Bracing against the wind  

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Caffeine, Cancer and Gray Hair

We're exposed to DNA damaging, age-accelerating radiation every day. And caffeine might make it worse... or better. (Click on links for references).

Caffeine can accelerate the division of cells, speeding up repair, but also it appears to inhibit the activation of "ATM", a gene responsible for DNA repair. This makes cells more "radiosensitive" ... in other words, more likely to have damaging mutations.

Caffeine is fully absorbed about 45 minutes after drinking coffee. However, it stays in the body for up to 10 hours (5-10 hours for most of us, but 10-20 or more hours for people over 55, women who are pregnant, children and women taking hormone (oral/patch/etc) contraceptives).

So how does this add up? Basically, it means, don't drink coffee up to 10 hours before you go out in the sun for any extended period of time... unless you want your hair to prematurely gray. (Graying hair, and overall aging, has been directly linked to DNA damage and the mediation of this damage by pathways such as those involving ATM kinase.)

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Tool Usage and Genetic Atrophy

Most people would agree that moles developed blindness due to something called "genetic atrophy". Many complex features of our anatomy probably need constant selective pressure - without which they would fade away. (PubMed Link)

However, it's more controversial to claim that this is a driving factor in human evolution. Many of my arguments, when presented in various fora (including conversation with biologists at the AAAS conference), are met with skepticism.

Still, I persist... so here's my (probably will be unpublished) response to the recent article in New Scientist that there is "no theory" to explain the evolution of human hairlessness.

Dear Feedback,

My theory has consistently been that hairlessness evolved in response to wearing clothing.

No one would dispute that early intelligent hominids surely began to wear clothing in response to the cold.

The lack of need for warmth would induce a genetic atrophy for hair. Atrophy is a slow, but persistent effect in evolution - leading to blindness in moles, for example.

And, knowing what we do about early hominids, their wardrobe would immediately begin having cultural importance, signifying cultural advancement. Sexual selection would favor those wearing advanced clothing as a sign of intelligence and tribal membership. Finally, there may have always been selective pressure for "youth as beauty" in human culture. Children are more hairless than adults - thus selection for hairless adults would be favored.

There are so many contributing factors that, without the need for warmth, our hair probably evolved away rather quickly.

- Erik A.
Durham, NC


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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Phoenix and Venus

This image of ice on Mars may become an icon of our future relationship with that red planet.

( Of course, just as Mars shows it's stuff, I've started thinking Venus is the best place to go ... based on the excess of easily harnessed energy, which could be redirected to support comfortable, productive, protected airborne-bubble habitations. I mean ... it's just so cold on Mars.)


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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Stop Biofuels Now!

US, UK and EU politicians, including Bush, Clinton, McCain and Obama, and their well-meaning activists are wrong in their promotion of biofuels. Biofuel subsidies have to stop as soon as possible. There is a global economic and environmental collapse that is being hastened by this self-serving agricultural lobby.
Instead.... try solar:
How can we justify continued advocacy for biofuels versus alternative energies like solar - which isn't damaging our planet?

More references on the damage caused by biofuels: Wikipedia , IHT

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Evolution of Social Unity

Ever since I can remember thinking of these things, it was clear to me that the medical industry is genetically damaging our species. By keeping people alive who would have otherwise died of, say, a heart attack or a bacterial infection, we are promoting their "weaker" genes.

Recently, in speaking with a heart surgeon, his answer was that most of the people we keep alive are elderly, past breeding age. My response was to point out the grandmother effect is well-documented. Couple this with the fact that minor selection influences, in absence of competing influences, can rapidly cause long term genetic changes.

Indeed, I would propose that all tool usage results in evolutionary physical weakening in the area supported by the tool - and in favor of the tool itself.

The moment we picked up a stick and used it as a lever, our arms weakened. We wore animal fur, and our own fur devolved. We rode horses which weakened our legs and our stamina. We wear contact lenses, which is generically weakening our species eyesight.

What has always surprised me is that so few people talk about it and so few articles are written about it. Recently, I have discovered that this is because the subject is "taboo" and is swiftly connected to eugenics. When I discuss it with people they often angrily reply, "What should we do, just let sick people die". Anyone reading this might be prepared to label me a eugenicist, but please read on.

