Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Beautiful is Average

This girl is not really real- she is a composite of about 30 different women. She is significantly more beautiful than any of her constituent faces. If you don't believe me you can mix and match your own faces at "Face Research". (Beware- this is unusually addictive!).

If you login and upload your own photo, you can manipulate the image in all sorts of cool ways: e.g. 'mate' yourself with others and see what your offspring would look like had your partner been (for example) a Mohican, African etc. I'm hoping to have a child with Angelina Jolie and will post him/her when available.

Apparently there is good research to support the idea that averaged faces are judged to be more attractive than individuals... contrary to the 'common sense' view that places 'beauty' at one end of a spectrum. These faces however, seem to lose all wrinkles, smile lines, blemishes etc. The averaged hairdo's and clothing give them 'auras'...the end result is that they always end up looking somewhat ethereal.

Maybe this principle applies to other aspects of life: e.g. the wisdom of crowds? (why 250 million dumbass voters might actually pick the best candidate).

Perhaps an averaged house, dress, symphony, novel would be better than any bespoke individual?

Saturday, January 26, 2008

On Pumice and Luffa

Image:Luffa sponge.png
Unpacking your bathroom yields numerous surprises- often embarrassing. That old, folded metal tube of yellow ointment,-the grease rendering the pharmacist's label illegibly translucent. That itch i had back in 1987- oh yes- now i remember.

Pink and green (hers and his) pumice stones- how grateful we are that God has created a world for us in which volcanos erupt in frothy glass rocks for the benefit of our chapped heels. Apparently, it's density is so low that pumice rafts waft on the ocean currents for decades after an appropriate eruption.

Now on to the Luffa... about 6 months ago in my local mega-supermarket i came across a thing resembling an eggplant (aubergine). Unlabelled, it confused the checkout drone- and needed 3 layers of supermarket beauracracy to identify it as a "Luffa".

Obviously, i went home and googled recipes for it... printed out a few and adhered to fridge with magnet in hope wife would cook it... no luck... eventually it went black at the back of the fridge and was sadly disposed of.

Further googling showed that the thing i thought was a dried sea-sponge hidden behind her never-used scented candles was a dried version of the eggplant... "Oh, it's a Loofah!".

This came as quite a shock as i did a very detailed school project on Sponges (Phylum Porifera) when i was 9- and i thought my knowledge was better than most. Did you know you can strain a sea-sponge through a sieve into it's consituent cells and it will reassemble itself into a new one? I think sponges invented multicellularity -and tissues. (not the bathroom kind).

Friday, January 25, 2008

Ikea Apple Corer & Slicer

This gadget... from Ikea is, however, indispensible- it slices AND cores at the same time! If they were around when Buddah was a babe- he would have carried one around with his begging bowl.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Moving House

I have found a cure for philosophy and deep thought- moving house.

Posting has been a little thin on the ground over the last 2 weeks as the house renovations have finally begun! We've moved out to a rental many individual items are in the average kitchen... 1000?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

More Lavazza Photography- couldn't resist

Some of the best (middle) ones are by Marino Parisotto.

Lavazza Girls!

I have seen this ad for Lavazza coffee quite a few times over the last few years... it's one of the only ads i've ever seen (and i must have seen billions) that i keep thinking about...

Firstly- what's going on? Well, obviously, a very attractive brunette air-hostess has 'abandoned ship' in mid-flight. Why? She is a terrorist sleeper agent from Al Qaida. It is 9/11.

Having activated the bomb- she dons her parachute and jumps out the emergency exit- the sudden depressurization sucking many through the aperture with her to fall cartwheeling to their deaths.

She has just a minute before this to make a good strong cup of coffee (Lavazza of course!) and grab her handbag. Oh - and lets not forget the saucer and spoon.

But boy- she is a sexy terrorist. Phew! Look at those old-fashioned stockings & suspenders. She's probably already synchronized her rolex and is meeting her contact on the ground in a few minutes. Is coffee-breath sexy? No. That's why she needs the suspenders.

I think i've always had a 'thing' for girls from the 30's... strange but that they're all over 100 now or dead.

Many years ago, in my 1st year as a medical student when stonewash was new, and i was still wearing hi-top basketball sneakers - i met a librarian (i returning books) in what was called the "Biological Sciences Library" before it was knocked over.

This creaky old hot wooden building was the last place i expected to find a very cute girl -librarian dressed up in what appeared to be a bell-bottomed sailor suit - complete with a 30's deco hairdo and a curl over her left eye. A vision. I had just discovered 'Swing' music via Benny Goodman at that point. (My Grandfather's old 78's).

In my fantasy she would berate me for returning my books late- it would end in a struggle that would by chance approximate my lips with hers. We would discuss the Dewy Decimal System late into the night.

Since then i've always had a fondness for the 30's - despite WWII!* The music, the design, but mostly the way women looked then. I feel nostalgic for a period 40 years before i was born.

I think that's why i really like this:

p.s. it seems Lavazza has been doing great photography for decades. Check here.
* On that note- very funny is Comedy Central's "I Love The 30's"

Theodicy Idiocy: The Problem of Evil

Why do bad things happen to good people? Why is the world so F%&^ed up? Why does God want there to be acne, evil dictators, global warming, bad television? Lets face it- He's not doing a great job.

Here are the qualities of God as He is traditionally reckoned:

* Omniscient (all knowing)
* Omnipotent (all powerful)
* Benevolent (all good)

The existence of evil requires that one of these 3 is not true BUT if this is the case, it pretty much excludes God from being God by definition (reductio ad absurdum). God and 'evil' cannot logically coexist.

One might argue that we mere mortals cannot understand why (for example) the birth of a severely retarded child is in God's best interests. Great minds have contorted themselves through the ages and arrived at a number of complex theoretical structures to explain away the problem of evil. Many require one to believe a large number of other unbelievable things in order to square the circle.

