Bill Nye Saves The World features Rachel Bloom performing My Sex Junk, and, well, I don’t even know what to say:
Stanley Miller and Harold Urey performed an experiment that has become a staple of high school textbooks:
Miller and Urey are the people who sealed up a mixture of gases meant to model the Earth’s early atmosphere and jolted the gas with some sparks. What emerged was a complex mix of chemicals that included amino acids, the building blocks of proteins.
It was a seminal experiment in that it gave researchers one of the first avenues to approach the origin of life experimentally, but its relevance to the actual origin of life has faded as the research it inspired began to refine our ideas. A French-Czech team of researchers decided to give it another look, using a source of energy that Miller and Urey hadn’t considered: the impact of a body arriving from space. The result? The production of all four of the bases found in RNA, a close chemical cousin to DNA and equally essential to life.
A 325-pound, one-fifth scale model of DARPA’s 24-prop XV-24A LightningStrike has transformed in flight:
While this sort of feat is not unheard of — it’s performed by Ospreys and NASA drone prototypes alike — it is a crucial step in scaling up the prototype into its 12,000-pound final form, complete with 61 foot wingspan.
The full-sized version of the craft will be built as an uncrewed drone, with a targeted top speed of 300 to 400 knots, much faster than what helicopters can hope to achieve.
Jennifer Bricker was born without legs and immediately given up for adoption by her Romanian-American parents:
But with the support of her adoptive family, Jen, in spite of her physical challenges, grew to become a champion athlete herself. By age 12 she was excelling in power tumbling — an acrobatic sport that combines artistic gymnastics and trampoline. She failed to understand why people singled out her achievements over those of her teammates. In 1998, she placed fourth in the all-around event at the Junior Olympics, the first physically challenged tumbler to finish so high. Her gymnastics idol growing up? Dominique Moceanu.
Her gymnastics idol, Dominique Moceanu, was one of the “Magnificent Seven” at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta — and turned out to be her older sister.
Nancy L. Segal describes her work on identical twins and non-twin siblings:
I have studied separated twins for many years, first from 1982 to 1991 as an investigator with the Minnesota Study of Twins Reared Apart (MISTRA). Today, I follow the progress of 16 young Chinese reared-apart twin pairs, as well as older twins separated due to unusual life events. I have seen striking examples of identical, reared-apart twins whose athletic talents coincided prior to any contact between them. Japanese-born twins Steve and Tom, raised by different families in the United States, both became competitive lifters and owners of bodybuilding gyms; Steve competed in the 1980 Olympics. Adriana and Tamara, born in Mexico and raised in New York, attended different Long Island colleges and found each other only after one was mistaken for the other. But both were already accomplished dancers and later performed together. Mark and Jerry, each six-foot-four, were both already volunteer firefighters when they met in their early thirties, each having developed the strength, stamina, and motivation to pursue the demanding role.
Studying twins, particularly separated-at-birth pairs, and separately reared non-twin siblings, is the best way to disentangle the genetic and environmental influences on individual similarities and differences. For example, such research could help determine if nature or nurture is the stronger factor in sports participation and achievement. But other physical actions and routines appear to have a genetic basis as well. Most reared-apart identical twins in the MISTRA group, for example, positioned their bodies the same way while standing for unposed photographs, which occurred less often among fraternal reared-apart pairs.
A 2005 twin study by Dutch researcher Janine Stubbe showed that genetic effects on sports participation increase after adolescence, as children gain the freedom to enter and create environments compatible with their genetic proclivities. Her subsequent 2006 study confirmed this finding, and numerous twin studies from around the world have found similar genetic effects on oxygen uptake, anaerobic capacity and power, cardiac mass, and other performance-related fitness characteristics.
Claude Bouchard of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is one of the few researchers to combine twins and adoptees in genetic studies of sports-related traits. His 1984 study of submaximal physical working capacity — an index of aerobic metabolism and oxygen transport that boosts muscular activity and endurance — found the greatest resemblance between identical twins, followed by fraternal twins, biological siblings, and adoptive siblings and showed strong genetic influence on these traits. These findings have serious implications for how we make the most of our physical abilities and overcome our limitations.
