Race and Intelligence: Where Are All the African Nobel Prize Winners?

There was an incredibly fascinating interview on Fresh Air with the author of The Sports Gene (off to my Kindle it goes). A particularly interesting highlight:

"Most of our ancestry as humans has occurred in Africa, so people have been in Africa for far longer than they've been outside of Africa. So genes for hundreds of thousands of years were evolving, changing inside of Africa, and then just a tiny group of people — maybe no more than 150 people, or a small group — left East Africa en route to populating the rest of the world. At each stop, their genes changed to accommodate their environments and sometimes just by random chance. ... But what this means is that most of the genetic differences that have been built up in our history are all still in Africa. All of us outside of Africa are just tiny subsets of a tiny subset that left Africa. So if you got rid of everyone in the world outside of Africa you would lose a little, but you would preserve most of the genetic variation for all of humanity.

"... [For] a particular trait, you might find the most diversity within an African population, as opposed to comparing someone in an African population and someone in a European population. So you might find the fastest 10 runners and the slowest 10 runners. But nobody is looking for the slowest 10 runners."

This makes COMPLETE sense to me. Of course where you have the most genetic diversity will you get the highest opportunity for extreme of the human population on both ends of the spectrum, both the fastest and the slowest.

But the conversation should not stop there, shouldn't we see genetic variability in all areas? Curliest hair? Straightest? Bluest eyes? Lightest blue? And so on.

Even further, when you get into more significant traits, we should see these in extremes as well. Specifically, I'm thinking of intelligence. If we believe there is some genetic component to intelligence (which it appears there are), then just as we would expect to see the fastest and slowest runners in Africa due to the genetic diversity, we should expect to see people at the extremes on the predisposition to intelligence in Africa.

However, according to this (http://www.cp-africa.com/2012/05/27/list-of-african-nobel-prize-winners/), there have been only 5 Nobel prize winners from Africa in anything other than Literature or Peace. I'm sure much of the reason is that there are not as many facilities for African research and science, but this seems like it needs to be addressed immediately.

To be clear, this book and research indicates there should be RIGHT NOW a set of folks in Africa that are as genetically predisposed to intelligence as anyone who has ever lived. One could argue it is humanity's responsibility to find these folks. IMMEDIATELY.

Dangerous Waters: The Only Article You Need to Read on Abortion

Jonathan Chait had a really measured piece on an incredibly sensitive subject the other day - Abortion. Let me stand out of the way for most of it:

There's no real resolution to this dispute. Nobody even makes much of an effort to resolve it. Both sides advance arguments that only make sense if you already accept their premise about what a human life is. That's what Perry's doing here. He's saying we should force women to give birth even when they don't want to, because babies born in bad circumstances can be happy anyway. That isn't an acceptable burden to place on women, in my opinion, but it surely is if you think abortion is murder.

Likewise, liberals often call conservatives hypocritical for wanting to shrink government while expanding government's power to ban abortion. Except, if you think abortion is murder, then banning abortion is the sort of thing government ought to be able to do, even if it does very little overall. "Stopping murder" is one function of government that even Grover Norquist would endorse. Anti-abortion conservatives aren't hypocritical, they're (from the pro-choice standpoint) wrong about what a murder is.

The fact is that this is not a resolvable debate - stop attempting to convince the other side. If you believe that life begins at conception, then everything after that is murder. If you believe that life begins at viability, then everything before that is a non-moral choice.

There is NO middle ground. 

The best suggestion I've ever heard was from a professor I had in college for the Philosophy of Medicine. Rather than even arguing about this, we should be aggressively trying to move the age of viability (or the ability to freeze zygotes) as close to zero days as possible. If, for example, you had the ability to extract a zygote (and freeze it for future implantation) that was a mere 1 day since fertilization as easily and safely as you could perform an abortion, then everyone on both sides would agree that would be the correct path.

All energy directed towards anything else ultimately will not swing anyone one way or the other.

Turning It Up To 11... Of What?

I'm quite addicted to Car2Go. While the driving experience is perfectly adequate (I'll discuss this in a future blog post), the gamefication of mileage is pretty fun. Basically they show you a little leaf that indicates how in each category (acceleration, cruising and deceleration) you're doing on a gas efficiency stand point. And to say I'm the GREATEST of all time, is not much of an overstatement. OBSERVE AND FEAR!

The interesting thing is that first column - damn you acceleration! But it leads to an interesting question - I do not even know what to do. I mean, theoretically I know what to do, but I need more feedback.

Which brings up this WTF error I just saw the other day:
In the history of software error programs this isn't even the worst. Even so... what application? what files? what will happen if I don't? What the fuck?

Which brings back to the slug of this article (which I can't seem to change). Gamefication, or user feedback, is only useful if you tell me what to do NEXT. Not my eventual goal, or even the five steps after this one, NEXT.

File under UX 101.

Corporate Access To Data is FAR More Chilling

NSA/Snowden/Metadata = blah blah blah. Seriously, I don't stay up for FIVE MINUTES at night worrying about that.