I prefer Laplace's comments (to Napoleon) when asked whether he thought God existed he said: "I have no need for that hypothesis.".

Eta Carinae : The End of the World

There are a few interesting things about this star - visible mostly in the southern hemisphere skies.

The first is that it "exploded" in the 1800's - ejecting mass equivalent to 10 times the mass of our sun- and briefly becoming the 2nd brightest star in the night sky.

It didn't however, completely destroy itself by becoming a supernova- however astronomers believe this could happen at any time- e.g. 4pm next tuesday.

When it does, the process will lead to the formation of a black hole and release an incredible amount of energy in the form of gamma rays. If these hit us, they will sterilize the Earth by destroying our protective ozone layer entirely.

We will have no warning.

The other problem is that this thing is 7500 light years away- which means that it has probably already happened. The gamma rays are on their way. Ciao!

link here to Astronomycast podcast about gamma ray bursts.

Muji Evolution Puzzle for Kids

Great design from Muji- the Japanese design store. Great for teaching kids about evolution. Also- all they have to know is this:

Dead monkeys don't have sex
Baby monkeys look a bit different to their parents
Some monkeys will be better at surviving than others

Add in some changing environmental conditions, wait 4 billion years and "hey presto"... opposable thumbs, language, culture, dancing with the stars.

Please note children that this process is NOT RANDOM. Yes the engine of change is mutation (random) but evolution is steered towards survival in whatever environment happens to exist at that moment.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

The History of the Universe in 200 Words or Less

Quantum fluctuation. Inflation. Expansion. Strong nuclear interaction. Particle-antiparticle annihilation. Deuterium and helium production. Density perturbations. Recombination. Blackbody radiation. Local contraction. Cluster formation. Reionization? Violent relaxation. Virialization. Biased galaxy formation? Turbulent fragmentation. Contraction. Ionization. Compression. Opaque hydrogen. Massive star formation. Deuterium ignition. Hydrogen fusion. Hydrogen depletion. Core contraction. Envelope expansion. Helium fusion. Carbon, oxygen, and silicon fusion. Iron production. Implosion. Supernova explosion. Metals injection. Star formation. Supernova explosions. Star formation. Condensation. Planetesimal accretion. Planetary differentiation. Crust solidification. Volatile gas expulsion. Water condensation. Water dissociation. Ozone production. Ultraviolet absorption. Photosynthetic unicellular organisms. Oxidation. Mutation. Natural selection and evolution. Respiration. Cell differentiation. Sexual reproduction. Fossilization. Land exploration. Dinosaur extinction. Mammal expansion. Glaciation. Homo sapiens manifestation. Animal domestication. Food surplus production. Civilization! Innovation. Exploration. Religion. Warring nations. Empire creation and destruction. Exploration. Colonization. Taxation without representation. Revolution. Constitution. Election. Expansion. Industrialization. Rebellion. Emancipation Proclamation. Invention. Mass production. Urbanization. Immigration. World conflagration. League of Nations. Suffrage extension. Depression. World conflagration. Fission explosions. United Nations. Space exploration. Assassinations. Lunar excursions. Resignation. Computerization. World Trade Organization. Terrorism. Internet expansion. Reunification. Dissolution. World-Wide Web creation. Composition. Extrapolation?


Amy Whinge-house

Amy Winehouse- self described "quiet Jewish housewife"... not. Add "Toothless" and "tatooed" and "self-destructive" and you're getting close. Also, a little less Fran Drescher, and a little more Barbara Streisand would be good. Nevertheless- an amazing trumpeting voice. Best when singing real Jazz- i can hear Carmen McRae.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Un-Methylated Spirits

Our 'nurtured' genes determine who we are. Our DNA gene codes for an RNA message that gets printed out into a string of protein that gets folded up in three dimensions to become a little bit of bio-nano-technology. This is why we are tall or short, fat or thin, blue-eyed or brown.

You would think that it would not matter if a chromosome comes from your mother or your father- that there would be no way to tell- after all they simply consist of chunks of DNA. Female mice have 2 copies of their X chromosome- but it is ALWAYS the paternal X that is switched off. This 'tagging' is known as genetic imprinting- and the trick is performed using methylation.

There are 2 "epigenetic" syndromes that are essentially the reverse of each other- both are due to problems with genes on an area of chromosome 15.

Prader-Wili syndrome occurs when neither segment has paternal imprinting- (e.g. the mother's contribution is present, but the father's has been deleted). These children are characteristically obese, hypogonadal and have some intellectual impairment- although interestingly tend to be very good at jigsaw puzzles!

Angelman's Syndrome occurs, by contrast when there is no maternal imprinting present (e.g. the father's contribution is present, but the mother's has been deleted). These children were initially described as "Happy Puppets". They are often affectionate, verbose, and crave human contact.

But there is more. Genes can be tagged "maternal" or "paternal"- but methylation occurs for many other reasons too. A diet high in "methylation" precursors in rats can change the expression of a lot of genes.

Here is the REALLY interesting bit: If methylation occurs in the cells destined to become the sperm or ova- then these traits become hereditary- at least for a few generations. In other words, this represents a form of "Lamarckian" (vs Darwinian) evolution- the inheritance of acquired characteristics.

Offspring of female rats fed folic acid had brown fur due to methylation of the Agouti gene. Offspring of rats who were not fed the supplements had yellow fur- AND a tendency to diabetes and obesity!

You are not what you eat- you are what your mother ate! It makes me wonder- what if the folate supplement that reduces the incidence of neural tube defects and leukemia in our children has more sinister late methylation effects?

What would a genetically normal but completely un-methylated human look like?

Detailed article here, New York Times article here.