Archive for August, 2009

Hedgehogs top Fringe

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

In amusing news, the best joke of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival goes to:

“Hedgehogs. Why can’t they just share the hedge?”

The rest of the top ten best, and a few of the worst, are at the link.

Who owns you?

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

Currently in NewScientist, Katrina Voss argues that there is little intrinsic worth in a decoded genome, and that, should you get yours decoded, you should make it publicly available.

She mentions the potential for insurance companies to use this information when screening you, but says little about it. Most of the article relates to privacy issues, which I don’t see as the big problem, really. I think she’s unaware of or ignoring the big issue involved.

What I see as the problem is the fact that genes and gene sequences can be and have been patented. Usually, the patent is granted to the researchers who do the identification of the gene, and assigned to their employer, who may in turn license or sell it to others. The person or persons who provided the gene usually get nothing. Often, they don’t even know that portions of their genome have been patented.

There are several controversial issues involved in gene patents. The first is the question of whether it’s appropriate to even allow patents on them, since they occur in nature. The argument made in favor is that the gene may occur naturally, but the patent is granted for identifying its purpose and how to produce and use it. To me, an analogous situation would be allowing a patent on diamonds or sapphires, since they can be produced artificially and have identifiable uses.

Another issue is whether gene patents promote or inhibit advancements in the field. This is effectively the same argument that’s been going on over open-source software, so I won’t say much about it. Personally, I think the overall effect is inhibition, but it is an area where I doubt there’ll ever be full agreement. Overall, this issue is a matter of philosophy and beliefs.

There is at least one lawsuit currently in progress related to the use of gene patents.

Posting your genome to a publicly-available site may or may not be able to preclude the patenting of your genetic information (remember, the argument is that the patent is for identifying the purpose of the gene). If enough people post theirs, it may help to direct research efforts – the more common a gene sequence is, the more likely it is that a test or treatment based on it will be commercially viable – but it’s unlikely to solve any issues related to already-patented sequences.

Doing one or two things well is insufficient

Monday, August 24th, 2009

A pair of musicians in England have been given ASBOs for only playing two songs. I guess the idea now is to play a large number of songs badly to avoid police trouble.

I can understand the frustration of hearing the same two songs played over and over, but an ASBO to prevent them from playing completely seems a little over the top.

You can’t win

Monday, August 24th, 2009

Alzheimer’s or skin cancer?

Another reason to like August

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

This year, it marks the 50th anniversary of the hovercraft.

I’ve long been interested in hovercraft: when I was a young boy, I put together a plastic model of the SRN-1. When I was in high school, I wanted to build a Yellow Jacket. Never did, though. I’ve seen Courtney Willis (scroll down) demonstrate a simple hovercraft built with a shop-vac and a large piece of plywood and said, “I could do that … but I don’t have the room.” I see the hovercraft toys available now and think, “Where were these when I was a kid?”

You know, the human-powered hovercraft at the first link looks interesting, although I didn’t see how it was steered. I wonder …

I’m not sure I’d trust her

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

Yvette does bridal and formal wear. I hope her line of clothing is designed better than her website (Warning: bagpipe music at link).

It makes sense to me

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

A little while ago, I wrote about parts of the Voynich manuscript being available on line. I just ran into the XKCD comic related to the Voynich manuscript, and it’s certainly an amusing comment on it.

Miscellany 2

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

Gerard Vanderleun has a marvelous advertisement from Johnny Walker on his site. The video is over five minutes in length, and it, and Gerard’s comments, are well worth the time.

Technology marches on, and as usual, technology in service of selling things often advances most rapidly. After all, website advertisements had to show up before adblockers could be developed.

Want to read faster? The video at the link describes a method of decoupling your speech center, which is useful because vocalizing as you read will limit your reading speed to the fastest you can imagine speaking. Follow the link beneath it, though, because there’s more good information there.

Better thinking through chemistry. I can’t vouch for accuracy, or even worth, but it’s the sort of thing I find interesting to read and think about. It’s another avenue for personal improvement, but not one I’ve really investigated. There’s another avenue I’m not even going to consider, no matter how desirable it may become in the near future, until I have adequate assurances that I can’t be hacked. With reference to the link above about flash cookies, isn’t it reasonable to assume that even something like computer implants to improve your vision will be hijacked to present advertisements as soon as they start becoming prevalent? I found the first article a few links down into this site, which has some interesting articles. So far, I’ve particularly enjoyed Signs That You’re A Bad Programmer.

Forbes Magazine has ranked West Point as the number one college in the country. The Air Force Academy ranked seventh, and Navy came in at thirtieth. Back when I attended Navy, we took it more or less as an article of faith that we, and Air Force, were better academically than Army because all West Point instructors were active-duty military, while Navy and Air Force had a mix of active-duty military and civilian instructors. I have no idea if that’s still the case. One factor in the rankings, apparently, is the site, which many people consider to be a “sour-grapes” site.

Gaius has some interesting numbers about the size of the National Health Service in Britain. Apparently, it employs about 2% of the British populace, and is either the third or the fifth largest employer in the world. This is the model of efficiency being held up as something to emulate?

More news from across the pond: More than thirty people are injured in a collision on a roller coaster. This, of course, demonstrates the moral bankruptcy of capitalism, given that there could not have been a collision if the operators had only waited until one car was back in the station before starting the next one. Or maybe it’s because the first car wouldn’t have stopped if essential maintenance had been performed. Then again, it’s the first such accident in 86 years – that’s not a bad safety record.

Staying with British news, Dennis the Menace is now taking after his American counterpart, in that he is no longer an antisocial bully. I’m not sure how I feel about this – one the one hand, it removes a role model, as far as making a change today removes 58 years of presence. On the other, it’s a stifling of free expression, not that there is anything like our Constitutional guarantee of free speech over in England.

The British newspapers have their share of silly articles to distract people, too. Here’s an example: a composite picture of the ideal pet, comprised of “49 per cent dog, 35 per cent cat, nine per cent horse and seven per cent rabbit.” I’ve seen this sort of thing before, but it was done better. Perhaps more honestly, it appealed to me more. Back in 1978, I got to take some leave in England after one of my patrols. I picked up a copy of a newspaper which had an article describing the ideal woman as envisioned by a group of men and women. I don’t remember if it was a celebrity “team,” or just some of their reporters/columnists. They chose the legs from one woman, torso from another, and so one, and had at least one composited photo published in the article. I believe they also had photos of the “source material.” As I said, I found it much more appealing.

Research you can use

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

Finally, my aluminum foil expenses can go down … unless this is just what they want me to believe!

… east of Java

Monday, August 10th, 2009

I had not realized that the anniversary of Krakatoa’s eruption comes up later this month.

Some impressive photos at the link … they think it may be getting ready to erupt again.