Dominique and Jen are both extroverted, driven, and competitive. They are also perfectionists and “performance hams” who love being in front of a crowd. Their voices sound the same, whether speaking or laughing, and they use their hands a lot in conversation. Jen recognizes traits in Dominique that she sees in herself, such as leadership and initiative. Both are tough, detail-oriented, and able to push themselves emotionally and physically, perhaps explaining their commitment to the long hours and personal sacrifices required for success in gymnastics.
According to Dominique, though, an important difference between them is that Jen has “super-high confidence, whereas we were beaten down by our father. I walked on eggshells.” Jen herself credits her competitive success and self-esteem to the support of her adoptive family and community — and now to the DNA she shares with her sisters as well.
My reared-apart twin research reveals that close relationships can develop quickly between such pairs. In 2003, I found that over 70 percent of reunited identical twins and nearly 50 percent of reunited fraternal twins recalled feeling closer than or as close as best friends upon first meeting. These figures jumped to about 80 percent and 65 percent, respectively, for the closeness they reported feeling when surveyed. Yet only about 20 percent of the twins felt the same way toward unrelated siblings they had always known. In 2011, I reported my findings that most parents of young separated twins observed an immediate rapport between the children when reunited. These findings suggest that perceptions of similarity (mostly behavioral) are the social glue that draws and keeps reunited twins and siblings together, underlining the universal importance of family.
The boonie hat was introduced to the United States Armed Forces during the Vietnam War, when U.S. Army Green Berets began wearing them in the field — rather than, well, berets:
These leopard spot or tigerstripe boonie hats were locally procured, the camo cloth was usually salvaged from other uniform items or with the former from a parachute or made up by the tailor. The name is derived from “boonie”, the abbreviated form of boondocks (itself originally American military slang derived from Tagalog bundok, “mountain”, during the Philippine-American War)
Sam Harris interviews Charles Murray and admits that he assumed there was something to the accusations against Murray, until he went through his own witch trials and read Murray’s work.
Radiologists were asked to evaluate X-rays while inside an MRI machine that could track their brain activity:
(There’s a marvellous series of recursions here: to diagnose diagnosis, the imagers had to be imaged.) X-rays were flashed before them. Some contained a single pathological lesion that might be commonly encountered — perhaps a palm-shaped shadow of a pneumonia, or the dull, opaque wall of fluid that had accumulated behind the lining of the lung. Embedded in a second group of diagnostic images were line drawings of animals; within a third group, the outlines of letters of the alphabet. The radiologists were shown the three types of images in random order, and then asked to call out the name of the lesion, the animal, or the letter as quickly as possible while the MRI machine traced the activity of their brains. It took the radiologists an average of 1.33 seconds to come up with a diagnosis. In all three cases, the same areas of the brain lit up: a wide delta of neurons near the left ear, and a moth-shaped band above the posterior base of the skull.
“Our results support the hypothesis that a process similar to naming things in everyday life occurs when a physician promptly recognizes a characteristic and previously known lesion,” the researchers concluded. Identifying a lesion was a process similar to naming the animal. When you recognize a rhinoceros, you’re not considering and eliminating alternative candidates. Nor are you mentally fusing a unicorn, an armadillo, and a small elephant. You recognize a rhinoceros in its totality — as a pattern. The same was true for radiologists. They weren’t cogitating, recollecting, differentiating; they were seeing a commonplace object. For my preceptor, similarly, those wet rales were as recognizable as a familiar jingle.
In 1945, the British philosopher Gilbert Ryle gave an influential lecture about two kinds of knowledge. A child knows that a bicycle has two wheels, that its tires are filled with air, and that you ride the contraption by pushing its pedals forward in circles. Ryle termed this kind of knowledge — the factual, propositional kind — “knowing that.” But to learn to ride a bicycle involves another realm of learning. A child learns how to ride by falling off, by balancing herself on two wheels, by going over potholes. Ryle termed this kind of knowledge — implicit, experiential, skill-based — “knowing how.”
