My blog on idiosyncratically interesting things...
influenza A antibody
one vaccine for all forms of influenza A is a long-sought goal. researchers now report the discovery of FI6 antibody that binds to and neutralizes all subtypes. to find a potential antibody, they used a "wide search" strategy single-cell culture method to screen 100,000 plasma cells from eight human donors. Four of those 100,000 cells "from one donor yielded an antibody that reacted with H1, H5, and H7 viruses."
who can resist reading a news items titled...
brain on a plate
researchers at the university of pittsburgh have grown an active "living" partial rat brain in a dish.
prediction: within 20 years, something like this is going to be huge. this is an entire mobile phone based on this important trend. this will revolutionize the form factor of devices. probably in tube or scroll-style -- check out seconds 42-49 in the first video.
longer term? probably the ability to replace the biological lens of the eyeball with artificial lens that display (via wireless signals) images.
nobiletin, found in the skin of tangerines, is a citrus flavonoid recently shown in mice studies to have strongly attenuated atherosclerosis and VLDL overproduction, and reduced obesity.
800 lumens, 20 years, 8 watts
no, no, no
the youtube commenter probably said it best, "if he fell he would probably land on his gigantic balls and survive." this is just a little out of my comfort zone.
at los alamos, during the a-bomb project, the science leader oppenheimer said of feynman (and consider the competition there!), "He is by all odds the most brilliant young physicist here, and everyone knows this".
while surfing for the Watson AI video, stumbled across a nice streaming documentary site, that organizes videos mostly from youtube: DocumentaryStorm
an AI milestone
the "AI" system Watson created by researchers at IBM and several universities, that won the Jeopardy! TV game show, is the first example seen (observing since the 1970s) of a computer system that made me go, "wow, finally getting somewhere interesting with AI research." will be fascinating to see how the "deep QA" ideas applied in Watson are put to practical use; for example, IBM is now implementing "medical Watson" for commercialization.
never too old
coach potato marathon mouse
slim, healthy, super fit endurance athlete body -- not by exercising, but by AICAR?
salk institute researchers discovered that a key dynamic of slow-twitch muscle endurance exercise (e.g., jogging) is that it triggers the development of more mitochondria that burn fat. and AICAR stimulates this same biochemical process, stimulating the creation of more slow-twitch muscles and fat-burning mitochondria. they did an experiment with mice that were sedentary for months, but fed AICAR daily. the first noteworthy thing was that the coach-potato mice remained slim and healthy looking. and then, without any prior exercise or training, the coach potato mice were put in a high-endurance marathon tread mill run -- and were immediately a champion "marathon mice" that could exercise for a long.
as the researchers point out, this drug could be useful for old people or others who are temporarily bed ridden and quickly losing muscle tone.
where did i leave my walking shoes?
a recent study published in PNAS showed that 40 minutes 3 times per week (for 1 year) of brisk walking (an aerobic activity) for a group of (prior-sedentary) seniors increased hippocampal and medial temporal lobe volumes by 2%, and was concomitantly associated with improved cognitive/memory function. OTOH, a matched group that only did stretching exercises degraded.
interesting for bifocal or progressive glass lens wearers: the introduction of dynamic electronic focusing lens, emPower. the technology is described as "the single most significant advancement in prescription eyewear in the last 50 years" -- that might be true.
fists of fury?
a study published in journal of consumer research showed that clenching muscles (such as a fist) was associated with increased self-control, such as resisting your third helping of chocolate mousse. To quote: Participants who were instructed to tighten their muscles, regardless of which muscles they tightened—hand, finger, calf, or biceps—while trying to exert self-control demonstrated greater ability to withstand the pain, consume the unpleasant medicine, attend to the immediately disturbing but essential information, or overcome tempting foods.
Thacker -- Turing award
another PARC alumni (in addition to Alan Kay and Butler Lampson) has won the Turing award. Charles Thacker has won for the creation of the modern vision of the personal computer (the Xerox Alto) plus Ethernet and the laser printer.
that can't be fake
when i first saw this CGI video, i had trouble believing it was all pure CGI. but it is, created with 3dsmax, Vray, AfterEffects, and Premiere. here is a related video of the underlying compositing breakdown.
