Glow-in-the-dark pee

Next Generation: Souped-up Probiotics Pinpoint Cancer
Genetically engineered commensal bacteria help researchers detect cancer metastases in mouse livers.
http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/43100/title/Next-Generation–Souped-up-Probiotics-Pinpoint-Cancer/

This is a cool kind of biotechnology where you can actually see changes with your own eyes. Most of the experiments I did, in school as well as a professional researcher, required some sort of visualization tool (chemical reagent, spectrophotometer, scintillation detector, etc.) so each fraction of the sample had to be analyzed. However, since this glows in the dark, all you got to do is turn out the lights and you will know what has happened.

Oh, it might also save lives also…

Why inner city blacks are so damn angry

Two interesting articles by Matt Taibbi that explain in detail why inner city people, particularly blacks, but I am sure also Latinos and likely even whites who live in those neighborhoods, are so damn angry with the cops. The first:

A Bad Arrest, on Video
If this incident hadn’t been captured on tape, Jaleel Fields might be another black male convicted for no good reason
http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/videos/a-bad-arrest-on-video-jaleel-fields-20150526

Is specifically about a single incident that, had it not been for video, would no doubt have been forgotten. Luckily for the plaintiff in this case, his lawyer was able to get the video and the prosecution promptly dropped the charges. Interestingly, nothing happened to the cops, where the second story gets all the more interesting:

Why Baltimore Blew Up
It wasn’t just the killing of Freddie Gray. Inside the complex legal infrastructure that encourages — and covers up — police violence
http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/why-baltimore-blew-up-20150526

I strongly urge my reader(s) to take a look at the whole article, this excerpt is just one of many instances detailed (out of no doubt 10’s of thousands of events that happen _every year_):

Of course, where bureaucracy fails to cover things up, simple racism often steps in. Just ask Makia Smith, a 33-year-old accountant who grew up not far from where the Baltimore protests broke out. “I was on my way back from Wendy’s,” she says, recounting an incident in East Baltimore from March 2012. “My two-year-old daughter was in the back, in a car seat.”

Caught in traffic, Smith noticed a commotion, with a gang of police officers surrounding a young suspect. As she later alleged in a civil complaint, the boy was on the ground and one of the cops seemed to be getting dangerously aggressive. Concerned, Smith opened the door of her car and held up her phone as though filming the scene. “I was hoping that if they saw me,” she says, “then maybe they would stop doing what they were doing.”

Instead, she alleges, the following took place: An officer, later identified as Nathan Church, rushed at her, screaming, she says, “You want to film something, bitch? Film this!” Frightened, Smith tried to get back in her car. Church took her phone, smashed it on the ground and kicked it down the street. Then he dragged her out by her hair, at which point she momentarily blacked out. Eventually, she claims, police threw her on the hood of her Saturn, where she snapped awake and saw her two-year-old wailing in the back seat. She began to panic: If she got arrested, who would take care of the baby?

According to Smith’s complaint, police told her, in about the least reassuring manner possible, that child protective services was coming to take her daughter. It’s an example of how completely black America distrusts the police and the government that Smith chose to allow a little girl standing on the side of the road, a stranger, to take her baby for her, rather than give the child to CPS. As she was dragged off to that seemingly omnipresent paddy wagon, Smith called out her mother’s cellphone number, so that the little girl could get in touch with the baby’s grandmother.

Smith ended up in jail overnight and didn’t reunite with her daughter until 24 hours later. Playing the usual game of police-abuse chicken, authorities hit her with a list of charges, ranging from assault in the second degree against a police officer (“They say I took on four healthy male officers,” she says), to resisting, to a host of traffic offenses.

Smith, an educated young woman, did everything right after the incident, hiring a lawyer and successfully navigating the traps and land mines designed to make cases like hers go away. She never signed away her right to sue, never allowed the case to be expunged, never took a pennies-on-the-dollar deal that would have let the police off the hook.

And what happened? The police denied her allegations, claiming the arrest was legitimate, and she watched her case implode in what’s supposed to be the corruption-proof stage of the process, a trial by a jury of her “peers.”

“The cops’ defense team struck every black witness,” she says, and her case was heard by an all-white jury, which ultimately found the police innocent of misconduct.

Some of the stats are amazing:

So when O’Malley started his version of Broken Windows, he had a mandate, and it’s not surprising that Baltimore’s program was wildly aggressive. At its peak, in 2005, an incredible 108,000 of the city’s 600,000 residents were arrested.

So, that year you had nearly a 2 in 10 chance getting arrested in that area. No matter what color or socioeconomic status you are, that is enough to make you angry as hell. As detailed in the article, each arrest (many, if not the majority, are never prosecuted!) costs you several days, so a huge interruption in your life and potentially costing you your job. The wonder is these people have put up with this so long, but the rest of America is so quick to dismiss their anger and resentment you have to live there or have friends/relatives live there to even be aware of it. So sad that it took the death of people to even get the attention of the rest of the country, but I have to assume things will get worse before they get better.

