Sunday, November 23, 2008


Some interesting stuff in science news recently...

A new Homo erectus fossil shows that they probably had wide hips for babies with big heads.

Our brains are actually physically changed by learning... such that even if we forget, it's much easier to re-learn.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

When Can I Buy the Pro-Bacterial soap?

So we are all suddenly being told (by ads on TV) to buy yogurt, because it's pro-biotic. And as much as I hate these marketing campaigns, they're right.

And even though we sort of knew that the human body had loads of healthy bacteria that help our bodies function properly, doctors kept prescribing anti-biotic drugs, and using anti-bacterial soap. No one seemed to notice the contradiction.

Perhaps we have vilified bacteria unfairly in the public sphere.

Based on some cool new research on how to prevent pneumonia induced by intubation/artificial respiration in the hospital, I think I see a paradigm shift comin' round the bend. I mean a really MAJOR paradigm shift, in the western approach to medicine and health in general.

We'll be washing, shampooing and brushing our teeth with our favorite co-evolved bacteria.

Maybe this means we'll be able to say goodbye to potentially pandemic-causing anti-biotic resistant diseases, not to mention the environmental destruction caused by anti-biotics and anti-bacterial soaps and cleaners. (This research has been pioneered by Dr. Rolf Halden, and you can check out his CV and massive list of publications with all the data to back it up.)

So basically this is the lesson to be learned: stop using anti-bacterial soaps and houshold products. Go back to regular old soap, it will do the job. And stop taking anti-biotics as much as possible. Hopefully, it won't be too long before we have pro-biotic soaps, sprays, powders, mouthwash, etc. Really, we should have known all along. The only way to fight the bugs, was with the mutualistic, co-evolved bugs we've been carrying along with us for all these millenia.

P.S. Thanks to Zach for the link to the NIH.

If you really love her... say it with tequila.

Ok, so I haven't blogged in a while. But I have been listening, reading and absorbing a random assortment of stuff, and I wanted to have a place (with more flexibility than to link to things I enjoyed. Like a minimetafilter.

So here goes:

If anyone ever decides to buy me a diamond ring this is the only kind I would accept.
(New advertising tagline: Tequila can get you into her pants... permanently.)

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Science Fiction

I recently picked up an old issue of Wired magazine, and was browsing it while eating lunch. Inside I found an article that stated a point I have been trying to make to friends and family for years: science fiction is the most philosophical and intellectually stimulating literature out there.

I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks this. It's not that other kinds of fiction aren't interesting and great. But even when they're not sci-fi I still prefer books that don't deal entirely with what we perceive as reality.

I loved China Miéville's series that started with Perdido Street Station, and culminates in The Iron Council. It's not standard sci-fi. Miéville himself calls it weird fiction. Others have called it steampunk. But it's not the genre label that matters. What it does for the reader is pose a "what if" question, and explore the world that is parallel but different, in which something scientifically or historically false in our world is true in that world.

If you've ever had a shred of curiousity, and I hope we all do, you know that the what-ifs in the world are pretty much infinite. And exploring the social, cultural, scientific, philosophical and moral implications of alternate truths is FAR more interesting to me, than stories of the reality I live in now.

Science fiction often poses questions about how a new science or technology will influence the future. Novels by Stephen King and Michael Crichton often explore alternate possibilities of the present. In some ways, the books of China Miéville are about something in the past, though the reality there is so different, it's hard to draw an exact parallel.

Some what-ifs have had too much play in sci-fi. Like "what if, because of some natural disaster or environmental degradation, the human species had to leave earth and colonize other planets?" and "what if there are alien species out there, with designs on conquering earth?" But as sci-fi grows, new questions can be asked. Some of these questions and potential truths may lie in our near future. Such as: "What if we can create machines out of nano-particles? what would we do with them? how would they be used?" (This story about nano technology is NSFW.)

Science fiction is the future. Not just because authors usually write about it, but because if literature is going to continue to be interesting and challenging, it should also question everything we think we know.

Sometimes the future really happens. And someday we'll each have a jetpack. :P

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Do Not Question: A poem by Shāʾistah Ḥabīb

Do Not Question

Our era

Is holding our mutilated images in its hands,

The procession is passing through a huge market place.

Wave after wave,

Holding hands,

Wearing human costumes,

How satisfied are the people

With the provisions they receive

For permitting others to abuse their mothers.

Keep walking,

Great gains are expected of this, later on.

Switch off the thoughts

Arising in your minds.

Do not use too much electricity,

Save some light for the black days.

Keep walking, comrade--

Why do you, like an obstinate child,

Wish to pluck the juicy mulberry branch?

Trample -- move on,

Lest the vultures who are ahead of us

Distribute our provisions among themselves,

As there is one piece of bread

And a thousand mouths.

Anyway, keep walking,

Striking, knocking down.

Something more than bread is waiting for us.

We are the fortunate ones,

At last being awaited by someone.

Will there be a cool spring of water over there?

No no -- remain silent -- do not question

Or you'll be the loser,

Keep walking --

Who tumbled?

Don't look back.

How am I affiliated to this column of people?

I don't have to think.

Where should I seek sanctuary in this deluge?

Mad, insane.

The thesis of this search of affiliations

Is in the last show-case of the museum,

So that the future generations may go through it

And prepare notes on history.

With the scotch tape of wealth,

Connect each generation to the next.

All other clues are meaningless-- be silent--

Do not irritate others -- don't question

Or you'll be the loser.

Translated from Urdu by Yasmin Hameed.

(From: Pakistani Literature, Vol. 4, No. 1, 1995, p.505-6).

The author, Shāʾistah Ḥabīb (anglicized as Shaista Habib), died in 2004. An obituary and biography of her life can be found here.