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.
It’s Saturday, and it’s been a busy couple of weeks. Time to clean out the accumulated links. Before I do, however, here’s a reminder link: If you are a Windows user and comtemplating upgrading to Windows 10, you should read my summary post about why I’m waiting, and what I want to remember when I finally do. On to the stew:
- Theatre Etiquette. Every since Patti LuPone went into the audience and grabbed a cell phone, how to behave in the theatre has been in the news. In fact, Ms. LuPone has posted an interesting article on her five rules of theatre etiquette — all of which I agree with. There’s also been an interesting article on the prevalence of smart phones in the theatre, which raises the question of why you come to the theatre anyway. The debate goes on and on. Lastly, and I don’t have an article on this one, there’s been a growing discussion on whether Ms. LuPone was right or wrong in what she did: that is, should an actor confront a patron who is using a cell phone? A growing number of people are pointing out that doing that is not the job of the actor — it is the job of the house manager or management-on-site. The actor should pass the word to management to get the situation corrected. I agree with this. P.S.: Just remember this: you are much safer going to live theatre than you are going to a movie (unless you’re an actor). The last time there was an active shooter in a live theatre was 1865. What? Too soon?
- Let The Sun Shine In. Back in the 1980s, when I saw Ain’t Misbehavin’, I saw it at the Aquarius Theatre. The building, now Nicolodeon Studios, has a truly fascinating history.
- A Birthday Song. You’ve probably wondered about my “list of birthday songs“. That started because I got tired of the traditional “Happy Birthday to You”. Additionally, there was always the question of copyright. It appears the battle is still going on, and it is starting to look like it may not be copyrighted after all. Then again, the copyright might still be there. It’s up to a judge to decide now.
- Psychology and the Drought. The drought in California has brought to light some interesting psychology. For the longest times, utilities out here have offered rebates to switch to low-flow toilets and to rip out lawns. The former hasn’t been successful, but recently, the latter has been overly successful. The why is what is interesting: Ripping out your lawn is visible, and we like to keep up with the Joneses. In other words: even though ripping out a lawn saves less water than replacing your toilet, it is a visible advertisement to your neighbors that you are doing something about the drought. They don’t see your toilet or your washing machine. Appearance is everything.
- Fat Heads / Fat on the Mind. A few fat related articles. First, have you ever wondered what “fat” taste likes. No, get your mind out of the gutter, I mean the food fat. It turns out fat is a sixth basic taste, up there with sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami. In fact, humans may be programmed to like fats and dislike fatty acids. Next are two articles related to which fat is the best to cook with. The answer is: it depends on what you’re doing with the fat. Speaking of sweet fat, here’s a list of 14 LA area ice cream parlors everyone should try.
- Nigerian Spammers. We’re working on getting the program together for ACSAC, and I’m pleased to announce that our conference dinner will feature a performance of The Nigerian Spam Scam Scam. But Nigerian spammers are doing things much worse. In particular, they are buying exploit kits to defraud Asian businesses. To carry out the scam, the group often uses the Microsoft Word Intruder exploit kit. The kit can be used to create malicious Word documents that are then sent over email. If opened, the victim’s computer will be infected with a keylogger.The group buys the tools from experienced malicious software coders, paying for remote access tools, keyloggers and exploit kits.
- Android Attacks. If you have an Android phone, hopefully by now you’ve heard of Stagefright, an attack on Android phones that involved sending a crafted MMS text message that can trigger remote code execution. You don’t even have to open the message; the attack occurs as part of downloading the message. Until a fix comes across, you should go into your text application and disable automatic downloading of MMS messages. Oh, and Motorola has announced the new Moto X and Moto G phones.
- Science Podcasts. Lastly, here’s an article with a list of good science podcasts, although they did leave off my favorite, Quirks and Quarks from the CBC. Some of them look interesting, but I’m getting pretty backed up on podcasts. Certainly Radiolab and Gastropod sound good, but there’s only so much commuting I can do.
Here are a few posts from the last few weeks related to what you eat, and its effects. This is timely, as the CDF Food Fair and Convention is this weekend.