The two kinds of knowledge would seem to be interdependent: you might use factual knowledge to deepen your experiential knowledge, and vice versa. But Ryle warned against the temptation to think that “knowing how” could be reduced to “knowing that” — a playbook of rules couldn’t teach a child to ride a bike. Our rules, he asserted, make sense only because we know how to use them: “Rules, like birds, must live before they can be stuffed.” One afternoon, I watched my seven-year-old daughter negotiate a small hill on her bike. The first time she tried, she stalled at the steepest part of the slope and fell off. The next time, I saw her lean forward, imperceptibly at first, and then more visibly, and adjust her weight back on the seat as the slope decreased. But I hadn’t taught her rules to ride a bike up that hill. When her daughter learns to negotiate the same hill, I imagine, she won’t teach her the rules, either. We pass on a few precepts about the universe but leave the brain to figure out the rest.
Some time after Lignelli-Dipple’s session with the radiology trainees, I spoke to Steffen Haider, the young man who had picked up the early stroke on the CT scan. How had he found that culprit lesion? Was it “knowing that” or “knowing how”? He began by telling me about learned rules. He knew that strokes are often one-sided; that they result in the subtle “graying” of tissue; that the tissue often swells slightly, causing a loss of anatomical borders. “There are spots in the brain where the blood supply is particularly vulnerable,” he said. To identify the lesion, he’d have to search for these signs on one side which were not present on the other.
I reminded him that there were plenty of asymmetries in the image that he had ignored. This CT scan, like most, had other gray squiggles on the left that weren’t on the right — artifacts of movement, or chance, or underlying changes in the woman’s brain that preceded the stroke. How had he narrowed his focus to that one area? He paused as the thought pedalled forward and gathered speed in his mind. “I don’t know — it was partly subconscious,” he said, finally.
“That’s what happens — a clicking together — as you grow and learn as a radiologist,” Lignelli-Dipple told me. The question was whether a machine could “grow and learn” in the same manner.
Spoiler alert: yes.
As a longtime vegetarian and environmental lawyer, Nicolette Hahn Niman once believed that cattle had an outsize ecological footprint:
But now, after more than a decade of living and working in the business — my husband, Bill, founded Niman Ranch but left the company in 2007, and we now have a grass-fed beef company — I’ve come to the opposite view. It isn’t just that the alarm over the environmental effects of beef are overstated. It’s that raising beef cattle, especially on grass, is an environmental gain for the planet.
Let’s start with climate change. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, all of U.S. agriculture accounts for just 8% of our greenhouse emissions, with by far the largest share owing to soil management — that is, crop farming. A Union of Concerned Scientists report concluded that about 2% of U.S. greenhouse gases can be linked to cattle and that good management would diminish it further. The primary concern is methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
But methane from cattle, now under vigorous study by agricultural colleges around the world, can be mitigated in several ways. Australian research shows that certain nutritional supplements can cut methane from cattle by half. Things as intuitive as good pasture management and as obscure as robust dung beetle populations have all been shown to reduce methane.
At the same time, cattle are key to the world’s most promising strategy to counter global warming: restoring carbon to the soil. One-tenth of all human-caused carbon emissions since 1850 have come from soil, according to ecologist Richard Houghton of the Woods Hole Research Center. This is due to tillage, which releases carbon and strips the earth of protective vegetation, and to farming practices that fail to return nutrients and organic matter to the earth. Plant-covered land that is never plowed is ideal for recapturing carbon through photosynthesis and for holding it in stable forms.
Most of the world’s beef cattle are raised on grass. Their pruning mouths stimulate vegetative growth as their trampling hoofs and digestive tracts foster seed germination and nutrient recycling. These beneficial disturbances, like those once caused by wild grazing herds, prevent the encroachment of woody shrubs and are necessary for the functioning of grassland ecosystems.
Research by the Soil Association in the U.K. shows that if cattle are raised primarily on grass and if good farming practices are followed, enough carbon could be sequestered to offset the methane emissions of all U.K. beef cattle and half its dairy herd. Similarly, in the U.S., the Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that as much as 2% of all greenhouse gases (slightly less than what’s attributed to cattle) could be eliminated by sequestering carbon in the soils of grazing operations.