Lamarck was actually (sort of) right
important trend in inheritance and genetics science... transgenerational epigenetics and genomic imprinting. The upshot is that DNA is not the only factor in genetics and inheritance. Genomic imprinting is an inheritance process independent of the classical Mendelian inheritance. Briefly, without changing the content of the DNA, the on/off expression of genes can be altered by a wide variety of environmental factors. The two major factors that control that gene expression are DNA methylation and histone modifications (think of them as surface control switches on the outside of the DNA, in the critically important mis-named "junk DNA" regions, although that is not literally true). This modification of gene expression in response to environmental factors (such as toxin exposure or starving) has been known for quite some time. BUT it was assumed that these modifications were NOT inherited to children. Wrong.
Now, a slew of solid data shows that the genomic imprinting in a parent in response to an environmental factor can be inherited on to the children -- the imprinting survives DNA replication (transcription).
For example, to quote Wikipedia in one of the most well-known studies:
Marcus Pembrey and colleagues also observed that the paternal (but not maternal) grandsons of Swedish boys who were exposed during preadolescence to famine in the 19th century were less likely to die of cardiovascular disease; if food was plentiful then diabetes mortality in the grandchildren increased, suggesting that this was a transgenerational epigenetic inheritance. The opposite effect was observed for females -- the paternal (but not maternal) granddaughters of women who experienced famine while in the womb (and their eggs were being formed) lived shorter lives on average.
When does a potential parent create the conditions to pass on environmentally imprinted epigenetics?
In the case of human females, it is when they are themselves in utero and their eggs are forming. If pregnant mom Jill is starving, this can cause imprinting onto the surface of the DNA of newly-forming eggs in her female in utero baby Jane. When Jane grows up and gets pregnant, her egg's DNA still has the imprinting. When her child Bob is born, his DNA carries this imprinting.
In the case of human males, the environmental factor must happen to the male shortly before puberty, just before the onset of spermatogenesis.
Lamarck was wrong in the sense that the causal factor of imprinting (e.g., famine) does not mean successors are skinny (or whatever). A successor may have a higher incidence of bladder cancer (or whatever).
But, nevertheless, we now know that Lamarck's idea carried a germ of truth, and this is perhaps a paradigm shift in our thinking about personal behavior, the quality of our environment, and our future generations: We are guardians of our genetics for successors. By our actions or environment there is a chance our future generations will experience some consequence.
more beautiful images here.
Recent research suggests that birds 'see' magnetic fields. Studies investigating what parts of a migratory bird´s brain are active when the birds use their magnetic compass showed that the cryptochrome-containing neurons in the eye and a forebrain region are highly active during processing of magnetic compass information in migratory birds.
causal loops and systems dynamics
Many of the groups I serve with don't have a concrete tool to explore and discuss what's going on in their organizations, in terms of the dynamics of the system. Most of us have been well-trained in details analysis and management, but not dynamics analysis. Getting together at a whiteboard and sketching causal loop diagrams can help. see.
i've been reading Cervantes' Don Quixote, downloaded from the Project Gutenberg site of many free older books. The translator's notes are a fascinating insight into the historical context of his critical parody. Translated with skill, Cervantes is revealed as an exquisitely gifted writer. He can shape a character rich with implication in few sentences. Don't miss this wonderful classic story.
Even after all these years, the strange nature of reality and wave-particle duality, as illustrated in the 2-slit experiment, remains amazing. Its not really “particles” down there... both "waves" and "particles" are just metaphors for a quantum micro-level reality that doesn't conform to our intuitions of how the macro-level world works.
I found this fascinating: Did you know that after World War I, after so many million males had been killed, that for some time women in the related countries gave birth to significantly more males than females? As though nature had a way to re-balance. How could that work? Recent research (I can't find the link now...) shows that women are less likely to give birth to males when there is stress, probably because males were more of an evolutionary risk (more likely to get killed). The relationship to the WWI story doesn't make sense yet, but broadly it suggests links between a women's perception of the environment and sex selection.
Green tea good. A recent study showed strong results that drinking it reduced the risk of prostate cancer in men by 2/3! That is an extraordinarily strong effect. A key active chemical is Epigallocatechin Gallate (EGCG) and there is now evidence EGCG stops HIV binding to cells. A variety of studies show it is correlated with lower rates of various cancers, reduces the risk of rheumatoid arthritis and lowers cholesterol levels.
