Designer Virus’

Ancient Viruses as Gene Therapy Vectors
Researchers deploy ancestors of today’s adeno-associated viruses to deliver gene therapies without immune system interference.

The interesting thing to me is that the _exact same_ techniques can be used to produce a variant for a lethal virus, yet there have been no calls to bury this research.

A hammer can be a tool for building a house, or a weapon for bashing someone’s brains out, but it is still just a lump of metal at the end of a shaft. One interesting thing about this tool is while it is trivial for a non-carpenter to grab up a hammer and kill someone with it, in order to use the techniques mentioned in the article to develop a lethal virus you actually have to be smarter than the people who developed the original tool. That day will come, of course, but it does mean that it isn’t likely to be a tool for terrorists, at least not ones with poor resources. No doubt a bent billionaire could hire the right people to develop such a weapon, but how realistic is that?

Anyway, we are slowly creeping towards a high quality medical system that can fix all sorts of chronic problems. In a generation or two hence these problems will be relegated to the medical history books.

Can’t happen soon enough for me!

Life companions: you and your microbiome

The Sum of Our Parts
Putting the microbiome front and center in health care, in preventive strategies, and in health-risk assessments could stem the epidemic of noncommunicable diseases.

This is a really interesting article that sums up the evolving state-of-the-art regarding the health impacts of our microbiome. I knew that things were rapidly evolving but hadn’t realized that this research had gone from fringe to mainstream. I have discussed the microbiome a number of times and see it as a critical missing element in our health care regime.

Below are a couple of quotes as teasers to try and get you to read the full article. Your continuing health depends on this, though you probably don’t know it, and the health of your children even more so.

Germ-free (gnotobiotic) mice provide a sobering model for what happens to a developing human immune system in the absence of microbiome-based training. When microbiota are absent, normal postnatal immune maturation is blocked, and tissue homeostasis is never fully established. Lymphoid deficiencies occur in both the body’s mucous membranes and its systemic tissues, such as the lymph nodes and spleen. Germ-free mice also develop imbalances among specialized immune cell populations that result in improper immune responses when challenged with injury or a pathogen. Depending on the nature of the challenge, defective host immune responses may include increased susceptibility to certain infections, reduced vaccine responses, and/or inflammation-induced tissue pathologies, such as asthma or colitis.

Given the undeniable importance of commensal microbes in both training our immune systems and serving as a barrier between ourselves and the outside world, one of us (R.D.) has posited that a complete microbiome, seeded at birth, is absolutely critical for a healthful life, an idea called “the completed self hypothesis.” Single-celled organisms from all three domains of life—eukaryotes, archaea, and bacteria—join our mammalian cells to create a superorganism. Inadequate or inappropriate seeding of the microbiome is in many ways the equivalent of being born with a serious birth defect, resulting in inappropriately matured physiological systems. In the absence of effective microbiome-based training, the immune system does not learn what is safe outside of the body, resulting in haphazard, inappropriate reactions to innocuous environmental factors—allergens such as pollen, mold, cat dander, and peanuts. It also fails to properly recognize and ignore internal targets, resulting in autoimmune and inflammatory responses that are misdirected, ineffective, and sometimes never-ending. Such reactions can eventually compromise the function of our own tissues and organs.

There is a sidebar at the end that talks about direct manipulation of the microbiome, but we are still in our infancy in that regard. Right now it is tedious and time consuming to get details on exactly what is growing in/on us, when that process has finally become quick and economical we will surely make great strides in determining what is an optimal microbiome.

PIXAR’s life lessons

8 Dark Life Lessons Kids Learn From Pixar Films

While there are a large number of articles at Cracked that are funny, every now and again you get one that is funny and thoughtful. Actually I take that back: they have lots that are funny and thoughtful; every now and then I find one that is funny and thoughtful and I want to blog about it…

I hadn’t thought about things the way the author has, I sort of sat back and just enjoyed the movies, but everything the author talks about is dead on. PIXAR is really giving kids a valuable education even if it never winds up on the SOL exams and doing it in a way where PIXAR makes tons of money, the kids have a great time and even adults can enjoy themselves. What an amazing combination!

Anyway, just had to ‘retweet’ this…

Living in a Vacuum

The Judgy Bubble

Yet another interesting post by Scott. If you show to other people that you will be an asshole if they reveal certain information, what is the chance they will do so? Pretty slim, wouldn’t you think? That is the gist of his short post. Thus if you are a judgmental asshole you could actually be living in a different world from your family, friends and neighbors, because people would self-censor around you just to avoid hearing you mouth off. Quite an interesting concept, it helps to explain the ‘echo chamber‘. If you annoy the crap out of people who are the slightest bit critical of you, except for a few select assholes who love to piss those sorts of people off, you should expect that the vast majority of people will simply stop being honest with you. If no one around you will point out your idiocy why should anyone expect you would have even the tiniest thought that you were a moron incapable of seeing reality?

It is always nice to hear a theory that seems to fit all the facts. This one allows for some experimentation as well, such as what if you could isolate someone from his or her echo chamber, could you get them to acknowledge they’ve been in one?