Grass is also one of the best ways to generate and safeguard soil and to protect water. Grass blades shield soil from erosive wind and water, while its roots form a mat that holds soil and water in place. Soil experts have found that erosion rates from conventionally tilled agricultural fields average one to two orders of magnitude greater than erosion under native vegetation, such as what’s typically found on well-managed grazing lands.
Nor are cattle voracious consumers of water. Some environmental critics of cattle assert that 2,500 gallons of water are required for every pound of beef. But this figure (or the even higher ones often cited by advocates of veganism) are based on the most water-intensive situations. Research at the University of California, Davis, shows that producing a typical pound of U.S. beef takes about 441 gallons of water per pound — only slightly more water than for a pound of rice — and beef is far more nutritious.
Eating beef also stands accused of aggravating world hunger. This is ironic since a billion of the world’s poorest people depend on livestock. Most of the world’s cattle live on land that cannot be used for crop cultivation, and in the U.S., 85% of the land grazed by cattle cannot be farmed, according to the U.S. Beef Board.
The conventional wisdom is that we need to send even more people to college, but Devin Helton is skeptical enough that he went through a master spreadsheet of employment in the United States and made his own assessment of what percent of jobs truly require college.
Here is a table with my results, compared to what the actual attendance rates are:
There is no plausible way that 60% of jobs will innately require a degree in ten years. If 60% of jobs require a college degree on paper, that requirement will be entirely artificial (due to credentialing laws and competitive signaling spiral/degree inflation — see for example DC’s new regulation that childcare workers must have college degrees).
The most surprising thing I noticed was how many jobs require almost no specialized study or training. Even in contrarian, anti-college intellectual circles, it is popular to say we need more vocational education and apprenticeships. But skilled trades are only around 15% of jobs. The majority of jobs require no special training. They are jobs like cashier, driver, orderly, real estate agent, customer service agent, store clerk, house painter, or laborer.
Less than 15% of jobs can be plausibly said to need more study than the classic high school education.
If we want to make the working class better off, we should subsidize wages, not unnecessary education:
Consider the goods and services that make up a good and comfortable life: high-tech gizmos, gas heating, indoor plumbing, a well-built home, access to a skilled doctor, good restaurants, good beer, parks, well-built infrastructure, a stroll down a street with pretty buildings, etc. If you look at the production process for those goods and services, only a small percent of the workers involved need a college degree. And most degrees granted do not improve the production process — how does granting millions of degrees in “business”, “communications” or “social science” lead to more and better of these products? It doesn’t. And in fact, by channeling so many people into the college pipeline, we have lost out on the skills that did make for the good life. We have lost the artisans that once created beautiful streetscapes and ornate architectural detailing. We have less money to spend on infrastructure. We have more debt, and more stress.
Furthermore, even in the engineering fields, much of the know-how exists exclusively inside the productive organization — not inside the textbooks. Every engineer, when getting a job, has a big adjustment period as they learn how things are actually done. They learn why the schoolbook version was simplified or out-dated, and they learn the real techniques and tricks and tooling that they actually need to know to make things work.
In the past few decades, America has become more educated in terms of degrees. But in reality, people like my dad were training Chinese engineers to replace them, as the boomers retired and the high-tech job moved overseas. And now Forbes tells us that the Kindle cannot be made in America, because the essential technological production no longer exists here. According to policy wonks — who measure skills and education by number of years people spend sitting in chair — we have become more educated. But if you look at the actual knowledge needed to build high-tech goods, the issue is a lot more murky.
- Separate schooling from credentialing.
- Create a set of free, online high school and college degree programs that any American could enroll in, and pursue at their own pace.
- At age 13, give everyone a $100k education voucher.
- Legalize and normalize apprenticeship contracts.
I noticed that The Poseidon Adventure was leaving HBO soon, and I’d never seen the classic 1970s disaster movie, so I started watching it, not expecting a Christian parable:
Right at the start we’re introduced to the hero, the Rev. Frank Scott (Gene Hackman), a renegade priest whom we soon come to realize is a modern-day stand-in for Jesus Christ.