Ain’t it great to be an American?!

Binge eating = fat belly

Skipping meals could lead to fat gain, research suggests
http://www.ctvnews.ca/health/skipping-meals-could-lead-to-fat-gain-research-suggests-1.2383746

I didn’t get ‘skipping meals leads to fat gain’ from the article, instead I saw ‘binge eating leading to a bloated belly’. I am certainly guilty of binge eating. When I prepare food I prepare as much as I think I will want to eat, then generally eat every bit of it, though if someone else prepares the meal and it is smaller, I can eat that amount and be completely happy. So far I haven’t been able to reliably ‘outsmart’ myself in this regard, though I generally eat ‘dinner’ around 3 and try to avoid eating until I go to bed (around 9).

Buffets have historically been a problem for me. I actually swore them off for years because I could never leave satisfied: either I was in agony because I had ate so much or I felt I hadn’t got my money’s worth. Only years later did I develop the mental stability to be able to have a plate (sometimes two, but often just one) of food and be satisfied with my experience. I am now able to enjoy a bit of a bunch of my favorite foods and not feel the need to stuff myself to the gills. Sadly, this attitude doesn’t carry over to holiday meals where I tend to belly up to the trough multiple times, then, once the agony has subsided, return with both trotters in.

Naturally, being human and American, it isn’t my fault. It is my parents/genes/society/bad gut microbiome/whatever else I can latch onto’s fault!

Octopus camouflage bypasses brain, eyes

Octopuses can ‘see’ with their skin – completely bypassing their eyes and brains
The same light-sensitive pigment found in their eyes exists in their skin
http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/technology-science/science/octopuses-can-see-skin—5733629

This is not unexpected to me, I have seen videos of octopi moving onto something and then camouflaging themselves while apparently keeping their visual focus on the camera man. I have also seen situations where the octopus is slowly moving across a portion of the sea floor and shifting their colors as they move. Of course, they might be shifting their focus briefly and have the intellect to memorize the ground they are about to cover, but it makes more sense to me that ‘evolution’ would ‘delegate’ this task to the skin and not bother using the brain/eyes.

Liquid metal antenna…

Team Designs Liquid Metal Antenna Twice as Powerful than a Regular One
http://www.wallstreetotc.com/team-designs-liquid-metal-antenna-twice-as-powerful-than-a-regular-one/218388/

Interesting idea. I was intrigued to note this passage: “NCSU researchers have long shown a special interest in liquid metal devices…”. I guess they just think the subject is cool and keep playing with it until they find something useful. I have to imagine that they will need someone else to take it from concept to product, an attitude like they must have to keep at this for so long indicates they lack what is necessary to productize it.

This one took a few seconds…

Humans

I recently learned that the ‘punchline’ often required a mouse-over, give it a try…

Even after reading the mouse-over text I still had to think about it for a few more seconds (I was clueless entirely until the mouse-over), but, dammit, he is right! Why do we persist in ignoring the information science has gleaned over the years? It took decades to get their tails off the floor and hold them in the air as the counterbalance to the long neck, how long until we cloth them properly?

Positioning is key

This is a follow on to a previous post

Over the weekend I discussed the positioning of my writing as ‘erotic romance’ with my wife. I was not sure how I felt about the sex scenes I had written or planned and wasn’t sure adding them would help or hurt any marketing efforts. My lovely wife said that back when she read what she termed as ‘suspense romance’ she recalled the sex scenes were even more explicit than what I had written, and as such didn’t see that what I had written so far actually applied to the ‘erotic’ label. As a consequence I did some more research on the distinction between romance and erotic romance. The general consensus seems to be that in erotic romance the sex is largely no-strings-attached and/or deviates from pure pair-wise heterosexual whereas plain romance the sex is about love and is pure pair-wise heterosexual. There also appears to be a bit of a distinction based on word choice, meaning more graphical descriptions of ‘parts’ leans toward erotic while less graphical is romance. Based on that ‘definition’, such that it is, I am still not totally clear on my work. My intent is to evolve the sex between my characters into love (part of the story is about how they need help to even realize they have fallen in love with one another) but that process is aided and abetted by a third party (woman) who also happens to wind up in love with both of the other characters, hence not pure pair-wise heterosexual. Since I wrote what I have so far as less graphical and was planning on continuing that theme, intend for there to be ‘forever after’ love at the end (complexified a bit because it is a three-way instead of pair) I think I will strip out the ‘erotic’ label and stick with just the ‘romance’ bit. These distinctions matter because they influence how any work gets positioned/marketed. If you position wrong you are spending resources targeting a population that isn’t going to be satisfied with your product (this is as true in erotic romance thrillers as it is in such things as bicycles, rocket ships and nuclear power plants). Consequently, if my sex scenes are not hot enough for the erotic market, I am deemed a failure and there is bad word-of-mouth hurting sales. Conversely, if my sex is deemed inappropriate for the romance-only crowd they are also dissatisfied and there is poor word-of-mouth. AFter all that analysis, I am thinking now of dropping the ‘erotic’ moniker as I think I am better off without it. Of course, all my efforts to categorize things may be moot if I go with a traditional publisher, but it will no doubt be a factor if I do decide to try and find one as I would be targeting romance publishers (as opposed to erotic-focused publishers).

