Laziness Gene

Today I ran across this Time article that describes how researchers have bred mice to be jocks.  Heredity seems to explain 50% of the difference in the observed activity levels.  This suggests a similar genetic basis in humans.  I’d be curious to find out whether the less active mice also show increased interest in reading, math, and music.

The article naturally addresses the question of whether such genetic factors can be countered:

And maybe one day, [the researcher] speculates, there might even be a drug to compensate for what your genes won’t give you. A drug that makes you want to exercise? Now that’s a pill worth swallowing.

Don’t we already have several of these?  I think one is called ephedrine.

Patents are scary

I don’t have much to say about this myself, but this patent article linked from makes my head spin.  I found this sentence especially striking:

All these and many more fascinating questions will provide ample billable hours for patent attorneys even as inventors look on with utter horror and disbelief at the crucial importance the legal system is placing on distinctions that are technologically meaningless to the innovations sought to be patented.

Diverse readership

After I wrote Monday’s blog post, I linked to it from Twitter, which now also shows up in my Facebook status.  Surprisingly, a few people even clicked on it!

Via Google Analytics, I can pull up the cities (roughly) where the visitors came from:

  • Ankara
  • Big Rapids
  • Clawson
  • Jackson
  • Lansing
  • Munich
  • Oslo
  • Southfield
  • Boston

This seems both mundane and amazing.  The fact that people from all over the world visit one’s website used to be amazing, but I’ve gotten used to that over the past decade or so.  What I currently find amazing is that all those clicks came from friends and associates — these are people I know and who know me.  My post was just an anecdote, so it’s almost as if this were a globally distributed water cooler conversation.  (But, hey, nobody left a comment!)  Is this what the future looks like?

What to do with the comments

I started adding the ability to post comments to my website in 2004.  Since then, 919 comments have been posted.  Most of them are strange.  Many are disturbing and embarrassing to have on my website.  At one point, it appeared that two high schoolers appeared to being using my website comments as a chat room, probably because other methods of chatting were blocked by the school.  Surprising few comments are outright spam.  Finally, some comments are actually nice, thoughtful, and interesting to read, like this one: “I found your site over a year ago before we moved to Jackson.  It was so helpful then, and I just realized today that I still keep coming back.  Thanks for the time you put into it.  I really appreciate it!”

I’d like to keep getting the nice ones but discard all the crap.  I would also like to accomplish this with little upfront effort as well as little ongoing effort.  Comment quality is often enforced by CAPTCHAs and moderation.  However, CAPTCHAs protect against automated spam, which is not my problem.  They are also annoying to users.  Moderation would work to eliminate the chaff, except that means *I* would have to manually filter everything.  I’d also have to develop the moderation system or completely replace the homegrown commenting system.

While I do enjoy receiving the nice comments, I quickly forget about them.  I rarely visit my own site, so I rarely rediscover them either.  Maybe I should just remove the commenting system and instead let people send me an e-mail if they have something to say.  However, I think the threshold for deciding to leave a comment is lower than that for writing an e-mail, so I would be cutting down feedback.

Do you have any bright ideas?

Lame-sounding Jobs

A few weeks back, I ran into an old friend. When she asked me what I was up to nowadays, I explained that I make job application forms. She was thoroughly unimpressed and a bit amused. I can understand this, but it’s definitely an opposite reaction from that of others who know more details. It reminded me of an old sitcom where a short-lived boyfriend made aglets.

I was relating this on Sunday and heard a pretty good topper. I’m laughing as I type this and expect this to continue each time I think of it for at least a week. My friend explained that he knew a guy who specialized in photographing toilet seats! Apparently he started out doing it for one company but was able to establish a reputation and worked for several firms. He later branched out to toilet bowls!

Now, I think there is pride in virtually all work, and I know next to nothing about product or still-life photography. It also seems like good business sense to carve our your own niche. However, it’s just so lame to tell people you photograph toilet seats when they ask what you do for a living. Following up with, “But I recently expanded to toilet bowls,” isn’t going to garner any more respect. It probably pays to be somewhat vague if you want to impress the opposite sex.

Did I mention that I’m an Internet entrepreneur? 😉

Hilarious Family Guy

I’m not a regular viewer of Family Guy, but the Long John Peter episode caught me completely off guard about 20 minutes in, and I laughed for probably a minute straight.  Hopefully my neighbors didn’t mind my laughter too much.  The scene is worth watching at least three times.

Predicting decisions

The Wall Street Journal recently published an article explaining that researchers have found the brain appears to make up its mind 10 seconds before its owner become conscious of a decision.  If this sounds familiar, that’s because the study came out in April and received some press attention then.  It appears that the researchers’ focus was to predict whether study participants would push a button with their left hand or a different button with their right hand.  Brain scans prior to the action can predict which button is pushed with more accuracy than chance alone.  Furthermore, the prediction can be made before the participant claims to have made the decision.

The study is touted as evidence that our conscious minds are riding in the back seat and our decisions are made unconsciously in advance.  That may be true, but from the press coverage of this story, I don’t see how this study provides much evidence.  It’s fairly obvious that our conscious decisions are proceeded by a period of consideration.  Before someone pushes a button, they must decide to push it, and before they decide to start moving their finger toward a button, they must decide which finger and which button.  One doesn’t claim to have made a decision until all consideration is completed, so it’s not surprising that researchers have found evidence of a consideration period.  People flip-flopping at the last minute might explain why the predictions are not more accurate.

I haven’t paid the $32 to read the study directly, so perhaps the study’s methodology guarded against this apparent deficiency.  The mainstream press could very well have omitted critical parts of the research.  It’s still really cool that they can read our minds, regardless of whether it’s our conscious minds or our unconscious minds.

Bilingual personalities

This Reuters article, Switching languages can also switch personality, is a pretty interesting idea.  However, while I haven’t read the original study, the article’s lay explanation seems to have an obvious flaw.  It sounds like they studied native Spanish-speakers and discovered that, when speaking in their native language, they were more assertive, self-sufficient, and extroverted.  Is that really a sign of a personality change?  It sounds like a consequence of the mental challenge of speaking a foreign language.  I’m certainly less assertive when I speak German; I’m just lucky to get an idea across.  It would be interesting to see scientific proof that switching accents can switch personality, though.

The Shadows in the Cave

I recently watched The Power of Nightmares: The Shadows in the Cave, a BBC documentary.  Some of its findings are contested, but I consider it startling even if only half of it is true:

  • It may be that al-Qaeda is no more formal an organization than the average businessperson’s professional network.
  • The “dirty” part of dirty bombs apparently causes virtually no harm.
  • Counter-terrorism prosecutors have used lack of criminal activity as evidence of “sleepers” and claim to have found secret messages in ordinary-looking home videos and doodles.

I’m not sure if I agree with the documentary’s emphasis on neoconservatists being the driving force behind American counter-terrorism.  Regardless of the political philosophy, I recall the first 12-18 months of reactions following 9/11 were widely supported across all parts of society.

Many, Louisiana

I ran across an interesting nugget in Google Analytics today.  Apparently someone in Many, Lousiana went to my website yesterday, generated 226 pageviews, clicked an ad, returned, and generated another 383 pageviews.  It’s odd, but I’m not sure that its worth looking into further.