. I’ve been accumulating a lot of articles of interest, but none of them have themed into groups of three, or proved to be the start of a single-subject rant. So let’s toss them into the crock-pot of discussion, and see if we can at least come up with a thread to connect each to the next:
- CSI: Cyber Under the Microscope. I miss the mothership of CSI:, although it had gotten a bit predictable towards the end. It’s current lovechild, CSI: Cyber, is just wrong. For someone who works in cyber, however, I can’t keep my eyes off of it. On one hand, it does do a good job of educating the public of some of the threats that are out there. This is a good thing. What’s bad is how they do it: usually by amping the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Distrust) and using techniques that aren’t to the level they show. Last week’s show with the air traffic control system is a great example, and Ars Technica rips it to shreds.
- Ripping Apart Los Angeles. Speaking of ripping things to shreds, let’s look at how Los Angeles has been rippped apart. I love Los Angeles history, and so a recent article from KCET caught my eye. It explored how Orange County split off from Los Angeles. The southern part of the state used to be divided into just a few very large counties: San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Mariposa. Over time the split, with Los Angeles giving birth to Kern, San Bernardino, Riverside, and Orange. This article explores the last split, which created the “orange curtain”.
- Los Angeles History Podcast. Speaking of Los Angeles: By the way, if you like Los Angeles, Boing Boing just highlighted a really interesting podcast on LA History. I’ve listened to a few episodes, and it is really good.
- History of the 3.5mm Plug. Speaking of History: History is fascinating. Sometimes you use something every day, and you don’t realize how old it is. Take, for example, the 3.5mm plug you use for your headphones. The history of that plug goes back to 1878 and the quarter-inch plug (6.35mm). It was originally designed for use by operators in old-fashioned telephone switchboards, plugging and unplugging connections. They needed secure connections that could be easily inserted and removed.
- iPhone 7 Rumors. Speaking of 3.5mm connectors: The interest in the 3.5mm connectors comes from the fact that Apple now wants to get rid of the plug in the iPhone 7. PS: There’s also a rumor they will take the iPhone 7 to 256GB, but I’m not sure that’s much greater than the 160GB classic, given the requisite app storage, photos, and other crap that memory shares space with. Still, it might entice the remaining classic audience.
- Unlocking the Moto X. Speaking of phones, news came out this week that Lenovo was dropping the Motorola name and moving to using just Moto and Lenovo. Moto used to be a great phone to have, because they kept is updated. That promise isn’t always kept, and so Motorola is offering a bootloader so you can unlock your Verizon Moto X 2014-generation, and update the OS. I’m not sure I’m going to do it.
- Name Changes. Speaking of name changes, here are two more of interest. GE is selling their appliance business to the Chinese company Haier. Supposedly, they will still market under the GM name. Also in the news is Yosemite National Park, which is proposing changing the name of many historic lodges and areas because of a trademark dispute with a prior concessionaire. This one is really exciting the public, who are up in arms about a private company claiming they own the rights to “Curry Village” or “Ahwanee”. The trademark dispute is an example of ancillary damage: the result of a contract that included intellectual property.
- Ancillary Damage. Speaking of ancillary damage: In all these well publicized crimes on the internet, we think a lot about the victims and the people that committed the crime. We don’t think about the ancillary damage: the damage to the family of the criminal. Here’s a great example of that: a woman whose husband (unbeknowst to her) went out and raped two other women. He was convicted, but her life was destroyed.
- Fighting Back. The author in the previous link fought back, and speaking of fighting back, let’s look at a new honeybee technique: biting back. Keeping honeybees healthy has become a challenge for beekeepers. One main reason is a threat that has been wiping out bees since the late 1980s: the varroa mite: a new breed of honeybee that bites the legs off of the mites. This is part of a larger breeding technique to create bees that will survive.
- Broccoli and Dogs. Speaking of breeding programs, have you ever realized that broccoli is a dog? I learned this listening to the latest Surprisingly Awesome podcast, which was about broccoli. I learned that broccoli, cauliflower, all the kales, all the collard greens, brussel sprouts, all the cabbages, and kohlrabi are actually the same species of plant, just bred for different characteristics.
- Viewing Fat Differently. Speaking of science and food, this weeks Science Friday had an interesting discussion about why we need body fat. It talked about how fat is an organ, the purposes that it serves, and most importantly, how we might just need to retrain our body so it doesn’t think it needs to store the energy in fat.
- The Gut Microbiome. Speaking of diets, more and more information is coming out about the gut microbiome. New research is showing how our western diets (with all our junk and processed foods) are destroying our gut microbiomes, potentially in non-recoverable ways.
- Science Games. Speaking of destroying things and science, here’s an interesting quickie (and read the comments for more): using the periodic table to play battleship.
- The Dragon Cancer. Speaking of games, I’ve been reading a lot of reviews of a new videogame: That Dragon Cancer. The Reply All podcast recently had a fascinating episode on the origins of that game.
- Science Themes Stamps. The game That Dragon Cancer serves as a memorial to a lost child, and speaking of memories: commemorative stamps serve to memorialize and celebrate things. This year is seeing the release of lots of stamp remembering the successes of the space exploration program. Cool.
