Archive for the ‘Random Musings’ Category

Would you like to…

“Would you like to donate to breast cancer?”

That’s what the cashier asked as I was checking out at Duane Reade the other day. Of course I understand that she was asking me for a donation to fight breast cancer and not for a donation that would give someone cancer.

Similarly, there are programs at hospitals for “Domestic Violence Advocates” – these laudable individuals rush to the hospital, often late at night, when a victim comes in having been attacked or raped and help see her (usually it’s a her) through the unfamiliar, and scary, hospital process.  But no one really thinks the title of “Domestive Violence Advocate” is someone who advocates for domestic violence. That would be absurd.

There’s value to society in figuring out norms and means for communication. We shrink “would you like to donate some money in order to conduct research that is focused on finding a cure for breast cancer” to “would you like to donate to breast cancer.” We lose some specificity, and if an alien came from outer space they might wonder why we’re so demented as to promote cancer, but that’s not really such a concern.

At the same time, figuring out what those shortcuts are can often lead you to an area ripe for disruption, a new product, startup, or a new way of looking at things. Communication shortcuts are just assumptions, examples of “this is always how it’s been done,” and often you can unleash great power and value when you question those very assumptions. And that’s what went through my head on the way from Duane Reade back to my office.

PS: Donate to the American Cancer Society  or DOVE (Domestic Violence Ended), two very worth organizations, today.


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I had a post all ready to go the other day when I got read some amazing news.  And then some more news.  There was so much amazing news that if you took a minute to think about the implications of any one of the storeis below you’d be speechless. You’d sense that these ideas are on par with creating the Internet.  Researchers like to ask little kids to list how many different things they can do with a paper clip. As the children age, the list shrinks, our creativity shrinks, we become boxed in. But then you read these stories and suddenly you’re the little kid who can figure out 100 things to do with a paper clip, instead of an adult that can figure out only 5.

What’s so amazing? A few things (the coolest one is last)

1) Meet the Jetsons – The Terrafugia Transition flies like a plane and drives like a car. Long trip? Fly there. Traffic on the highway? Bypass it. And then drive. One day we’ll have one vehicle for all of our travel. Maybe.

2) It’s a good thing your car can fly and also drive because you can’t pack a Prius into your spaceshuttle for the flight to Mars. But when you get to Mars and need water, you’ll be able to recycle your urine a la Waterworld and turn it into a nice sweet soft drink.

3) But while flying on Mars (or to Costco a couple of continents away) you get into an accident and suffer severe organ damage. You’re an organ donor, but medical advances allow the doctors to save you from the organ harvesters. Alas, you still need a new windpipe. Well, you’re in luck! Today a patient in Sweden is being discharged after doctors created a trachea from scratch and implanted it into a cancer patient. A month later the patient is doing well. No rejection either because it’s using your own stem cells. What else can we replace? Well, need a new artery? Or heart? Liver or lung? Spinal cord injuries resulting in paralysis become a thing of the past.

4) Last but not least, for $512 you can get a PCR machine. What’s that? Think of it like a bread machine. Throw in some flour and yeast and sugar and eggs and out comes a loaf of bread. The ingredients here are snippets of DNA. snippets can be bought at stores (ok, well, labs, and maybe you need to fly somewhere to get some in an emergency, but that’s ok because you have your flying car). Need some ketchup? Well we’ll be developing some strand of e. coli whose byproduct is Heinz ketchup. You name it, you can make it. These machines used to cost $10,000. Another 10 years and maybe they’ll be $50.


