Saturday, October 31, 2015

October Links

Here's some speculation that Tesla's new Model X is mostly about developing an automated electric taxi.

James Lind pioneered medical trials in figuring out that limes can prevent scurvy.  But by 1911 the measures used to fight scurvy had become ineffective without anybody realizing it because they changed how the lime juice was prepared without checking to see if it was still effective.  Nobody knew what vitamins were and nobody was going to give someone scurvy and then see if the new preparation cured it.

But in more optimistic news, this month the United Launch Alliance completed 100 satellite launches in a row with no failures.  Considering that this is rocket science and that somewhat more than one out of every 20 satellite launches fails that's really impressive.  So happy 100!

In other space news that doesn't actually take place in space The Martian came out and I loved it.  It captured most of what I loved about the book, was really pretty, and was remarkably accurate to what a real Mars mission might be like.  Here's some fun (for people like me) nitpicking at the book and here's a better orbit for getting Watney home but which nobody would have been able to figure out when the novel was published.  Which just goes to show that doing something like sending people to Mars is the effort of a civilization and that nobody is smart enough or knows enough to get everything right.  You really ought to see the movie or read the book.

We like to make fun of the Victorians for believing they could determine someone's personality based on the shape of their skull.  But at the same time there's been a lot of research since the late 90s showing that most people tend to reflexively make judgments about other people's personalities just based on their faces.  And there is some evidence that at least some of this is at least correlates with real effects.  Especially face width and testosterone.

There were some political debates.  I can't say I'm really excited about any of the countries.  I know a lot of people are excited about Bernie Sanders.  For myself, I can't really take someone seriously when they keep calling Denmark socialist given that Denmark is pretty much a neoliberal poster child with no minimum wage, privatized fire departments, and ranks 4th in the world in terms of ease of doing business.  And here's the Danish PM explaining why his country isn't socialist but be warned, it's a long video.

A while ago I blogged that I thought there'd have to be some sort of drone registration at some point.  Clearly someone at the Department of Transportation was listening because they'll be attempting to register drones now.  And there's more details on the matter here.  I don't know how they're hoping to get the registration of drones that, e.g., buzz people but it looks like they're thinking about it.

A few years ago I mostly thought of mutations as mostly being about germ line mutations or cancer.  Germ line mutations are particularly important because without that there's no way that evolution can give rise to new species and for a while there was a big war in biology between the Darwinians and the Mendelians.  A recent book I read about Mitochondira, Power, Sex, and Suicide, contended that accumulating mitochondrial mutations were one of the main mechanisms of aging which shifted my view.  Then I learned that the immune system mostly learns about new pathogens by mutations in immune cells.  And now it looks like there's a certain amount of genetic re-writing going on in your brain as well.  When people talk about the heritablility of intelligence they talk about the part that the part that is genetic, the part that comes from the environment you share with your family, and the non-shared environment.  It looks like a chunk of the non-shared environment might be what non-heritable mutations you happened to get when your brain was developing.

23andme is a company that lets you get your genome mostly-sequenced for $200 and used to tell you all sorts of interesting things about the traits you carry.  I bought there service and was really happy with it.  They'd started out being regulated as a genetics laboratory under the CMS.  But the FDA thought that doing sequencing and explaining what those sequences mean under the same roof made 23andme a medical device rather than just a lab and essentially closed the analysis part down until the FDA did a review.  Thankfully you can still find you genes on 23andme and then put them into SNPedia to find out what they mean.  Even more thankfully the FDA has completed some of its review after 2 years and now you can find out some of what you could if you had signed up before 2013.  Or you could move to Canada or the UK where regulators have given 23andme full approval since 2014.

You might remember last month that a company jacked up the price of the (off patent) drug Daraprim from $13.50 to $750 a tablet.  Some good news is that someone is now offering the drug for $1.  They can get away with that because they're a compounding pharmacy and don't have to sepend the 3 years and $100 million that you normally would to have the FDA let you start manufacture of a new drug.  That's probably illegal since compounding pharmacies aren't supposed to make big batches but hopefully the FDA won't enforce the law here?  I understand the desire to standardize drug production practices because of what happened with lemon juice near the top of this post but I wonder if we haven't gone overboard here.

Here's a Youtube video of Vecna's "Robot Race" that I was in this last spring.  You can see me at some points.

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