- Weather Apps. Speaking of cool (I didn’t say these would always be strong connections 😏 ), here’s a list of some good Android weather applications.
- Windows 10 Nagware. Speaking of weather, I’m sure some of you are debating whether to move to Windows 10. Perhaps you think it is all wet. Perhaps you’re just tired of the nagware. Although Microsoft is pushing Windows 10 on more and more users, this week brought information on how to finally turn off the Windows 10 nagware window (and also here).
Lastly, I’m sure you think I’m crazy in the head for trying to thread all these disparate articles together. Speaking of crazy in the head: how’s this for a headline: “Doctors dismissed his pain as migraines. Then they said he had 24 hours to live.” Did that get your attention? It got mine. The connected article was about something I mentioned last week: undetected subdural hematomas. Scary.
Finally, it is time for the main dish: A hearty news chum stew made up of items that I just couldn’t form up into a coherent (or even incoherent) post. I’ll note the first three are roughly science related:
- Things That Go Bump in the … Ouch. The title is worrisome enough on its own: “How A Simple Bump Can Cause An Insidious Brain Injury“. The concern here is a kind of brain injury that’s very insidious — a subdural hematoma. These don’t occur with falling off a ladder, slipping and bash your head on the ice, or playing football. Basically — and this can be a problem as you get older — you bump your head. You get a small brain bleed, but below the dura that lines the brain. The bleed creates a very low-pressure ribbon of blood that’s layering on top of the surface of the brain. As that blood starts to pool over days or weeks, it irritates the brain cells. And if the pool’s big enough, it presses on the brain and damages it, much like a tumor. Ouch.
- It’s better than Progenitorivox. Asprin is indeed a miracle drug, when taken daily. Not only can it help your heart, but it can lower your risk of prostate disease. Men with prostate cancer had almost a 40% lower risk of dying of the disease if they were taking aspirin for cardiovascular protection, a large cohort study showed.
- At Last My Row Is Complete Again. Those of you with real periodic tables of wood, time to get out your engraving router. The last row of the periodic table has been filled: the final four elements are confirmed. Needless to say, you won’t be able to keep the samples for long. That’s how it goes.
- Clearing Out the Stash. Lots of useful info here for knitters and crocheters. Here is a list of 10 charities looking for yarn projects, and in that list are links to about 15 more. There’s also Operation Gratitude, which is looking for knitted scarfs for soldiers. Now, go forth and clean out that sewing room. Your non-crafting partners will thank you.
- High Fashion Religious Scarfs. A couple of related items here. First, Dolce & Gabbana have launched a line of high-fashion hijabs and abaysas (Islamic head scarves). This is actually a big deal, as the purchasing power of this market is high, and this is an untapped area of fashion. In a different religious area, H&M has marketed a scarf that looks very much like a tallit. This is a bit more in bad taste (although I must admit we once did find a fancy tallit in a thrift store — National Council of Jewish Women, in fact — that was labeled as a scarf). It is so problematic that they have pulled it from sale in Israel. Just imagine the next conversation: Hey, boss: I’ve got this great idea for a new hat for women.
- Tongue Tied. Moving from the Hebrew to the Yiddish: Here is a set of Yiddish Tongue Twisters. My favorite? “Schmoozing in the shtetl with a schmutzy sheitel is a shande.”
- Ikea Games. Mental Floss had a neat article on secrets of Ikea. One is that there are multiple quick routes through the store, both for safety reasons and stocking reasons, and they’re open to the public. But they’re not advertised, so you’ll need a keen eye for secret passageways. Often they take the form of unmarked service doors. But they change them fairly frequently because customers get familiar with the shortcuts and know how to zip through. They change the shortcuts to force people to go around the long way again.
- Getting a Lyft. I’ve been hearing more and more about Lyft and Uber. I’ve never used them. In LA, Lyft has just been authorized to pick up at LAX. Here’s a report on what it is like to use Lyft at LAX.
- Ride the Red Cars. It is appropriate that I’m wearing an Orange Empire shirt as I type this. Here’s a retrospective on the decline of the Pacific Electric in Los Angeles. Alas, as usual, the comments go off the rail into conspiracy theories and partisan politics (yes, the removal of PE is Obama’s fault. Right.). Further, no one mentions they are still running at OERM.
- There are Beans, and there are Beans. The inventor of Jelly Bellies is jonesing for a comeback. His next idea: caffeinated coffee jelly beans. Now that his non-compete has passed, the founder and his business partners have launched a Kickstarter campaign seeking $10,000 to launch their Original Coffee House Beans, which will come in flavors such as hot cocoa and peppermint, chai tea, coffee and doughnuts and caffe macchiato. Sounds interesting. Sugar and caffeine in one little pill. Who needs an energy drink.
As I noted in my highway headline post, it’s been very busy around here. Still, I’ve collected a few articles of interest. This collection is all connected by being related to recent science and health discoveries:
- Detecting Gluten. One article I read recently led me to discover a handheld sensor about to hit the market: the Nima sensor. Nima, is a portable, handheld gluten detector. Users load a half-teaspoon sample of food into a test tube and pop that into a triangle-shaped sensor. (They’ll need to use a new disposable capsule for each test to avoid cross-contamination.) The sensor assesses the contents of the capsule—detecting trace elements of gluten down to 20 parts per million—and then spits out a “yes” or “no” within two minutes. “No” signals that the food is safe to eat; a “yes” indicates that gluten is present. We’ve added ourselves to the mailing list for more info.