Though I haven’t had time to actually do anything, there is also an element of analysis paralysis regarding putting my writing on the web. Initially I planned on a simple password protected site run over HTTPS and any feedback needed to come via email on the part of the reader. However, I immediately started to get into more elaborate designs: first having a link on each paragraph (I was thinking each sentence, but believe I have talked myself out of that) that would pop up a new browser window that would take the reader to a comment section where they could provide feedback without having to create a separate email. That then mutated to carrying over the relevant text so they didn’t have to refer back to the previous window which then immediately lead to storing the content and responses in a database which naturally lead to showing the reader any previous comments which of course lead to some sort of diff mechanism so readers coming back after I have made changes can easily see what is new/different. So, I have gone from maybe two hours of work to weeks-long development of a full-blown application and I have yet to set fingers on keyboard (well, regarding this issue). This aspect of my design process is fairly normal, I don’t like to tie myself down too soon during design, sometimes the best ideas sound crazy at the start (of course, most of them really are crazy, got to sift through a lot of gravel to find the occasional nugget!). What has given me some slight pause in simply discarding the elaborate idea and going back to simplicity (though perhaps retaining the pop-up window for adding comments (though without carrying the selected text along)) is that the couple of places I have looked at regarding critiquing authors on-line have been terrible. All text based, showing their deep roots back to their listserv beginning and basically a huge pain in the ass. While I don’t think there is much money in something like this, it does appear to be something needed. Still, again, I haven’t put the needed time/effort into the retro game and I think there is money it that; why should I think I will do something for free? Also, I started writing stories because I couldn’t make the effort to program the game, so now I am going to make time to program that isn’t the game? I think I have just talked myself into going back to the simple version, perhaps with the small add-on to skip the need for email.

So much analysis, so little accomplished!

Beta readers

In the off chance that any of my reader(s) are interested, I thought I would throw out a request:

Anyone want to be a ‘beta reader‘ for my erotic romance thriller?

At the beginning of this year I started to think about how I could try and turn my weekday afternoons (weekends being ‘lost’ to construction) into something that could generate some income. Since I can type fast (60+ wpm) and like to tell stories I thought that perhaps I should investigate creative writing. It turns out there are a handful of places that pay for short stories, one, Tor.com, actually pays up to 25 cents/word (others 5-8). Of course, after review/editing I wouldn’t be outputting 60 wpm, but I decided to think about it during my too-ing and fro-ing from work. I came up with a story based on the question: “What if the light speed ‘barrier’ was irrelevant due to longevity?” so set out writing about an astronomer who detected a faint signal from a long-living being who has been ‘racing’ around the galaxy trying to catch up with a technological civilization before it was lost to self destruction or the singularity. My most natural writing style is ‘intense’ first person (based on the ‘intense third person‘ style of one of my favorite authors). When I read I like that style (the “Stainless Steel Rat” books are written much the same way) and since it was easy for me when I wrote, I decided to go with it.

So, my first effort was hard science fiction, the few reviewers I got feedback from were mixed so I sort of stalled (my intent was a series of short stories) and thought about other ideas. One I came up with was also scifi, the idea of a ‘travelogue’ where the narrator travels the solar system at the point in the future where there is a substantial population scattered about, actual space stations with 100’s of thousands of people, regular space-based industry, etc. I wasn’t expecting much in the way of any plot, it would be mostly an excuse for me to fantasize about how I would like things to be and what I had intended to work towards when I was young and full of optimism (before I became a cynical old man bitter about society). I never got any words written on this topic (I got about 5K words (assuming 250 words/page, about 20 pages) on the “Starfarer’s Journal”), so I started to think about another idea: what about telling the story of a contract killer from his point of view? I set about writing a character sketch for my development purposes but that sucker got out of control and wound up being nearly 6,700 words. Quite thin on plot, suspense, etc., it was a character sketch after all, but the little feedback I got seemed to indicate it had promise and the concept had a tight hold on my brain and was keeping me awake at night, so I decided to put some time in it.