Some of the parallels are subtle. Scott is introduced during an onboard religious service by a priest named John, as in John the Baptist. Before disaster strikes the ship, Scott sits at a table with a former prostitute. He raises his glass to toast “Love.” After the ship turns over, someone looks at him and says, “Jesus Christ, what happened?”
There is just one way out. It’s to climb up a huge Christmas tree. Yes, salvation can be achieved only by way of the tree. Scott is shown dragging it like Jesus carrying the cross. “Life! Life is up there!” he admonishes the passengers. But half of them won’t listen to him, and even his followers are put off by his confidence and stridency: “Who do you think you are, God himself?”
No sooner have Scott’s followers climbed the tree to safety than the walls collapse and water floods the ballroom. Interestingly, director Ronald Neame (“The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie,” “The Odessa File”) doesn’t film the resulting chaos from the viewpoint of the doomed passengers. He shoots their scrambling and flailing from a cold distance, in much the same way that Cecil B. DeMille filmed the doomed Egyptians in “The Ten Commandments” (1956).
Neame brings the same distance to a later scene, in which Scott and his followers come upon a group of survivors led by the ship’s doctor. Scott tells them that they are headed in the wrong direction, but they walk by like zombies. “We’re following the doctor,” one says. They are people in the trance of a false doctrine.
Any doubt that Scott is a Christ figure is eradicated in the climactic scene in which Scott sacrifices his life for the remaining passengers. His method of self-sacrifice is telling. After an agonized and angry prayer (“What more do you want from us?”), he leaps onto a steaming valve and closes it, using his body weight to turn it shut. After hanging from the valve for a few extra seconds (so we catch the crucifixion reference), he drops to his death.
An enterprising group of hackers targeted a Brazilian bank with a more comprehensive and devious approach than usual:
At 1 pm on October 22 of last year, the researchers say, hackers changed the Domain Name System registrations of all 36 of the bank’s online properties, commandeering the bank’s desktop and mobile website domains to take users to phishing sites. In practice, that meant the hackers could steal login credentials at sites hosted at the bank’s legitimate web addresses. Kaspersky researchers believe the hackers may have even simultaneously redirected all transactions at ATMs or point-of-sale systems to their own servers, collecting the credit card details of anyone who used their card that Saturday afternoon.
“Absolutely all of the bank’s online operations were under the attackers’ control for five to six hours,” says Dmitry Bestuzhev, one of the Kaspersky researchers who analyzed the attack in real time after seeing malware infecting customers from what appeared to be the bank’s fully valid domain. From the hackers’ point of view, as Bestuzhev puts it, the DNS attack meant that “you become the bank. Everything belongs to you now.”
Adam Smith famously used a pin factory to illustrate the advantages of specialization, Virginia Postrel reminds us — just before the Industrial Revolution really kicked off:
By improving workers’ skills and encouraging purpose-built machinery, the division of labor leads to miraculous productivity gains. Even a small and ill-equipped manufacturer, Smith wrote in The Wealth of Nations, could boost each worker’s output from a handful of pins a day to nearly 5,000.
In the early 19th century, that number jumped an order of magnitude with the introduction of American inventor John Howe’s pin-making machine. It was “one of the marvels of the age, reported on in every major journal and encyclopedia of the time,” writes historian of technology Steven Lubar. In 1839, the Howe factory had three machines making 24,000 pins a day — and the inventor was clamoring for pin tariffs to offset the nearly 25 percent tax that pin makers had to pay on imported brass wire, a reminder that punitive tariffs hurt domestic manufacturers as well as consumers.
Nowadays, we think of straight pins as sewing supplies. But they weren’t always a specialty product. In Smith’s time and for a century after, pins were a multipurpose fastening technology. Straight pins functioned as buttons, snaps, hooks and eyes, safety pins, zippers, and Velcro. They closed ladies’ bodices, secured men’s neckerchiefs, and held on babies’ diapers. A prudent 19th century woman always kept a supply at hand, leading a Chicago Tribune writer to opine that the practice encouraged poor workmanship in women’s clothes: “The greatest scorner of woman is the maker of the readymade, who would not dare to sew on masculine buttons with but a single thread, yet will be content to give the feminine hook and eye but a promise of fixedness, trusting to the pin to do the rest.”