What I do worry about is THIS:

A federal judge has ruled to allow Chevron, through a subpoena to Microsoft, to collect the IP usage records and identity information for email accounts owned by over 100 environmental activists, journalists and attorneys.
The oil giant is demanding the records in an attempt to cull together a lawsuit which alleges that the company was the victim of a conspiracy in the $18.2 billion judgment against it fordumping 18.5 billion gallons of oil waste in the Ecuadorean Amazon, causing untold damage to the rainforest.

The "sweeping" subpoena was one of three issued to Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft.

Agh ... WHAT? I generally try pretty hard to understand the opposite side of any case, but this makes no sense to me. Why would a private company have a right to demand private information from other private companies? Even if it was a conspiracy, how does that have any relevance? To leave it to the EFF lawyers:

According to Judge Kaplan, none of the account holders could benefit from First Amendment protections since the account holders had “not shown that they were U.S. citizens.”

Now, let’s break this down. The account-holders in this case were proceeding anonymously, which the First Amendment permits. Because of this, Judge Kaplan was provided with no information about the account holders’ residency or places of birth. It is somewhat amazing then, that Judge Kaplan assumed that the account holders were not US citizens. As far as I know, a judge has never before made this assumption when presented with a First Amendment claim. We have to ask then: on what basis did Judge Kaplan reach out and make this assumption?

I would take 1000 government workers staring at every mail I ever sent over ONE of these private guys. Yikes.

I'm In Love with The Wirecutter (and Sites Like It)

Brian Lam at The Wirecutter had a terrific post about nine months ago I just came upon:

Sure, if you really care, go ahead and spend your time and energy researching. But if you can’t be bothered, well, that’s kind of what I’m trying to do for you at Wirecutter. Half of it is the research. Half of the service is just spitting out an informed decision so you don’t have to sweat the details.

Oh man, this is my new philosophy. As my friend likes to say, "There is one version of the truth." That's what I'm seeking - not the truth, just the folks I trust to TELL me the truth. You know cars? You're my car truth guy. You know dieting? You're my dieting truth guy. That's it. I'm on a mission to put together a portfolio of those folks and I'm done trying to figure those things out myself.

A Short Analysis of Evernote vs. One Note

I quite love OneNote. It feels amazing, the way it works so similarly to how I would work in a notebook - allowing me to cut and paste all over the place, taking text formatting and promoting it to be active (such as bullet point lists out of asterisks) and all the subtle little things - like the screen capture or picture to text capability. For example, check this out!

For the previous blog post, I went to this google search result for Bill Buford's Heat, and was presented with a block of text:

Not bad - but it's all an image, so I could either type out the excerpt that I was looking to quote or buy the Kindle version. Have no fear, OneNote to the rescue. I used the "Copy Text From Picture" and presto:

Why don’t more people use pasta water at home? Sometimes I thought it should he bottled, because there is no way that your home water could ever achieve the starchy viscosity of a restaurant’s. Ir would be cheap—being liquidy leftovers—and the jar should he very large, probably darkly tinted, like a vine bottle, because there would he no reward in looking too closely at what was floating inside.

The thought also made me curious about the monwnt in the history of American cooking when efficiency won out over taste and, instead of using a pair of tongs and pulling the spaghetti straight out of the pot, people starwd using a colander (an evil instrument) and letting all that dense, murky rich “water” rush down the drain. The practice ¡s described in the original, 1931 edition of Tut’ Jmt of Cooki,, in its “Rules for Boiling Spaghetti, Macaroni, Creamettes and Noodles,” along with the even more alarming one of taking your colander full of spaghetti (rather mushy, since you’ve boiled it for an hour) or macaroni (easy to che after being boiled For twenty minutes) or creamettes (no longer a supermarket item, alas, but once the essential ingredient ¡n a baked creamette loaf) and rinsing it ¡n cold warer—oh, heresy of heresies—just to make sure nothing ¡s clinging to ir. I hold the author responsible for the many plates of sauce—heavy spaghetti that, as a fea ture of my own American childhood, were prepared by my mothei who was born two ‘ears after the cookbook was published. To be fair to both my mother and the authoi; a plate oF spaghetti with meat sauce remains an eternal comfort food, even if the meal was not about the pasta. Still, the cultural disregard for the noodle contributed to my ignorance of ¡t. It also contributed to my prejudice about dried pasta, a prejudice that I finally overcame in an epiphany of sorts.

Pretty outstanding! It's not perfect (the bolded / underlined portion is where OneNote tried to handle italics), but saved me at least twenty minutes. 

However, in my current project to eliminate all extraneous paper and article clippings, I'm not using OneNote - I'm using Evernote, which I consider to be a much worse interface. Why? It's just more ubiquitous on input. I can clip from Web pages, my phone, my iPad, my Mac and so on in a much more fluid way and that makes all the difference.

The Expertise Lies Not Just In The Act But All Leading Up To The Act

Have you ever watched a professional window washer work? I recall one London vacation afternoon when I was having a cup of coffee with my family, I was just staring across the street and watching a window washer work on the front panes of a storefront. Unlike we home windows, keeping these things clean (and see through) materially affects the store owner, so it pays to have them cleaned often. Watching him do windows that were three times the square footage of my home windows, and in probably half the time, I marvelled at his technique. He would soap up the window with his left hand and, with as near as I can recall, one continuous stroke, clean the entire window with the squeegee and then smoothly wipe it off on the towel hanging from his leg.