I had done some research on what sort of stories sold the most and it seems that romance is king. Thrillers are a close second, so I thought, why not a romantic thriller? I had my protagonist established as having a particular fascination with a specific spy he had met, I could tell a story about how they met. That work was flowing fairly easily for me, I pounded out 12K words in next to no time. I found myself extending one of the romance scenes into an erotic one (it sure was fun to write, let me tell you! The visions floating in my head ‘disturbed’ me for days, nay, weeks afterwards). I did some research and found that erotic romance was indeed a genera and things got sliced and diced to the point that erotic romance thriller is actually a considered sub category large enough to talk about. Again I sought feedback, but found things even more difficult. At this point I have feedback from one person: my aunt who used to be in the publishing ‘biz. I may have offended her, though, as I felt much of her feedback related to my stylistic choice of intense first person and deliberately leaving explanations for some activity later, or not at all. As I started working on a follow-up story I started to think that I might have a novel in me. It seems getting a novel published is a huge pain in the ass and rarely pays well, but my ‘short’ stories were already at the limit of what magazines would consider, so I figured I could explore this route. My second section has reached close to 10K words and I have outlines for a couple of other sections that make me optimistic that reaching the debut novel length of 75-80K words is quite achievable.

The problem I have is I don’t like to work for no reason. I like my effort to have meaning, so when writing, I want readers (when programming, I want users). I have been running low on motivation lately (though my wife read the first section and said she couldn’t put it down, she has been conspicuously silent every time I have asked her to read my second section) because I can’t get feedback (beyond my aunt, who I think I may have alienated). I have found some sites that appear to put authors in touch with ‘beta readers’ and think I will pursue that angle. However, I figured I would at least let my dear reader(s) know about my efforts in case they want to get involved. I will be developing a password protected web site where I can post my works-in-progress and will provide the link and username/password to anyone interested in taking a look. All together at this point I have about 38K words written, though only about 28K of that is to the point I want to show it to someone (the thriller clocks in at about 22K words so far). The kind of feedback I am looking for is: is my writing interesting enough to pay for or is it tripe and I have already wasted too much time on it? In particular for my erotic romance thriller, is it thrilling? Romantic? Should I bother with the erotic bits? (Meaning, does my writing turn you on? Does it fit within the story?). I hope to have the site set up in a week or two (I experimented yesterday and believe I can fairly trivially set up the secure, password protected site, what I need now is a way to convert my Google docs into the sort of HTML layout I have in mind), then I am going to seek feedback. If that feedback is not supportive, then I will probably just remove the password protection and leave it as-is and try something else with my few spare hours. If the feedback appears positive, then I will continue writing and then make the decision to seek a publisher or self publish (there are pros and cons for each method), perhaps with feedback from my reader community.

So, any interest? If so, email me at mitakeet [at] gmail [dot] com

Firm handshake = longer life

A handshake can reveal how long you will live
How likely you are to die in the next few years could be judged from your handshake, new research shows.
http://www.afr.com/lifestyle/health/mens-health/a-handshake-can-reveal-how-long-you-will-live-20150515-gh273d.html

I doubt this is causative, almost certainly correlative (meaning a firm handshake doesn’t cause longer life, just reveals those that are healthier), but it does give an easy way to test to see if someone is on the way out. An interesting next step would be to take those with wimpy handshakes and give them extra health counseling and encourage them to exercise, then if that group lives longer than the control group (uncounseled wimpy handshakes), then it becomes a very handy and simple health metric.

Dress riddle

I have to imagine everyone has seen it by now, the dress that appears to be blue/black to certain people and gold/brown to others, well it seems it has to do to what kind of light you are most used to:

Mystery dress

That Dress riddle: trick of the light?
http://www.iol.co.za/scitech/science/news/that-dress-riddle-trick-of-the-light-1.1858842

Now, three scientific studies, including one from the University of Bradford, have explained why. Scientists say the conflict is due to the mechanism the brain uses to ensure an object is seen to be the same colour, no matter what time of day or type of light it is bathed in. In bright, midday sun, daylight is blueish and so the brain subtracts blue light. In artificial light, it gets rid of yellows – and in both cases an object should appear the same.

Crucially, the mechanism relies on other nearby colours, such as reds and greens, to judge how much blue or yellow to remove. In the case of the dress, these reference colours were missing. Blue is also particularly tricky for the brain to deal with.

Neuroscientist Bevil Conway, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US, who asked more than 1,400 people about the dress, says it is likely those who spend a lot of time outdoors, or had just been in daylight, took away too much blue and saw it as white, while those more used to artificial light subtracted yellows and perceived it as blue.

I like to be outdoors (though my job has me sitting at a desk all day, and I admit I spend a lot of time on the couch in front of the TV) and when I drive home each afternoon I deliberately do not use sun glasses so I can get exposure to the light. Perhaps that is why I am in the gold/brown camp.