Most significantly, pins fastened paper. Before Scotch tape or command-v, authors including Jane Austen used them to cut and paste manuscript revisions. The Bodleian Library in Oxford maintains an inventory of “dated and datable pins” removed from manuscripts going as far back as 1617.
But a better solution was on its way. In 1899, an inventor in the pin-making capital of Waterbury, Connecticut, patented a “machine for making paper clips.” William Middlebrook’s patent application, observed Henry Petroski in The Evolution of Useful Things, “showed a perfectly proportioned Gem.”
It was that paper clip design that conquered the office and consigned pins to their current home in the sewing basket.
The Conservative right-winger Enoch Powell has made a hard-hitting speech attacking the government’s immigration policy.
Addressing a Conservative association meeting in Birmingham, Mr Powell said Britain had to be mad to allow in 50,000 dependents of immigrants each year.
He compared it to watching a nation busily engaged in heaping up its own funeral pyre.
The MP for Wolverhampton South West called for an immediate reduction in immigration and the implementation of a Conservative policy of “urgent” encouragement of those already in the UK to return home.
“It can be no part of any policy that existing families should be kept divided. But there are two directions on which families can be reunited,” he said.
Mr Powell compared enacting legislation such as the Race Relations Bill to “throwing a match on to gunpowder”.
He said that as he looked to the future he was filled with a sense of foreboding.
“Like the Roman, I seem to see the river Tiber foaming with much blood,” he said.
He estimated that by the year 2000 up to seven million people — or one in ten of the population — would be of immigrant descent.
How did that prediction pan out?
The Census in 2001 showed 4.6 million people living in the UK were from an ethnic minority, or 7.9% of the population.
Here’s the opening to the actual speech:
The supreme function of statesmanship is to provide against preventable evils. In seeking to do so, it encounters obstacles which are deeply rooted in human nature.
One is that by the very order of things such evils are not demonstrable until they have occurred: at each stage in their onset there is room for doubt and for dispute whether they be real or imaginary. By the same token, they attract little attention in comparison with current troubles, which are both indisputable and pressing: whence the besetting temptation of all politics to concern itself with the immediate present at the expense of the future.
Above all, people are disposed to mistake predicting troubles for causing troubles and even for desiring troubles: “If only,” they love to think, “if only people wouldn’t talk about it, it probably wouldn’t happen.”
Perhaps this habit goes back to the primitive belief that the word and the thing, the name and the object, are identical.
At all events, the discussion of future grave but, with effort now, avoidable evils is the most unpopular and at the same time the most necessary occupation for the politician. Those who knowingly shirk it deserve, and not infrequently receive, the curses of those who come after.
(I’ve mentioned this speech before.)
The “quiet professional” behind the WeaponsMan blog, Kevin O’Brien, has passed away, his brother reports:
He was born in 1958 to Robert and Barbara O’Brien. We grew up in Westborough, Mass. Kevin graduated from high school in 1975 and joined the Army in (I believe) 1979. He learned Czech at DLI and became a Ranger and a member of Special Forces.
Kevin’s happiest times were in the Army. He loved the service and was deeply committed to it. We were so proud when he earned the Green Beret. He was active duty for eight years and then stayed in the Reserves and National Guard for many years, including a deployment to Afghanistan in 2003. He told me after that that Afghan tour was when he felt he had made his strongest contribution to the world.
In the winter of 2015, we began building our airplane together. You could not ask for a better building partner.
Last Thursday night was our last “normal” night working on the airplane. I could not join him Friday night, but on Saturday morning I got a call from the Portsmouth Regional Hospital. He had called 911 on Friday afternoon and was taken to the ER with what turned out to be a massive heart attack. Evidently he was conscious when he was brought in, but his heart stopped and he was revived after 60 minutes of CPR. He never reawakened.
He will be missed.