My organic chemistry professor in college had a very similar technique. He would wipe the board with his right hand (he was left handed) as he needed more space for writing, and fill in the newly clean area with new formulae. He did it so smoothly, it was often difficult to keep up writing.

I was reminded of this when I read a passage in Bill Buford's excellent Heat:

Why don't more people use pasta water at home? Sometimes I thought it should he bottled, because there is no way that your home water could ever achieve the starchy viscosity of a restaurant’s. Ir would be cheap—being liquidy leftovers—and the jar should he very large, probably darkly tinted, like a vine bottle, because there would he no reward in looking too closely at what was floating inside.

The thought also made me curious about the moment in the history of American cooking when efficiency won out over taste and, instead of using a pair of tongs and pulling the spaghetti straight out of the pot, people started using a colander (an evil instrument) and letting all that dense, murky rich “water” rush down the drain. The practice is described in the original, 1931 edition of The Joy of Cooking, in its “Rules for Boiling Spaghetti, Macaroni, Creamettes and Noodles,” along with the even more alarming one of taking your colander full of spaghetti (rather mushy, since you've boiled it for an hour) or macaroni (easy to che after being boiled For twenty minutes) or creamettes (no longer a supermarket item, alas, but once the essential ingredient ¡n a baked creamette loaf) and rinsing it in cold water—oh, heresy of heresies—just to make sure nothing ¡s clinging to it.

I think about this often - the expert not only does the obvious (wash the window, mix the chemicals), but all the little pieces in-between that make what is ordinary, extraordinary.

 

99.9% Food Commentary on the Web = Grievously Simple-Minded

Holy crap, my head almost literally exploded the other day. Yes, LITERALLY. The world turned red and I had a throbbing in my skull about half way through this article: "How Pepperidge Farm Duped My Family". I know this is probably a bit of hyperbole, but Vani (aka the Food Babe, way to lean forward!), should be arrested for committing outright fraud - either because she is hopelessly naive or maliciously forwarding an agenda based on insanity. There is no middle ground; she could not actively believe what she claims in that article without either doing ZERO (LITERALLY ZERO) scientific research or having with some alternate plan. I mean, who else would highlight that "sugar" is a potentially harmful or unexpected ingredient in a COOKIE. That's a hell of a research job there, Vani.

It was almost enough to make me comment in their comment section. "Someone on the Internet is Wrong!"

I came upon someone else who actually took to their blog to respond to the absurd Buzzfeed article about unhealthy things in food. Let me get out of their way:

The author of the BuzzFeed article knows painfully little about chemistry and biology. But that apparently wasn't a barrier: righteous conviction (and the worldview mentioned in the above three paragraphs) are enough, right? Wrong. Ten minutes of unbiased reading would have served to poke holes all through most of the article's main points. I've spent more than ten minutes (as you can probably tell), and there's hardly one stone left standing on another. As a scientist, I find sloppiness at this level not only stupid, not only time-wasting, but downright offensive. Couldn't anyone bebothered to look anything up? There are facts in this world, you know. Learn a few.

WELL SAID.


NSA Redux: Kyllo vs. United States Supreme Court Decision Will Decide This All

A TERRIFIC news story with a German Politician detailing what T-mobile was able to learn from his phone presence ALONE:

They knew everything - where he was, who he was talking to, when he was actively engaged in something, or where he was on vacation. Turning off the phone before the meeting wouldn't even matter - because they had the trace right up to the point he turned it off!

Whether or not this makes us safer is another question, but it does not seem to me to be remotely illegal (e.g. a cop has a right to sit outside a coffee shop and write down everyone who enters and leaves over the course of a day, in public view). If we want to change THAT law, then fine, let's do that. But stop belly-aching about "illegal activity".

I will say I heard one compelling argument the other day:


Much like Kyllo vs. United States, if "the Government uses a device that is not in general public use, to explore details of a private home that would previously have been unknowable without physical intrusion" - in this case technology to explore private companies' databases and networks - then they've broken the law. But I do not think they've gotten anywhere near to that.

Why The NSA Isn't Listening To Your Calls

People are wrong about the NSA. I promise you, they do not listen to your calls en masse. My proof? Let me pull up this quote:

“We didn’t care what they were saying,” he says. “What we cared about was who was saying it, and where they were saying it from. Nobody was interested in listening to people’s conversations.”

There you go. What was that from? Donald Cooper of the ASA. Haven't heard of it? Probably because it's from East Germany in 1958.

Even some 50+ years ago, intelligence folks did not need to listen to calls, it's just expensive (manpower & techwise) and does not provide any more information than just listening to the meta-data.

Would you like a more recent example? How about the AOL Data Leak? AOL released anonymized information about search queries to researchers and it leaked out. Now, it had no information about the users, but researchers QUICKLY discovered people and what they were interested in - real people, not their pseudonyms or accounts. 

Why would you waste time and money when all the information is there already? The fact is the NSA isn't not listening BECAUSE THEY DON'T HAVE TO.