Strange Brew

08/13/04 | by david2 [mail] | Categories: General
This is amazing. First we get 2 8-10 inch rainfalls in and around Philadelphia, and now the Poconos have gotten 10 inches in the last 24 hours. I hope my house is still there.

Monkeys turned into workaholics

08/12/04 | by david2 [mail] | Categories: General
Yes, you read it here : Monkeys were turned into workaholics with a simple gene therapy. The headlines read that a little gene therapy was all that was needed.

There's interesting information here, but it's not that the monkeys were turned into workaholics. The implication in the CNN and Nature articles are that God made a wee little mistake and that a touch of gene therapy here and there will fix things right up and turn all of those slackers into hard working souls.

Turns out that gene therapy was only used because drugs were too short acting, and because surgery was irreversible. The gene therapy was used simply because it wasn't permanent and acted a little longer than surgery or drugs did. So one of the reasons for this story being big (genes fix up your slacker tendencies) was simply fluff.

Surgery? Drugs? What were they doing? The gene therapy they used turned off the brain's ability to sense dopamine via the D2 dopamine receptor. What's a dopamine D2 receptor? Well, Dompamine plays a significant role in the pleasure / reward systems of the brain. For example, Cocaine causes a significant release of Dopamine into your body, thereby causing a pleasurable sensation.

Turn the D2 receptors off, and there's no ability to sense reward. Which reward sensation are they inhibiting? In this particular case, the monkeys get a reward (food, for example) for playing the game of hitting a lever, but only after hitting it over a period of time. As the time for reward (food, etc) gets closer, there's an indicator on a screen which grows gradually brighter. Without the D2 receptors, the monkeys were unable to sense that the reward was growing closer. The end result was that they were constantly working for the reward, unable to sense whether it was closer or further away.

This is an interesting scientific breakthrough, but what I'm amazed at is the large splash it made in the mainstream media. I'll attribute that to the use of gene therapy, and the fact that a basic behavior is altered.

The thing is, it's not as if this is an amazing thing from the point of view of implications to the human race. It's right up there with "we've made this amazing link: we put a blindfold on a man, and he immediately fell over a nearby coffe table" -- aaah there must be a link between eyes and ability to stand. You've heard about the scientific study: cut off a frog's legs, and he becomes deaf, unable to jump.

The ability of these monkeys to sense pleasure was removed. Remove the feedback loop, and you're sure to get some interesting behaviors, like removing the throttle governor from a train: is it any wonder that the engine revs up to full speed with nothing there to slow it down?

I'm not making any judgement about this research, but rather about the fact that people got so excited about this. Monkey behavior wasn't changed: if they could sense pleasure, they'd be back to their slacker ways. The tendency towards slackerdom is still alive and well. They didn't all of a sudden get a new desire to work harder. They just didn't get the rewards that they were expecting.

Could this be the only difference between a slacker and a worker bee, a democrat and a republican? Maybe, but on the face of it, this seems more along the lines of more traditional behavior when the reward mechanism is removed, not some amazing operation in your head that turns you into a productive citizen the way that it's been implied in the main stream press.

But it does make a great story for CNN: quirky, interesting, short.

The Bonnie and Charlie show

08/12/04 | by david2 [mail] | Categories: General
Bonnie is up north, and Charlie is on his way. These are the first two back-to-back hurricanes to hit Florida since 1906.

Word Frequency

08/12/04 | by david2 [mail] | Categories: General
Here is a very nifty site showing the frequency of words in use. I can't vouch for its accuracy, but i can vouch for its cool presentation. Very neat.

Why I love the internet

08/11/04 | by david2 [mail] | Categories: General
A friend sent me a link about how people used to use radiation for healing purposes. People would drink radium laced water, use fluoroscopes in shoe stores and think nothing of radium on their watch dials.

My father, when he was a teenager even had radiation to treat some severe acne he was having. It worked like a charm. We were all wondering if this may have been a contributing factor to his cancer some 50 years later.

With that said, I remembered the story of the hunters who were wandering through the former Soviet republic when they happened upon some cannisters that were warm. They thought they had found themselves some good heat sources, and built their camps next to them, possibly picking them up and taking them into their tents.

Of course, the cannisters were radioactive, and they were severely burned. I set about looking for a reference to this story, and in 10 minutes found it.

And that's why I love the internet.

Fay Wray passes

08/10/04 | by david2 [mail] | Categories: General
Fay Wray, veteran of over 100 films, but remembered for her roll in one, the 1933 film King Kong has passed away. She was 96.