All of this "weakness" is actually our strength in disguise. I am this weakness, and I'm proud of it. I take a pride in mankind's intelligence and social strengths, not it's ability to run long distances, or lift heavy objects.

By evolutionarily weakening our physical forms, we are continually forced to be more dependent on a stable society. It helps us recognize that we need each other, and we need the "system" to keep working, or else.

Vaccination is a probably the sneakiest example of genetic tampering. Because of vaccination programs, genetic vulnerability to disease, especially in wealthy countries, has probably skyrocketed. Even if you, the reader, on the surface, seem healthy and strong, you are probably fatally dependent on continual multiple vaccination programs. Given the rate of deaths due to polio, rubella and German measles before and after mass-vaccination, anyone living in the US most likely has one or more ancestors with fatal genetic vulnerability to these diseases.

I only wish this sort of knowledge were more thoroughly researched, published and talked about. If we all realized how mortally dependent we were on a globally stable society, we might be less willing to engage in globally destabilizing conflicts.

NOTE: This article was rejected at Kuro5hin apparently because the intelligent-design enthusiast over there don't believe that relaxed selection pressures can cause evolutionary shifts - a well documented process. Shows how how far something good, like Kuro5hin, can fall.


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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Tropical Skins

Just noticed that we never eat the skins of tropical fruits (banana, mango, papaya, kiwi), but we do eat the skins of pears, grapes, apples, etc. There's probably a good reason why tropical fruits evolved thicker skins, but I'm not sure what it is. Anyone out there have a theory?


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Thursday, May 03, 2007

E-Coli Vaccine Threatens Food Supply

The presence of high levels E. Coli bacteria is an excellent indicator of poor health conditions at farms, lack of proper sanitation, and compromised immune systems in farm animals. This bacteria is easy to detect in cattle feces, and although the underlying problems are often hard to find, they are always problems that need to be found and fixed.

E. Coli is found in everyday food and water supplies, and there's plenty of it living in your own intestines right now. The problem is that when there's too much of it, especially of the strains found in cattle, it can be dangerous. The good thing is that when there's a lot of the bacteria in cattle, it raises much needed alarms about farm health practices.

Now, the U.S. Dept of Agriculture is sponsoring a program to vaccinate cattle against the bacteria - reducing the ability of E. Coli to proliferate in the intestines of the vaccinated animals.

Wait. Shouldn't they be sponsoring a program for randomized testing of cattle feces in order to find farms that may be committing health violations? I mean, with the recent spinach contamination linked to cattle runoff, it would behoove the government to step in. This is one clear case where government oversight is needed and is in the best interests of America's health.

Enter the USDA vaccination program. Rather than improve the health, sanitation and overall well being of the plants and livestock we eat, we can just try to kill off the bacteria using modern biotechnology. A successful vaccination program would allow livestock to eat low quality, high-grain, low-fiber diets which, not coincidentally, make cows grow faster for less money. (Why work to improve farm conditions when you can save money with a federally-funded injection?)

Yet another government program masked as something for the public good that's actually just good for the bottom-line of industrial cattle farmers. And yet another good reason to stick with grass-fed, or, better yet, to go vegan.


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Monday, July 04, 2005

F=MA, but that's not important

In the past few days, I have seen several posts on the internet from people who are concerned about NASA's mission to slam a spacecraft into Tempel 1. The fear is that we may alter the trajectory of a comet that is already rather close to Earth.

Hitting this comet is like hitting a 747 with a small pebble. It's highly unlikely that the 747 will crash.

But it's not impossible. Suppose Deep Impact (the appropriately named probe) were to ignite material within the comet? Or suppose the crater were to spew ejecta for a long period of time. Certainly, the impact of NASA's mission won't directly affect the trajectory. However, the ejection of material from the comet, over the course of weeks or months, could easily affect the course of Tempel 1.

But, space is big and the Earth is relatively very small. The odds of any trajectory alteration putting the comet on a collision course with Earth are many millions to one.

So, rest easy. It's highly unlikely that some sort of Amageddon will occur over the next few years.


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Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Cafe Upgrade

Never, ever throw out your old copies of Wired, New Scientist, Nature and Scientific American. Leave them in a cafe instead. Read on.