[crossposted at Barely Connected]

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From Inside My Head

2 Random thoughts from my head for today

I just finished reading Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science by Atul Gawande.  The rest of his books are now on my short list.  In the book, Gawande discusses some of the breakthroughs in organ replacement.  Scientists have grown kidney cells, a heart valve, an ear, lots of organs.  Problem is – they just don’t work so well.  Yet. The heart valve doesn’t pump as much blood as expected, etc.  The entire section screams “Faster, please.”  I look forward to the time when “I need a new liver” means swabbing the inside of your mouth and coming back a month later.  I wonder why these operable hear valves just don’t live up to expectations.  Maybe they haven’t exercised?  Think about it, your heart, your liver, everything, constantly works.  I’d imagine your organs and cells change as you mature.  They learn to put up with your bad habits and good ones, they work out by pumping blood or filtering garbage.  Take an adult and give them a new heart valve, well, that valve hasn’t exercised for years.  It didn’t develop from a young heart to an old mature heart.  Maybe growing organs is the equivalent of putting a newborn baby into a car.  There’s just no way they’ll get it.

Time Travel
It seems pretty clear to me that you can travel into the future, no stepping into a magic portal or science fiction required.  You just need speed.  As you get closer to the speed of light, time for you, relative to everyone else, slows down.  A day for you might be a year for me.  Sounds weird?  Well, would you find it easier to believe that you can walk through a portal and travel time, like in sci-fi?  And can you accept that by stepping through the portal and traveling ahead a thousand years, it might take a millisecond to get there?  If so then who cares if it’s a millisecond or a year.   Or think of it as driving.  The non-time travelers are taking the scenic route, seeing the sites, stopping to tour.  The time traveler just speeds down the highway to the destination.

Time travel backwards I can’t understand.  The best argument for the lack of time travel?  No one is here from the future.  If you could travel backwards, someone woulda done it.  Time travelers would be everywhere.  Want a “proof?”  Throw a party, but don’t tell anyone until after it’s over.  If no one shows up then there’s no time travel.  But if someone does…

[UPDATE: I guess I should note these are not my original thoughts, at least as to time travel]

Anyway, back to work

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Everyone has parents, you still need a man and a woman to make a baby.  Not only that, but if you have siblings, there’s a pretty good chance at least one is the opposite sex.  Look at your parent’s siblings and you’ll see the same.  Your mom has brothers, your dad sisters.  Then there are families that don’t fit.  It’s a single sex family.  The mother has all sisters, so does the father.  They only have daughters themselves.  The daughters’ kids?  All girls again. Maybe the husbands only have sisters.  It’s like the men exist only to produce women.  I know one family like this, except for the required father there are three generations of women.  Another two families had five or six daughters before having a son.  The next kid? You guessed it, a daughter.  I wouldn’t be surprised if male-dominated families exist too.

What’s the deal with these single sex families?

In February the New York Times published an article describing changes in behavior when women ovulate.  Lap-dancers recieve higher tips, men rate women as more attractive, the pitch of a woman’s voice rises.  These changes don’t happen if a woman is on birth control.  What if there’s something similar at work for sex-selection in children?  Here are some off the cuff possibilities:

Daughter-Producing Men:

1) Men produce more female-sperm (sperm that would result in female offspring) than male.  As a result they’re more likely to have daughters

2) Men produce the same amount of female and male sperm, but the male sperm dies faster, leaving more female sperm available

3) Like number 2, these men produce an equal amount of male and female sperm, but the female sperm is stronger and faster, able to get to the egg first.  Michael Phelps’s first baby picture illustrates this quite nicely.

Daugher-Producing Women:

1) Women’s eggs are predisposed to accepting only female sperm.  Male-sperm gets rejected.

2) The eggs don’t discriminate but the body does, rejecting the fetus/zygote early on.  These women would be prone to super-early miscarriages, even before she learned about the pregnancy.

3) Some women are just attracted to daughter-producing men.  It’s in the phermones.  Whether a woman’s eggs discriminate or not, somehow a woman can sense the daughter producing potential of a man, and seeks him out. [Likewise, the man wants daughters and can sense out the daughter-friendly women whose eggs or bodies are predisposed to having daughters].

Just reverse everything if you want a son-producing man.

Of course, this can (and likely is) way off base and totally wrong.  I’m sure someone in the scientific world has written on it.

[crossposted at Barely Connected]

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