Poopy plants

With Sonar-Reflecting Leaves, Plant Lures Bats to Poo in it

This is a cool case of evolution. The plants have evolved to basically be flashing lights to bats and their echolocation which lead to selection for larger, dryer traps, which fed back on itself for years until you have the perfect sized traps for the bats. The plant’s reward for all this ‘effort’? Getting shit on! As gross as that is for us, it provides exactly the sort of nutrients the plant needs to thrive in its environment.

Picture of bat flying up to trap

Victimless punishment

Eric Holder, Wall Street Double Agent, Comes in From the Cold
Barack Obama’s former top cop cashes in after six years of letting banks run wild

Funny, you don’t hear any libertarians or Tea Partiers carping about this, just dyed in the wool progressives like Matt. Why is that? Why is it that one of the harshest critics (excepting, of course, the frothing-at-the-mouth morons that will hate any democrat, particularly a _black_ one) is a progressive liberal? Him and Glenn Greenwald, another progressive. Here we are winding up Bush’s fourth term. Cheney should be proud, his policies have been in place now for almost 16 years. If Hillary gets elected, another 4-8 years!

I plan on voting for Bernie any chance I get. I view him as the only realistic way to turn the tide, or heck, get it to stop rising!

Beware Pita!


As usual for Schneier’s blog, the comments are at least as interesting as the article.

I haven’t blogged on infosec in a while (true, I haven’t blogged in a while, but I was out all last week on ‘vacation’ sweating my ass off in preparation for our July 4th party (which went very well indeed!)), because of my job I have to be careful and decided it would be better to avoid the topic. However, this one appears safe. It is interesting that these sorts of emanations are detectable at even this distance, I would think there would be so much inadvertent shielding and noise that you would have to put a detector directly on the laptop to get the data. TEMPEST has always been interesting to me, though I only discovered it by accident when I was looking around for the Tempest video game (one of my favorites, by far; I have avoided trying to purchase a refurbished unit because I would probably spend all day playing and have other things I need to do). In the old CRT days you could have a van parked in a parking lot a goodly distance away and be able to recreate the screen image (with appropriate equipment, of course) and it was interesting when people created fonts that would defeat such attempts. I am sure TEMPEST is alive and well, but defense against these sorts of things is relatively easy: just put a bunch of distance between yourself and any potential adversaries. The inverse square law is unyielding in its power and, as the above article shows, inches matter.

Making bail unattainable

Jailed for Being Broke
A broken bail system makes poor defendants collateral damage in modern policing strategies

More proof of the great country we all live in. Matt, once again, has an excellent article that should be required reading for all. I am sure, though, that there are plenty of people incapable of realizing what a crime against society this bail business is. As he points out, bail is supposed to _only_ be to ensure the defendant shows up at trial or if there is clear and compelling evidence that the defendant is a danger to society. I haven’t personally had any dealings with the arcana of the bail system, but I have had friends and coworkers who have. In one occasion a coworker’s son had a minor charge in Virgina that, because he is a young stupid punk, he had been ignoring and for which an arrest warrant was made. He was pulled over for some infraction in Maryland where they saw the Virginia warrant and he wound up in jail for a couple of weeks while being extradited. Then several more weeks before bail could be negotiated (in his case the bail was needed because he had already demonstrated he was a dickhead). I left before I could see the resolution, but I expect that he spent well over a month in jail for a minor crime he had yet to be convicted of, all because he was too lazy/stupid to follow the rules. In this case, at least, he brought it all on himself, but the story that Matt describes it seems clear that the problems were all because of our dysfunctional ‘justice’ system.

It has come to this: in America it is now a crime to be poor!

“Diary of a Contract Killer”

An update to those interested in beta reading my first novel attempt… I am ‘finished’ writing and reached a bit over 67K words or around 270 pages. Well, finished, in the sense that I have covered all the plot points I wanted to. Now I am seeking feedback to help me decide if I should invest the time and effort (and money) into trying to get it published. In the event any of my reader(s) here would like to read some of my fiction and give me feedback, here is where to go:

There is a 5,700 word sample you can read to see if you feel it is worth your effort to read the rest…

Ten Percent of Canadian Women Raped on Campus Every Year!

Women trained to resist sexual assault far less likely to be raped: study

My jaw fell open when I read this:

One year later, those who took the EAAA had experienced 46 per cent fewer completed rapes (5.2 per cent versus 9.8 per cent) and 63 per cent fewer attempted rapes (3.4 per cent versus 9.3 per cent) than the control group.

I am flabbergasted that this hasn’t got elevated into the news cycle! I had a class on statistics and what the above sentence is telling me is that nearly 10% of the ‘control’ group (and ‘only’ 5% of the ‘treatment’ group) were raped in the year period of the test. So that means, what, a 40% chance of being raped while getting a degree? I had no idea it was so dangerous for women on campus! If I had a daughter I doubt I would let her go to college now!

Seriously: if these figures are accurate and not typoes, we really, REALLY, REALLY have a problem at colleges. There is no way that Canadian campuses are somehow more dangerous than US campuses, if anything I would put money on the opposite, so it has to be at least as bad here, yet all we get is one fucked-up, poorly researched story in Rolling Stone? I believe most rational people would accept that blacks have real reasons to be angry, why the hell aren’t women angry at this? I know if I were a woman I would be mad as hell. Heck, being married to a woman, being a son of a woman and a brother to a woman has me angry and I never once gave rape an instance thought in the 10 or so years I spent on campus.