June 23 Link Roundup

I’ve been talking about this article a lot recently – it details the rise of the passport as the source of one’s identity, replacing the actual embodied self.

In 1923, a Danish man traveling in Germany reportedly had to regrow his mustache before border officials would permit him to return home. When clean-shaven, he did not resemble the photograph in his passport, a document that had only recently become essential for travel across national boundaries.

A sub-roundup of AIs naming things. Turns out AI is very good at naming guinea pigs but very bad at naming paint colors.  AI is also fantastically inept at punning, discussed in this puntastic interview with the author of a book on the competitive punning community. Looking forward to reading this one!

Joe: Twitter lately is like a sadness gauntlet filled with clowns and Nazis, and the light at the end of it is your house on fire. So yeah, it’s pretty much the opposite of a pun competition.

All you wanted to know about the vaginal microbiome. I mean, I have many more questions.

I was previously unsure of the ethics of market shorting. This article has not made me less sure. Is it a crime, or is it just skeezy? Is activist shorting less skeezy because it exposes more corruption, or more skeezy because it exposes corruption for personal gain? I’m not even sure what ethical framework I should use to analyze it.

UChicago news: the adorable scav team STTR-BBOY recreated the iconic scene of the snake-iguana chase from Planet Earth II in the library stacks, site of the infamous 2007 scav video (since deleted) “Trapped in Crerar”, a parody of R. Kelly’s “Trapped in the Closet”. That library is really a quality filming location.

May 19 Link Roundup

This family kept a slave. Read the entire account – it’s horrifying. (For more on complex caregiver-child relationships, read this.)

Lola never got that allowance. She asked my parents about it in a roundabout way a couple of years into our life in America. Her mother had fallen ill (with what I would later learn was dysentery), and her family couldn’t afford the medicine she needed. “Pwede ba?” she said to my parents. Is it possible? Mom let out a sigh. “How could you even ask?,” Dad responded in Tagalog. “You see how hard up we are. Don’t you have any shame?”

How do painkillers find what hurts?

Here’s an interesting discussion on addressing instructors by their formal titles. In high school we called our teachers Mr./Ms. Lastname, but in college most of my professors didn’t seem bothered. I’ve always preferred students to call me by my first name, but I also like to cultivate an atmosphere of openness and not feel like I’m always quizzing them (plus, I use the title Mx, which just confuses things). I wonder if I’m downplaying my status as instructor? Also, British students call teachers Miss, which sounds so infantile to me as an adult.

Good points about bike lanes. I am all for more bike lanes on busy roads, and ensuring that those bike lanes DO NOT also function as parking spots or pavements (I’m looking right at you, Kentish Town), but on small roads they feel less safe because cars think they can overtake in too small a space.

For those of you unaware (and that is an increasingly higher percentage of people I know), I used to participate in the world’s largest scavenger hunt. It covers 4 days, the list can be up to 20 pages, and participants are frequently found wandering around in a state of confused exhaustion wearing ridiculous costumes and muttering seemingly nonsensical verses that are, in fact, bizarre list items. I have roasted a lamb on a homemade spit and stuffed it with a chicken and a Cornish hen, had a book signed by Jane Goodall while dressed as a video game character (complete with arrow above my head), and raced to absorb the water in a kiddie pool wearing a suit of armor made of sponges. Here’s this year’s list.

I’m doing my viva (thesis defence) Monday at 3pm GMT. Send whatever scientifically-valid good vibes you can in my general direction!

April 14 Link Roundup

T. rex had many nerve endings in its snout, which palaeontologists argue indicates that they nuzzled before mating like modern crocodiles. The article has one of the best titles – “Tyrannosaurus rex was a sensitive lover.” It anthropomorphizes and makes grandiose assumptions!

Researchers argue that footbinding was not solely aesthetic, but economically important as it kept young girls housebound and thus entrenched in domestic tasks and production.