- Generic Medicines. Recently, I was prescribed a blood pressure medicine that was almost $100 after insurance (I’ve since switched to a generic that is much cheaper). With that experience, the problem with the pricing of generics was on my mind — and so this article on the pricing of generic medicines caught my eye. Part of the problem is bioequivalence studies. Generic drugs don’t need the excruciatingly drawn-out safety and efficacy studies required of new brand-name medications, but they do need to pass a bioequivalency study proving that their drug is absorbed the same way as the original. According to Wikipedia, the most common type of bioequivalence study is to “measure the time it takes the generic drug to reach the bloodstream in 24 to 36 healthy volunteers; this gives them the rate of absorption, or bioavailability, of the generic drug, which they can then compare to that of the innovator drug”. Making the chemical is cheap. If you also want FDA approval, it costs $2 million and takes two years. There’s also the problem of how pharmacies and insurance companies price things. It’s an interesting read.
- Timing of Medicines. I mentioned blood pressure meds above. Here’s an interesting note related to that: taking your blood pressure meds before bed instead of in the morning lowers your diabetes risk. In one study, when adjusted for age, waist circumference, glucose, chronic kidney disease, and hypertension treatment the researchers found sleeping blood pressure was the most significant predictor of diabetes risk, while waking blood pressure was found to have no predictive value. A second study found, when accounting for age, waist circumference, glucose, chronic kidney disease and specific treatment, that taking the blood pressure medications at night resulted in a 57 percent decrease in the risk of developing diabetes.
- Male Birth Controls. A new approach has been found towards a possible male birth control pill. This approach doesn’t focus on hormones, but proteins. A study in mice focused on a protein called calcineurin, which is found in the sperm-producing cells of the testes as well as other cells in the body. The researchers genetically engineered mice so that they lacked a gene that makes part of the calcineurin protein but is activated only in sperm-producing cells. When these mice had sex, they were infertile, the researchers said. When the researchers tried to figure out why their genetically engineered mice were infertile, they found that the mice’s sperm cells did not swim well and were not able to fertilize eggs. Further experiments found that the midpieces of these sperm didn’t bend normally, which prevented the sperm from penetrating the membrane of an egg. Now to see if this works with humans.
- Ringing in the Ears. One side effect of my migraines is tinitus — what some call “ringing” in the ears, but which (for me) is a high-pitched squeal. For the longest time, we didn’t know what caused it…. but now we do. It turns out it shares a common source with chronic pain. Doctors compared tinnitus patients with those who did not have tinnitus and found volume loss in the medial prefrontal cortex, an area that plays a role in the limbic system and functions as a “gate” or control area for noise and pain signals that is also associated with depression. This is an area that also lights up when you play unpleasant noises, so it has to do with unpleasant sensations. They found the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and the nucleus accumbens are part of a “gatekeeping” system that determines which sounds or other stimuli to admit. When the system is defective, affected patients can be subjected to constant stimuli and long-lasting disturbances. The area is also associated with depression and anxiety, conditions often arise “in lockstep” with chronic pain. Because of this, the researchers are now looking to drugs that regulate that system, like dopamine and serotonin, to restore the gatekeeping role and eliminate the chronic pain, but more research is needed.
- Eliminating Plastics. One of the scourges of the model world is plastic. Very useful, it is also not biodegradable and becomes the waste that will list forever. But then again… it turns out the mealworms and mealmoth larvae eat plastic and generate biodegradable poop from it. This explains how they get into food wrapped in plastic. Being serious: Larvae of the darkling beetle will not only feed on expanded polystyrene, but microorganisms in their guts biodegrade it internally. And then, they poop out a seemingly safe product that may be suitable as soil for crops. Another surprise is that the PS doesn’t seem to be toxic to the insects. This work is building on research initiated at the Beihang University in China, where researchers observed waxworms, the larvae of Indian mealmoths, break down polyethylene in the form of plastic bags thanks to microorganisms in their guts. So far, the excreted waste appears safe to use as soil.
- Picking a Boy/Girlfriend. Ever wonder why you don’t think your best friend’s partner is cute? Ever wonder why you think your love is beautiful, but no one else does? Science has figured out why. According to a new study, it’s our life experiences—not a perfectly chiseled jaw or sultry bedroom eyes—that make a person’s face appealing to us. Sure, symmetrical features are generally more attractive than non-symmetrical ones, but an even face only partially accounts for someone’s overall “attractiveness,” researchers find. Physical attraction is highly personal—even among relations who’ve had similar upbringings. Researchers chalked up the differences to our own distinct life experiences, which can vary widely thanks to co-workers, peers, past relationships, and media exposure. Essentially, if you’ve had good experiences with people who have certain facial characteristics, you’ll most likely find them attractive. As time passes, others who look like them will seem good-looking to you as well.