In addition to research showing that taking acetyl-L-carnitine and alpha-lipoic acid is associated with improved cognitive function, new research shows that the protein creatine (used by body builders) is associated with improved memory and intelligence.
robots invent their own language to interact
increase in ions and infrared emissions over earthquake epicenter days before quake
hard facts from researchers about earthquake precursors.
the causal-chain hypothesis is that
the tomato cure
interesting summary of cognitive cost of mental activity, and related stresses and sources of enervation.
a report in Current Biology shows evidence that young adults that self-describe as politically liberal or conservative have different brain structures.
the self-described conservatives have a larger amygdala (related to fear responses) and "respond to threatening situations with more aggression than do liberals and are more sensitive to threatening facial expressions."
the liberals have larger anterior cingulate cortexes, that "monitor(s) uncertainty and conflicts."
to quote: "Thus, it is conceivable that individuals with a larger ACC have a higher capacity to tolerate uncertainty and conflicts, allowing them to accept more liberal views."
in my product development management consulting work, i observe managers have widely differing ability to accept the inherent high level uncertainty and variability of research and development product creation. perhaps there is a correlation to this research.
left gazing face bias -- humans and dogs
did you know that when people look at a face their eyes tend to shift left, viewing the person's right side of face? this left-gaze bias only exists when viewing human faces, not any other object. scientists speculate that the right side of the face (fact: faces are asymmetrical) is better at transparently expressing emotional state.
now, researchers at the University of Lincoln have discovered that dogs do this too -- and only when looking at humans. there is a growing body of research that dogs have evolved specific behaviors only for successful interaction with humans, essentially unique among the animal world.
the pbs science show nova has an interesting show, Dogs Decoded, that explores this. one can purchase it at Apple iTunes store.
25 jazz greats
an interesting list of 25 essential jazz albums, with commentary. includes great works such as coltrane's a love supreme, and a personal favorite from 1963, getz/gilberto.
Simple Suppers on the Tor network and cross-platform UIs
if you like cooking, and want good *fast* recipes, the UK's "channel 4" maintains a great collection (and associated cooking TV or online videos shows) of quick and simple recipes from Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay and Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall. also, check out nigel slater's Simple Suppers at BBC.
if not in the UK and the video content is blocked online, look at vidalia and the tor network to get around the blocks. btw, the UI of vidalia is done with the open-source cross-platform Qt framework originally created by two creative norwegian developers, Haavard Nord and Eirik Chambe-Eng (Trolltech); Qt is also used for Skype, Google Earth, and many other applications.
sweet for heat
not merely a folk remedy belief, there is solid evidence that treating non-major burns with honey is indeed effective. a meta-study looked at over 12 previous studies, and concluded that burns healed faster (on average) when treated with honey and gauze, than those treated with antibiotic creams and other dressings
harvard medical school announced a study not just slowing ageing in mice, but... "What we saw in these animals was not a slowing down or stabilisation of the ageing process. We saw a dramatic reversal – and that was unexpected," said Ronald DePinho, who led the study. the work involved an old (no pun intended), well-known mechanism in ageing: telomere shortening over time. it brings a difficult question one step closer: what if old people didn't die?
well beyond interesting, this is the most fascinating animal in the world; you will be delighted to watch.
glycemic load of foods
recently heard that large rolled oats are much healthier in terms of glycemic load than small, cut oats, for oatmeal (which i like). that got me curious as to the hard data on glycemic load of different foods. here's some credible data, from university of sydney research: http://www.mendosa.com/gilists.htm
the decay of decay
research on a gel, perhaps available within 5 years, that stimulates growth of tooth cells, to replace cavities.
influenza virus is notoriously mutable on key surface elements, making a universal vaccine tough. but researchers, reporting in Science , may have solution. Rather than targeting the lollipop head of the surface protein called haemagglutinin (HA), the new vaccine, to quote, generates “universal” antibodies that aim for the “stick” of the HA lollipop, which varies little from strain to strain.
engines of democracy
scrum and other agile methods include the principle of self-organizing teams (the 11th agile principle). here is another related story from Fast Company
vaccine for breast cancer?
could be interesting
synthetic life - venter and team
most likely all readers heard this, but it is still worth noting: a milestone in synthetic life. Craig Venter and team have created the DNA for a bacterium completely bottom-up from chemicals, injected the synthetic DNA into a cell, which then started to replicate (over a billion times) using, as usual, the DNA for its replication instructions.
the long-term implications are extraordinary, as scientists learn to master creating more complex DNA. Exxon is funding the research ($600 million usd) to see if they can create a bug that will create oil.