This has been another busy week, what with trying to get the truth out about the kerfluffle at the REP in Santa Clarita (#IStandWithTheREP), my daughter Erin being in town getting ready to go off to a summer Yiddish program back east, installing and setting up a new password manager, and loads of stuff at work. Still, I grabbed a few articles of interest:
Today’s collection of lunchtime news chum stories all have to do with the littlest things having big effects:
- High-O Silver! Recently, my wife picked up a new antibiotic gel at the pharmacy — an over-the-counter colloidal silver creme. I thought nothing of it (other than to try it and see it worked well) — after all, there are people who use colloidal silver to fight infections, although it has the side effect of turning your skin blue. Additionally, according to numerous studies, consumers may benefit from the silver specks’ ability to inhibit the growth of bacteria, fungus and other microorganisms, including disease-causing Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus. So, I was intrigued by this Discover article about the new silver antibiotic gel — it seems that it contains silver nanoparticals that may harm humans and wildlife. The problem is that silver nanoparticles’ tiny size allows them to enter parts of living things bodies that other molecules can’t reach. This can damage the inner workings of cells and inhibit protein production. And of course, being stupid humans, we’re just tossing this stuff into the environment, along with plastic nanoparticles, gold nanoparticles, and copper nanoparticles.
- Battling the Bulge. Everyone has heard, by now, of the various bariatric surgical approaches for weight loss. Two of the best approaches are the Roux-en-Y gastric bypass operation and the vertical sleeve gastrectomy. One might think that these approaches work by reducing the size of the stomach, and thus reducing the amount of food one can eat and/or absorb. But if you think that, you would be wrong. There’s some new research on how obesity surgery really works, and it is astounding. It appears that these surgeries actually work by setting in motion a cascade of signaling changes in the gut and elsewhere. Those changes, in turn, reshape the mix of gut bacteria in ways that appear to turn up metabolic function, lipid metabolism and signals that tell the brain it’s time to stop eating. Researchers have already observed that certain bile acids circulate more copiously in the guts and blood of patients in the wake of bariatric surgery, but could only guess at why. They also have observed that the community of bacteria colonizing the guts of obese patients changes in the wake of bariatric surgery. Researchers just found that that one link between these two changes is a genetic “switch,” or transcription factor, called FXR. Increased bile acid unlocks FXR, which improves metabolic function directly. But improved FXR signaling also promotes the growth of gut bacteria that help regulate fat metabolism, and suppresses gut bacteria that is linked to weight gain and metabolic disturbance. The next step is to figure out how to create the FXR signalling through medicine, not surgery.
- Concrete Isn’t Forever. Most of us see something made of concrete, and we think “permanence” (well, I also wonder about the water trapped in the structure). But all of our concrete isn’t permanent, and that’s creating a problem. Here’s the scary headline related to this that caught my eye: Concrete-Dissolving Bacteria Are Destroying Our Sewers. The problem is that, within the sewer system, one set of microbes emits hydrogen sulfide, the gas that is also responsible for raw sewage’s unpleasant smell. This gas fills the empty space between the top of the pipe and the water flow. Another set of microbes living in this headspace turns hydrogen sulfide to sulfuric acid, which eats away at concrete, leaving behind gypsum, the powdery stuff you find in drywall. This turns the sewer pipes into wet drywall. Yuk. That’s worse than Orangeberg piping. The current solution is to put plastic liners into the concrete pipes, a process that is almost as expensive as digging them up entirely. A better approach might be to embed anti-bacteria in the concrete (but that can build resistance). Microbiologists are instead thinking about how to tinker with the water systems and DNA sequencing to create probacteria — bacteria in the water pipes that are harmless to humans (so they say) but can manage the sewer bacteria.
- [ETA] Bugs from Birth. Here’s a P.S. item from Andrew Ducker on how the birth process was designed to colonize us with beneficial microbes that help keep the bad ones out. The implication of this is that, as more and more women opt go to the Caesarian route for convenience, we are entering life less prepared with the good stuff we need to get us started. As the article notes, “the founding populations of microbes found on C-section infants are not those selected by hundreds of thousands of years of human evolution or even longer.” In other words — we are too safe for our own good.
Scientists like to say that this is a bacteria’s world, and we just live with it. After all, humans carry more bacteria cells than human ones, and without bacteria, we couldn’t live in the world. In fact, small microbes now are believed to be responsible for one of the greatest mass extinctions on earth! We need to think more about our indiscriminate use of antibiotics, and the impacts of our growing use of nanotechnology that we don’t fully understand.