She had quite the romantic life, starting with a Rhoads Scholar screenwriter, John Monk Saunders. In her obit , the marriage didn't go terribly well:
She divorced him, she said, after he injected her with drugs while she slept, sold their house and their furniture and kept the money, and disappeared for a time with their baby daughter, Susan. Saunders hanged himself in 1940.

Seems like a good enough reason. I wonder if he sold both the house and furniture and stole away with the baby while she was doped up, or whether these all happened on different occasions.

She ended up having romances with screen writer Sinclair Lewis and with Clifford Odets before marrying Robert Riskin, who wrote 'It happened one night'. When Riskin died, she married one of Riskin's doctors, a neurosurgeon.

You get the impression that Fay liked her men smart and witty. Except for one, whom she loved just for being a big lunky gorilla.

Wherefore the wiley 18-34 yr old male?

08/09/04 | by david2 [mail] | Categories: General
Well which is it? Is he here? or is he over there?

Wired says that they're gone, but within one week, the NY Times says they're not.

Back from Vermont

08/09/04 | by david2 [mail] | Categories: General
If you have the time and the inclination, get into your car one weekend, and just drive. But, before you do, go get yourself a GPS. One that has roadmaps included in it. Then take off. Anywhere. It doesn't matter. Just go. Pick a destination, and drive there.

Now here's the trick: take the most direct route, distance-wise. That means that you won't be on any thruways or interstates. You'll need to take the back roads that connect you most directly with your destination.

Use your GPS to keep yourself on the roads to your destination. Here's what you'll find: For ever 100 miles you travel, you'll save somewhere between 15 and 25 miles traveled than if you took the interstate. Here's what else you'll see: the roadside stands, stores, and everything else that people used to see when traveling the roads before the Eisenhower system turned all the scenery into the same scenery.

On my way to Vermont, instead of 84 and then 87, I took 209, cut across the Shawangunks through New Paltz, then a wee bit on 87 up to Troy. Heading east on NY7 (which turns into VT9) and then north on VT7 to Wallingford.

It's all stunningly beautiful. On the way home, I exited the 87 at Woodstock, and wandered around the Ashokan reservoir until I found the little road that winds through Peekamoose, where it hits the Roundout reservoir, and then on past the Neversink reservoir. From there, it's on through the Jewish section of the Catskills: tons of Orthodox camps with fencing and Yiddish writing.

I saw at least 3 people in traditional dress (yarmulkes, etc) flag down automobiles for rides. This wasn't hitch-hiking: they waved both arms for rides.

On past the Sullivan County international airport, which is a huge patch of paved landscape that nobody uses. It's remarkable for its massive size. It was intended to revive the Catskills, but I suspect all it did was line the pockets of some Senator's friends. I've actually landed there. It's amazing landing a small plane on an airport capable of handling 747's.

On down through Eldred, where the same house under construction a year ago is still under construction.

Then on past a sign talking about Horace Greeley's utopian society. That Greeley, he got around. He's best known for his anti-slavery stance prior to the Civil war, but he also founded the New Yorker magazine as well as run a newspaper.

This particular roadside sign told of his 'utopian' society which failed. I had seen Greeley's name only a month before on a sign on the Keewinaw peninsula of upper Michigan. For some reason or other, he was up there as well.

So now I'm back, ensconsed in my undisclosed location in the Poconos. The katydids are making a RACKET. Nightfall comes, and BOOM, they all start in. All at once. Things get really quiet in the late afternoon, and stay that way until dusk, then, as if on queue, the symphony starts.

It's 10pm now. Sometime around 4am they'll stop and quiet will ensue once again.

Henri Cartier-Bresson

08/06/04 | by david2 [mail] | Categories: General
He just died.

I had seen some of his photos, but didn't really know anything about him. Many of his photos are online at the photo agency that he founded, Magnum Photos. Simply incredible. I can't stop looking at them.

Here is a link to a collection of his photos from the magnum photo website.

Anonymity on the Net

08/06/04 | by david2 [mail] | Categories: General
Here is an interesting paper on a method for communicating on the internet in a fashion such that people can't tell who is talking to whom. It's meant for anybody who needs to connect somewhere else -- another website, email, etc. where not only do they not want to be eavesdropped on, but they also don't even want a record of any connection at all between parties to be public.

There are alot of good reasons besides the obvious one of John Ashcroft being in the Justice Department. Interestingly they point out that a 'hostile' agent with extraordinary powers can probably defeat the system, but with that said, they also say that that is the intended target to defend against.

In any event, the server and client are both available for download and operation. Very neat.

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