In the U.S., ignorance of science is a national crisis. People who don't know what "somatic nuclear transfer" is are busy voicing their opinions and motivating activists to stop it.

Of course people naturally react with fear when new technology is deployed. I'm sure the first time a caveman used fire, all the other cavemen said, "For God's sake Og, stop it - do you want to burn the whole world down?".

Yes, we need regulation of dangerous technology. We can't have companies pouring mercury into our water supply, or publishing the DNA sequence for military grade pathogens on websites. But regulation needs to be targeted and intelligent - not blind.

Fortunately, it's easy to get educated on scientific issues. Modern science magazines are more interesting, educational and fun than ever before. Anyone with a high school reading level can grok enough of New Scientist or Scientific American to be up on the latest issues. And even Nature, a highly technical journal, has a large and easy-to-read leader section devoted to "Science News".

Our citizens absolutely need to be current on the state of technology so that they can support appropriate legislation.

If the millions of readers of science magazines decided to get just a bit more generous, we could, together, help spark a wave of interest in science.

(This is not my idea. Please don't credit me. Please steal this idea, and call it our own idea if you want.)

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Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Realitivity Makes a Big Assumption

Einstein, in his theory of relativity, made the assumption that the laws of physics were immutable across the universe. Upon this assumption, the speed of light must be constant.

But why must we make this assumption? It is very possible that physics of matter is different when that matter is moving at a different velocity or even in a different location in space.

It seems comforting to declare as axiomatic the assumption that the physics we experience here on earth are "the same everywhere else". But this is a bold and ego-centered assumption.

The earth, after all is whipping around the sun at 30 km/sec, and the sun is whipping around the galactic center at 250 km/sec. Things could, very well, affect the speed of light, and the relationship between mass and energy in some way. They would also affect the physics of our measuring devices, so detecting any changes in them would be difficult.

It is possible, for example, that simply "moving faster" changes our relationship to time, so that it is possible to move "faster than the speed of light" for the traveller, but that the observer sees the travel as simply lightspeed. The traveller would then arrive very quickly at his destination from his perception, but that when he arrives, he would find that it has taken a lot longer to get there than he perceived.


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Saturday, November 13, 2004

Do germs "cause" disease?

Suppose you have a fortress. Inside this fortress is your kingdom's most prized possessions. Every day, armies, liars, thieves and vandals come and try to steal your treasure. But your fortress is ancient and powerful, and these thieves stand no chance against such a fortress.

Then one day, you realize that the kingdom is spending a lot of effort defending itself from these invaders. Instead, it tries to "kill off" all the people who would try to steal its treasure. The problem is, it's hard to tell which sorts of people would try to steal it. First, they kill off all the people of different races. Then they kill off all the people who were seen wearing black. Still, the thievery persists. What's more, the new thieves can hardly be identified! They are now, always, the same race, and they dress like commoners.

In a similar way, we fight disease. Rather than bolster our immune system (our fortress), we have decided to wage a preemptive war on germs. The problem is that there are two culprits in any crime. The germ (bacteria or viruses), surely is required to be present - but there will always be germs because there are an infinite variety of them. By killing off the obvious ones, we strengthen the germs that look like our own cells and are harder to identify.

A new way of thinking is in order. Rather than designing new ways to kill off germs, science could be working to foster powerful, healthy bodies. Check out the WTA for more of this kind of thinking.


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Friday, November 12, 2004

In a Quantum State of Mind

A woman, dressed and painted in silver, carrying a oddly shaped thing made of styrofoam, stepped onto the subway this morning. I asked her what she was doing. She said she was a dancer. It was her first day doing a new piece and she was excited. She asked me what I was doing.

I described to her a conversation I was having with "Heartpump" - a WTA member - about the quantum nature of the mind.

Despite their seemingly chaotic nature, feedback automata have a predisposition to stabilize into attractors, which are stable states. Our minds, in order to maintain adaptability in addition to memory/logic functions, would need to "break out" of these stable states. Perhaps it may be taking advantage of quantum unpredictability. This could have naturally evolved in our brains as neuron density increased. Microchips are running into quantum effects today, as chip density increases.