Here’s a handy guide to surviving the next pandemic! Good luck, all. I’ll see you at Svalbard.

More on the Monty Hall Problem, also known as “what’s behind door #3?” Basically, we are so tied to our interpretation of the mathematics behind it that we can’t be swayed by the correct probability of winning.

Hannah Rose Woods explains why there aren’t many women on University Challenge. I competed on Eggheads a few years ago, and I am still convinced that our team was picked at auditions because of our diversity (two women, and two non-white team members); the rest of the teams auditioning alongside us were uniformly white, male, and mostly 25-40.

The British Museum used to keep a posse of cats! They were used for rat- and mouse-catching. I imagine though they solved one conservation problem, they created a host of others…

This week there was a rave on the Bakerloo line (I wasn’t there)!

Last week I won a contest and got to see the European premiere of the first episode of American Gods. The series is based on my favorite book, and I am so eager for the rest of the episodes! Here are some pictures of me with Yetide Badaki, who plays Bilquis (fantastically), and a buffalo.

April 7 Link Roundup

First, three stories about robots:

  1. A child believes a water boiler is a robot; talks to and hugs it (she, for one, welcomes her new overlords)
  2. A researcher created a neural network that produces horrifying and hilarious menu items such as Completely Meat Chocolate Pie
  3. An engineer built and married a robot in a ceremony that was not legally binding

Here’s a fascinating article on how research bias shows up in data.

I love learning about diseases that doctors don’t believe in because they’re don’t have an apparent physical cause; nevertheless, they are no less real to the sufferers than any more easily diagnosable condition. Delusional parasitosis is one of these, and many cases are brought to entomologists.

In 20 years, Syria will be the Bosnia of today. Defectors and escapees report that hospitals are the sites of mass torture.  CN: torture.

Documents signed by senior government and security officials acknowledged the upsurge in deaths, at times complaining that the bodies were building up.

“It’s impossible to interrogate, torture and kill tens of thousands of detainees without a system in place,” said Scott Gilmore, a staff attorney at the Center for Justice and Accountability. “Before the revolution, the regime was not generating thousands of dead bodies. Then all of a sudden it was. So what did you do with them?”

Waking surgery is now a thing. I… I don’t know if I could do it.

This article about ancient cannibalism has some problems… two of which are sample size and the binary of nutritional vs social. But it is a handy guide to “average” caloric values for various body parts.

When asked whether he thought his friends and colleagues would show up to his next dinner party after reading about his latest paper, Dr. Cole said yes. But he added that he’d most likely just serve vegetables.

Finally, your NSFW of the week: an 18th-century illustrated guide to sex positions, using characters from classic mythology. Follow it up with biological anthropologist Agustin Fuentes’ brief piece on human sexuality.

March 31 Link Roundup

The double standard that saved Obamacare – apparently people only pay attention when straight cis white men are affected, with historical examples.

Magazines like Cosmopolitan and Ladies Home Journal ran articles by men telling women to pop pills to make their depression evaporate. Women hosted dinner parties where they plopped Miltown in their martinis, and Cartier jewelers sold a bracelet that doubled as a holder for a Miltown pill.

Another essay on what happens to the last member of a species, with pondering on the nature of being. Read it in concert with Elizabeth Kolbert’s Recall of the Wild.

Having your children sleep alone is strongly associated with capitalism, suburbia, and excessive space. I’ve often advocated sleeping separately to friends who find themselves in couples with incompatible sleep habits, but this is only because we spend 30-odd years learning how we best sleep individually. Perhaps if we grew up sleeping communally we wouldn’t have so many problems – I wonder how strongly our idea of individual circadian rhythms is influenced by this.

A fascinating story of a hand transplant. (CN: lots of privilege.) I recently attended a lecture by Ross Reynolds, a researcher exploring the aesthetics of prosthetics; I wonder why Koch and his doctor, Kobi Azari, decided to go down the transplant route instead of prosthetics as he did for his leg.

