Certain traits, like height and hair color can largely be explained through simple genetics: If both of your parents are tall with blond hair, chances are you will be too. However, not all genes are created equal and most traits are not controlled by a single gene. Instead, most traits, such as metabolism, personality, intelligence, and even many diseases, are much more complex and rely on the interactions of hundreds of different genes. The complexity doesn’t stop there. If it did, then identical twins would be exactly the same; but they are not. Although they tend to be extremely similar, identical twins can still differ greatly in health and personality. This is because, although they carry an identical set of genes, their genes may be expressed at different levels. Genes are not simply turned “on” or “off” like a light switch, but instead function more like a dimmer switch with a dynamic range of expression. The amount that a gene is expressed can differ from one person (or twin) to another and can even fluctuate within a single individual. The mechanisms by which these kinds of changes take place are extremely complicated and are influenced by a variety of factors including one’s internal and external environment. Epigenetics is the study of these kinds of changes and the mechanisms behind them. [Knowing Neurons]
Theories about the evolution of human sexuality have spawned some intriguing ideas. One of the more peculiar ones is that oral sex has an evolutionary function, namely to detect recent infidelity by one’s partner. Cunnilingus for example, is supposed to allow a man to detect the presence of another man’s semen in or around the woman’s vagina. A recently published study aimed to test this theory and found that a man’s interest in performing cunnilingus was correlated with his partner’s attractiveness. The authors argued that more attractive women are more likely to be targeted by other men for mate poaching, and that partners of such women have more reason to be concerned about sperm competition, and therefore use oral sex to detect possible infidelity, albeit unconsciously. [Eye on Psych]
Risk compensation is an interesting effect where increasing safety measures will lead people to engage in more risky behaviors. For example, sailors wearing life jackets may try more risky maneuvers as they feel ‘safer’ if they get into trouble. If they weren’t wearing life jackets, they might not even try. So despite the ‘safety measures’ the overall level of risk remains the same due to behavioral change. This happens in other areas of life. [MindHacks]
A new study by Alison Lenton is one of the first to investigate what being true to oneself actually feels like. […] Participants describing a time they’d felt authentic, as opposed to phony, tended to say the experience overlapped far more with their ideal self. There’s an obvious contradiction here. If they were being themselves, how come they resembled their ideal self, which is likely to be influenced by social expectations? One possibility is that what we really mean by “be true to yourself” is “be the person you want to be”. [BPS]
We’re taught from childhood how important it is to explain how we feel and to always justify our actions. But does giving reasons always make things clearer, or could it sometimes distract us from our true feelings?
For the first time, researchers have found that stress can leave an epigenetic mark on sperm, which then alters the offspring’s hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, a part of the brain that deals with responding to stress. […] The experiment was conducted with preadolescent and adult male mice. […] “These findings suggest one way in which paternal-stress exposure may be linked to such neuropsychiatric diseases.” [United Academics]
Apple is investing $100 million to make some of its Macintosh computers in the U.S. […] The operation, to be based in Texas, will be Apple’s first domestic assembly foray since 2004. […] Google Inc.’s Motorola Mobility, for example, also plans to assemble smartphones in Texas. […] These companies are taking advantage of low energy costs and a decade of wage stagnation, which has made U.S. factory jobs more competitive with those in China, where wages are rising. [Bloomberg]
REITs [Real Estate Investment Trust] are sold like stocks, and they’re held by many individuals and institutional investors. REITs are trusts that own and develop property and earn rental income. […] I put down $513.94 on a REIT index fund. It’s basically a smorgasbord of many different REITs. It contains what you might expect — REITs that own apartment buildings and shopping centers. But Thomas says the range of REITs today goes far beyond that, “from billboards to prisons to cell towers, campus housing. Even solar is on the horizon potentially.” [NPR]
There are somewhere between 50 million and 100 million farms in the world (if you exclude those smaller than about three American football fields). But about half the crops produced by those farms rely on the seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides supplied by a mere dozen or so companies. Most of those crops are bought, traded, and transported around the world by another half dozen. […] And when it’s time for agricultural products to be processed and distributed to stores, that’s another dozen or so, many overlapping with the aforementioned traders and suppliers. [IEEE]
Holograms of human figures are appearing increasingly often in airports as virtual assistants. […] The woman was two-dimensional, a projection on a human-shaped glass sheet. […] She cost the airport only 26,000 dollars. The avatar runs 24 hours a day and is portable so she can be moved to other areas of the terminal. […] You will find similar holographic announcers or “airport virtual assistants” in Dubai, Washington Dulles, Macau, Istanbul Ataturk and Long Beach, among other locations. […] Voice recognition, while available in the more expensive models (roughly 100,000 dollars) isn’t recommended for airports due to the likelihood of interference from background noise. […]Musion is better known for their less practical work: reviving dead celebrity singers. Their most famous project was the digital resurrection of Tupac Shakur at last year’s Coachella Festival. The company also recreated Frank Sinatra to perform at Simon Cowell’s 50th birthday party. […] Copyright permissions and objections from various estates, in addition to the high costs, have so far prevented “resurrections” from becoming a more widespread trend. [Domus]
You enter the supermarket, grab an electronic cart that recognizes you from your touch, toss in some bags and begin shopping. The monitor on your ‘smart cart’ displays products, price, and total amount spent; and subtracts items returned to the shelf.