She concluded, "Yes, that's why I dance. It gets me out of my head." She smiled, "Some people call unknowable things God - instead of quantum unpredictability."

Too true.

I don't have any reasons
I've left them all behind
I'm in a New York state of mind
- Billy Joel


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Thursday, May 27, 2004

Sheltered and Spayed

One horrifying institution that claims to be for the "welfare of animals" is the "animal shelter" or "animal rescue" shelter. The twisted idea is that it's better for an animal to die in a cage in a shelter from a lethal injection than it is for the animal to die on the street, fighting for food and survival.

There are no-kill shelters. These shelters round up animals, spay and neuter them, and then feed and house them in a shelter for their entire lives unless they are adopted. I would say that the best shelter would be one that somehow retrained the animals to survive in the wild, and then released them. But I can't imagine how that would be done.

Another screwy concept is that it's better to neuter a dog than to have lots of starving puppies all over the place. In other words... it's better to never be born than it is to be born and fight for survival in a difficult ecosystem.

Both of these arguments were used by Hitler-era eugenics experts.

We trap, cage, spay and neuter cats and dogs so that we don't have streets full of animals devaluing the real-estate of our septic cities. The landowners who promote these policies use moral reasoning to recruit philisophically naive volunteers. These kids then spend their free time helping to bolster landowner property values while complaining about skyrocketing rents.

People talk about alleviating suffering in the world. But suffering is an integral part of life. So anyone who says that they truly want to end all suffering is, indirectly, talking about an end to all life.

A more reasonable effort, if any, would be to promote the continued existance of life itself ... specifically diverse biota capable of sustaining the progeny, both memetic and genetic, of the interested parties. Diversity is necessary. We need a wide range of lifeforms, organizations and structures in existance to combat the natural degradation of matter into a stable state.


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Saturday, September 13, 2003

Need we worry about AI?

I like this argument against fear of AI.

"Genetic engineering is the logical next step' towards increasing our own intelligence so that we are capable of using and developing the technologies of the future. This, not AI, is the paradigm shift that will feed-back to increase our technological rate of change as required to match the Law of Accelerating Returns. Deep AI will likely come far after GE, when the limits of GE are nearly tapped"

If ever. We often underestimate human potential.


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Thursday, September 04, 2003

Genetic Farewell

Farewell to Raz, our genetic engineer and enthusiastic pub-goer from London. He's returning to the U.K. and we'll all miss him. Following pizza and wine, our gang went out for cocktails at a lounge which will remain unnamed, because I wouldn't want to give it the benefit of negative publicity. We got pissed and danced and talked about philosophy, politics and science with some locals.

The gang broke up, but Raz and I continued on, stopping by the Dean "meetup" at Tapis Rouge. The meeting was over, but there were a few people left. Apparently there was, cooincidentally, some sort of drag show that started afterwards. We quizzed Claire and William, rabid Dean fans, on policy and argued with them about courses of grassroots action. Then the transvestite MC told us to shush. On our way out, the MC apologized by saying "Hey, I'd vote for Dean, but I wouldn't blow him!".



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Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Will it happen in our lifetime?

It's indisputable that the vitality of humans has increased dramatically over the years. There was a time, as little as 1000 years ago, when the average person could expect to live 20-odd years, and would be in substantial pain throughout a large portion of their life.

As peoples lives grew longer, so did their health, intelligence and athletic ability.

In addition, the rate of lifespan advancement is increasing. 200 years ago, each year, our average lifespan increased by 0.01 years. Today, our lifespan is increasing by 0.25 years per year. Eventually the average lifespan will increase by 1 year every year. At this point, man is "emortal", or "forever young". Death will still happen because of disease, accident and murder... but not because of "old age".

Many people have speculated about when this will happen. It's meaningless to try to "guess" what the impact on the world will be, but it is important to react quickly and intelligently to any emerging problems. Apparently, a major advance has now been made. Personally, I'd rather get a genetic patch, rather than a pill, but I'm not complaining. The other area that will solidify our advancement is in cell-regeneration technology, as previously reported.

Sadly, I don't think our race is mature enough for this technology. People are still too busy running their lives out of fear. People still think that sex is "important" as opposed to "fun and functional". Still, it's exciting to be alive at this turning point in humanity.