March 24 Link Roundup

Are chins what make us human? I’m a fan of spandrels; I like to remind people that evolution isn’t perfect, it’s “meh, guess this works long enough to keep you breeding.” Or, as my colleague Ella Al-Shamahi remarks in her comedy, “the chin is the penis of the face.”

Maybe it’s about sex, then? Men typically have bigger chins than women, and stronger chins are often equated with attractiveness. Perhaps the chin is a sexual ornament, the human equivalent of a stag’s antlers or a peacock’s tail.

Here are some ancient Chinese sex toys. Thanks, internet! (The link is SFW depending on where you work.)

Another article on underground psychedelic therapy in the US, mostly focusing on MDMA. I attended a lecture recently on “The LSD Psychotherapists”, presenting first-person perspectives from therapists working legally within the EU, showing promising responses for a variety of conditions.

“Sometimes the medicine can stabilize someone in a difficult situation. Sometimes it stirs up madness, so they can process that. Some people feel rejuvenated and ready to go back into their lives, but other people feel frazzled, spent, fragmented. I’ve had a few people say, ‘That shattered who I thought I was.’ ”

John Hawks has some criticism about the Neanderthal oral microbiome study, including potential contamination, “sloppy genome assembly”, and unmapped genomes of possible food species.

Pregnant asylum seekers in the UK are often sent letters demanding payment, making them too afraid of deportation to seek prenatal care. This is illegal. If you know/work with anyone seeking asylum, refer them to this document.

March 17 Link Roundup

Neanderthals and humans may have been making out! OK, maybe not, but they share bacteria from the oral microbiome that can be transferred through food sharing, parental care, and kissing. This could be more evidence that Neanderthals and humans could have fallen in love, but considering that not very many cultures kiss romantically, possibly not!

Your computer’s not safe. Your smartphone’s not safe. Your TV’s not safe. Protect your devices from hacking and snooping!

The documents published by WikiLeaks disclosed that a tool called Weeping Angel puts the target TV in a “fake off” mode. Then, with the owner believing the TV is turned off, the set secretly records conversations in the room and sends them over the internet to a C.I.A. server computer.

Here’s a good retrospective on Jose Mujica, Uruguay’s dream president who didn’t accomplish what his voters wanted. It really muses on how stuff doesn’t get done in politics, and the dangers of hope.

One of my teaching colleagues is an expert in trash in modern fiction. Read the interview about her recent book here. Oh, the chats we’ve had about garbology!

So these avant-gardists and descendants of the avant-garde deploy waste in a sustained attack on consumerism, the stultifying nature of the nine-to-five day, social inequality, and ecological devastation… Often, it’s framed in a reproachful way, as exemplified by the famous scene in Don DeLillo’s White Noise (1986), when Jack Gladney gazes upon a used tampon stuffed in a banana peel and asks: ‘[Is] this the dark underside of consumer consciousness?’

I’d love to read this book about cephalopod intelligence. There was a great study a few years ago testing octopus puzzle-solving abilities. The octopodes were given a set of nested Perspex puzzle boxes with a prey animal in the center. Two octopodes opened all three puzzle boxes to get to the prey; the third opened the outer two boxes but couldn’t solve the innermost box, so crushed it until it snapped.

octo

An octopus near Madagascar. Photograph: Gabriel Barathieu; image courtesy The Guardian.

The Whanganui River in New Zealand has been granted the same rights as a human, since the the Maori view it as an ancestor. This means that anyone mistreating the river can be prosecuted as if they had harmed a person.

 

March 3 Link Roundup

There is no evidence that stents work, yet doctors keep installing them. The article brings up one of my favorite studies, which compares outcomes of real knee surgery to sham knee surgery. Surprise! The outcomes are the same – the idea that the knee has been repaired works just as well as actually scraping at the cartilage, showing wither the power of the mind or the ineffectiveness of the surgical technique.