alcohol/etc addiction reduction with Baclofen
there is some evidence that the muscle relaxant Baclofen (created in the 1920s) can significantly reduce cravings for alcohol -- and perhaps other addictive drugs. Read the fascinating story of Dr. Ameisen that has a happy ending.
doctors have discovered that negative pressure (suction) on a wound speeds healing. the cause is not known, but may be due to removal of fluid buildup. there is an existing device for this therapy, costing over $100, but an mit student has created a $3 device that achieves the same goal.
coma -> german
another intriguing example of the mysteries of the human brain: to quote the story... A 13-year-old Croatian girl who fell into a coma woke up speaking fluent German. The girl, from the southern town of Knin, had only just started studying German at school and had been reading German books and watching German TV to become better, but was by no means fluent, according to her parents. Since waking up from her 24 hour coma however, she has been unable to speak Croatian, but is able to communicate perfectly in German.
random matrix theory
random matrix theory, first proposed by the physicist Eugene Wigner to help determine the probability of a particle moving between discrete energy level states, has been shown to apply, as a model, to a broad range of systems, including the mathematics of certain games of solitaire, the clumping of buses in traffic, and the path traced by molecules moving in a gas. and perhaps most importantly as we enter the age of easy access to massive sets of data (think, Google's collection of statistics), random matrix theory can help distinguish meaningful causal relationships from those that are not, in the case when traditional statistical methods showed "false positives" regarding meaningful correlation. to quote a recent story:
'Bouchaud's team has now shown how [the idea that larger data sets leads to better predictions] throws doubt on the trustworthiness of many economic predictions, especially those claiming to look many months ahead. Such predictions are, of course, the bread and butter of economic institutions. But can we believe them?
To find out, Bouchaud and his colleagues looked at how well US inflation rates could be explained by a wide range of economic indicators, such as industrial production, retail sales, consumer and producer confidence, interest rates and oil prices.
Using figures from 1983 to 2005, they first calculated all the possible correlations among the data. They found [using traditional statistical validity tests] what seem to be significant results - apparent patterns showing how changes in economic indicators at one moment lead to changes in inflation the next. To the unwary observer, this makes it look as if inflation can be predicted with confidence.
But when Bouchaud's team applied Marcenko's and Pastur's mathematics [influenced by random matrix theory], they got a surprise. They found that only a few of these apparent correlations can be considered real, in the sense that they really stood out from what would be expected by chance alone. Their results show that inflation is predictable only one month in advance. Look ahead two months and the mathematics shows no predictability at all. Adding more data just doesn't lead to more predictability as some economists would hope, says Bouchaud.
a breathless discovery
in a discovery further opening the possibilties of extra-terrestrial life, researchers have found, in the deep Mediterranean seafloor, the first multicellular animals capable of surviving in an entirely oxygen-free environment. the Loricifera species have hydrogenosomes, which require no oxygen to produce chemical energy. they have no mitochondria, the mechanism of other animal cell, that converts oxygen (and other stuff) into energy.
quantum teleportation of energy
There is a growing sense that the properties of the universe are best described not by the laws that govern matter but by the laws that govern information. This appears to be true for the quantum world, is certainly true for special relativity, and is currently being explored for general relativity.
2012 could be a milestone year in fusion: the year that the National Ignition Facility hopes to achieve controlled fusion with a net energy gain by firing many lasers at a small target of deuterium and tritium.
internal mental activity by a BBD?
is this the first example of independent "mental" activity by an artificial brain-based device? don't be put off by the academic dry title; read carefully the second-to-last sentence in the abstract to grasp the implications of what is really being reported. the author Gerald M. Edelman is the winner of a 1972 Nobel prize. afaik, it is also the largest neural simulation created.
read this, and then see the linked "thru you" music videos (my favourites are tracks 1, 5, and 7) . the musician has composed new music by only mixing stuff from youtube. that might sound "simple," but when i saw it, it seemed to me he has raised this mixing to a new level of creative art.
computational intelligence deduces a law of physics
my grad degree was in AI-related subjects (having little of my own), so this research and video struck me as quite interesting. the algorithm identified several laws of physics (without prior information about the domains) by analyzing data of objects in motion. See here.
this is striking.
why don't they just fly first class?
the 2007 ignoble awards are out, including:
explain to me how you forget your leg?
any story that begins "A US man who stored his amputated leg in a barbecue smoker..." just sort of begs to be read.