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Tuesday, December 24, 2002

Economical Pig Cameras

Went to The Elephant a few months ago, got my nice camera stolen. Even though I know it's completely not their fault, and loved the food, I still can't go back there. Oh well. So I was pissed off. I decided to punish myself by not buying a new one, until today. Bought the opposite of my old one, an S230. Maybe I'll keep it in my pocket, instead of hanging it on a chair like an idiot.

In the meantime, I've completely ignored the War news. I know that it was absolutely necessary to maintain our interests in the Middle East, or we would have been held hostage by the oil cartels. It's just hard to root for the home team after you find out they've been cheating. Even if the other side would have, probably, done it too. See this movie - it's only about a half-hour. Then go see LOTR, or Adaptation, or whatever else floats it.

Chrismas sales are crappy. My father proposed a theory that the retail economy won't start coming back until after the real estate market gets hit, and landlords lower prices. The idea is that lowered real estate prices will fuel new businesses. It's microcosmic, but I still like it.

And so, instead of using human stem cells, researchers are using pig stem-cells instead to grow new kidneys for people. Oink! The idea of genetic drift is amusing. If it comes down to needing a kidney transplant, I'll have mine grown in China - with human cells. Another solution has been simply renaming the procedure, so we can catch up. I agree with that. I mean, it's not like we're making copies of people.


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Friday, October 11, 2002

Some notes on AI

Started a fun thread on genetic engineering at Some violent, fearful anti-technology person started replying to me, calling me an idiot in each reply. Joy!

It's come to my attention (can't explain how or why) that hackers are trying to break in to some servers because they think these servers are running terrorist websites. This is not a game. What all these hackers don't realize is they are not hurting the terrorists, they are just slowing down U.S. investigations.

If you think you're hacking a terrorist site, find out if it's on a U.S. or U.K. webhost. If it is, then:
- it's a misinformation site deliberately hosted by the U.S.
- it's a non-terrorist info site that has been sanctioned by our government
- it's a site that's being used to monitor, track and log terrorist activity.

Indonesian sites are a big exception to this rule. They are often real terrorist sites.

If you think you found a new site, just alert the FBI and/or the SSECB (+1 202-435-5850) and let them deal with it. Believe me, they are lot better at it than most people think.


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Tuesday, October 01, 2002

Accelerating China

Regarding the law of accelerating returns.

Genetic engineering for increased intelligence is possible today, and has been for several years. It has reached only ethical barriers. This is a normal hurdle with any major technology change. This will be the foundation of the information processing boom of the near future.

Researchers found that GE engineered "smart" mice had an increased sensitivity to chronic pain - and they thought that this was a "problem" with the procedure. They failed, however, to remeber that smarter people are also more sensitive to chronic pain and abuse. This is a natural consequence of increased intelligence and memory, not some genetic misstep. One solution that intelligent people have found to reduce the debilitating effects of chronic abuse is imbibing every day, killing brain cells, until they're stupid enough to be happy.

Nevertheless, GE will probably be used to increase intelligence within the next 5 years. Countries, such as China, who have less of a cultural barrier to the idea of genetic modification will be the early beneficiaries of this paradigm shift, and may become world leaders in science as a result.


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Sunday, September 29, 2002

Ounce of prevention?

Long-term studies are expensive, but what if preventative therapy is the only cure to some tough illnesses? Our current focus on magic-bullet drugs may be preventing medical science from cracking problems like Alzheimbers, AIDS, and cancer.

Organisms with heightened levels of SOD live longer and are less likely to get cancer. Gene therapy which increases levels of EC-SOD are well tolerated in people. But it's only given in low-doses to angioplasty patients. If you wanted it just "for your own health", you couldn't get it. IDEA: Conduct a long-term effects study on SOD, as a cancer vaccine.

Telomerized cells live forever, however there's never been any whole-organism studies to possibly reduce lifelong genetic damage. IDEA: Telomerize embryos to study the effects on aging?

Non-embryonic stem cell replacement therapy works well to repair tissue damage. IDEA: Stem-cell or stimulated neurogenesis as a vaccine for Alzhemers.


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