Are you worried about internet privacy, but don’t know how to set up a secure email? This article explains it all. Perhaps you’ll sit back in your chair, reeling with the sudden realization that any number of individuals can know where you live and work and who you talk to. Have fun! Encrypt your life now!

Research into rescuers in genocide situations shows interesting psychological traits.

“We looked and we only saw brothers here. You could not think about killing this person, because he was a brother, someone who would have rescued you too, if you needed help.”

On a lighter note, here’s an excerpt from a biography of David Bowie on how he came out.

Finally, check out these 18 turkeys circling round a dead cat in what appears to be (but isn’t, because anthropomorphizing) a bizarre ritual.

January 27 Link Roundup

I was wondering where the Doomsday Clock had been – it’s just been set to 2 1/2 minutes to midnight. It hadn’t been reset since 2012. (The article is from 2015.)

While the Bulletin fretted over Ebola terrorism, the everyday scourges of tuberculosis, AIDS, malaria, and infant diarrhea were killing hundreds of times as many people. Doomsday theorizing gets infectious disease threats backwards: it’s not the genetically modified bugs hatching from high-tech labs that should worry us, but old-fashioned germs that thrive in poverty, underdevelopment, and failed states.

In a related blast from the past (seriously, no pun intended), the August 1946 issue of The New Yorker chronicles the entire day the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in minute detail, told through interviews with a few civilians. Riveting and horrifying.

Cognitive linguist George Lakoff, whose work kept me studying linguistics longer than was necessary for my degree, has written a great post about conceptual metaphors used in contemporary politics, explaining how politics is always moral, the Strict Father vs  Nurturant Parent metaphors of government, and why we should argue from our own framework rather than negate the other side’s argument on their terms. Written in November, it has been followed up with an interview in Salon.

Columbia University has produced an extensive report detailing its connection to and profits from slavery. The NYT and Atlantic have coverage, and the full research project is available here. It includes the story of Joe, a slave owned by George Washington’s stepson as a student.

NASA has made all of their research available FREE.

January 13 Link Roundup

Artificial arrangements of stalagmites in Bruniquel cave in France were known to be of Neanderthal origin. However, recent uranium dating has pushed the date of their construction to 176,500 years before present (BP). This is yet more evidence that Neanderthals had culture similar to humans. In an appropriately-timed piece, Jon Mooallem writes about the research going on in Gibraltar at the Neanderthal cave sites alongside his own realizations about our idea of human (sapiens) superiority. This may be the first NYT mention of some of the Victorian and Edwardian scientists I cite in my thesis; their ideas on the Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon (European early modern human) tibias echoed into the next century, perpetuating race-based theories of anatomy.

“This is like putting together a 5,000-piece jigsaw puzzle where you only have five pieces,” Finlayson said. He somehow made this analogy sound exciting instead of hopeless… But it was like looking for needles in a haystack, and the entire haystack was merely the one needle they had managed to find in an astronomically larger haystack. And most of that haystack was now inaccessible forever.

In a hopefully more scientific rehash of the Easter Sunday experiment, researchers at Johns Hopkins are giving psilocybin to religious leaders to investigate mystical experiences. The PI, Anthony Bossis, has also led trials testing how psilocybin trips ease existential pain in terminally ill cancer patients (more here).

In this week’s “so adorable it hurts,” Sam Barsky knits sweaters featuring popular landmarks and then takes pictures in front of them.

The island of St. Helena, famous for being the location of Napoleon’s exile, is the burial place of 8,000 skeletons of Africans who were liberated from slavery. The island is at the center of the Middle Passage, the route across the Atlantic that carried millions of captured Africans to lives of slavery in the Americas. (Further note: I recently had the opportunity to visit the Slave Lodge museum in Cape Town. While the museums there are generally underfunded and little run down, the content was well-presented and devastating.)

Apparently Mengele’s skeleton has been used in a teaching collection in Brazil for decades.