Fraud cost online retailers $3.5 billion last year. Credit bureaus and payment companies (PayPal, Intuit…) have begun trials to see whether social posts can help prove identities or detect whether customers are lying about their finances.
Back in 1996, economist Paul Krugman wrote an essay about the next 100 years of economic history, as if looking back from the year 2096. […] “When something becomes abundant, it also becomes cheap. A world awash in information is one in which information has very little market value. In general, when the economy becomes extremely good at doing something, that activity becomes less, rather than more, important. Late-20th-century America was supremely efficient at growing food; that was why it had hardly any farmers. Late-21st-century America is supremely efficient at processing routine information; that is why traditional white-collar workers have virtually disappeared. … Many of the jobs that once required a college degree have been eliminated. The others can be done by any intelligent person, whether or not she has studied world literature.” [io9]
A new study found that only 5 percent of people who used the bathroom washed their hands long enough to kill the germs that can cause infections. What’s more, 33 percent didn’t use soap and 10 percent didn’t wash their hands at all. Men were particularly bad at washing their hands correctly. […] It takes 15 to 20 seconds of vigorous hand washing with soap and water to effectively kill the germs, the CDC says, yet the study found that people are only washing their hands, on average, for about 6 seconds. [Michigan State University]
I read two or three business plans a week. I’ve developed a checklist of irritating elements that entrepreneurs are best advised to avoid if they want to succeed in raising finance. Complicated and aggressive non-disclosure and confidentiality agreements There is often an inverse relationship between the length of the NDA and the scale of the project. While entrepreneurs should try to protect their intellectual property, these contracts are really more of a ritual than of any practical use. […] Complex financial modelling I read a plan recently for a £100,000 revenue confectionery business that had 10 tabs of Excel spreadsheets. My eyes swam when I tried to understand it. […] Too much focus on five-year financial projections What interests me are the next 12 to 18 months – further out is pure speculation, especially for an early-stage business. I never buy shares based on what might be possible years away – I want to see what milestones can be achieved in the near future. [Luke Johnson/FT]
Conceptual Art: A Critical Anthology (1999) [PDF] [Thanks Paul]
The first thing I did after I heard about the highly classified NSA PRISM program two years ago was set up a proxy server in Peshawar to email me passages from Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. [John Sifton/Warscapes | Thanks Aaron]
Two notions of reconciliation exist. The weak or thin conception is akin to “resignation.” It is sought by groups that have waged war against one another but have come to the realization neither can win. Reconciliation in this sense results from an enforced lowering of expectations. In the stronger sense, reconciliation means a virtual cancellation of enmity or estrangement via a morally grounded forgiveness, achievable only when conflicting groups acknowledge collective responsibility for past injustice, and shed their deep prejudices by a profound and painful transformation in their identities. It is because this process is not possible without a somewhat brutal confrontation with oneself and a painful recognition of one’s own moral degradation that reconciliation is difficult to achieve. [ResetDoc]
If there are negative feelings gnawing at you, do you know the cause, and is there anything you could do right away to solve the problem? If it’s just a negativity bias kicking in, try the exercise that worked so well for me. Get a piece of paper and spend two or three of minutes writing down anything you’re especially grateful for in that moment. See what effect it has on how you’re feeling. […] Here’s the paradox: The more you’re able to move your attention to what makes you feel good, the more capacity you’ll have to manage whatever was making you feel bad in the first place. Emotions are contagious, for better or worse. It’s your choice. [NY Times]
Which Came First: the Chicken or the Egg? Alice Shirrell Kaswell, a staff member at the Annals of Improbable Research, definitively answered this question once and for all in 2003: The chicken, it turns out, came approximately 11 hours before the egg. Kaswell came to this finding by separately mailing a dozen eggs and one (1) live chicken via the U.S. Postal Service from Cambridge, Massachusetts to New York City. Both items, sent out on a Monday, arrived on Wednesday, but the chicken was delivered at 10:31 a.m., while the eggs didn’t arrive until 9:37 p.m. [Smithsonian]
sonder.— n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own. adronitis.— n. frustration with how long it takes to get to know someone. [The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows]