Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Judge Invalidates Gene Patents

Breast cancer diagnosis expected to become 90% cheaper on the decision. This a large percentage of the biotech patents up in the air, until further notice.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Future Is Now, Vol LXXIX: RNA Origami

John Rinn studies large intervening non coding RNA, transcribed from the "junk" part of the genome in between the protein-coding segments. He says that among other things, it manages the conformational structure of the DNA, determining the differentiation of cells. He also skateboards.
What are you reading now?

Good to Great by Jim Collins. I was hooked by the sentence: “The enemy of great is good.” Other than that, perhaps most of my nonscientific reading occurs perusing snowboarding and skateboarding magazines with a cup of coffee at a bookstore. The way these athletes push boundaries inspires me scientifically.

Before finding science I was actually focused on a snowboarding and skateboarding career, and academics took a backseat to those loves at that time. But several severe injuries, an influential book, and a consequent shift in perspective changed that path dramatically. I now see risk-taking science as similar to skating or boarding. “Go big, or get hurt,” as we say. Practicing tricks over and over is like an experiment. Moreover, connecting a series of tricks down a mountain or while skateboarding for a beautiful run is a metaphor to me for connecting various lines of experimental results.

Willy Wonka Remix

As performed by Christopher Walken and Jack Nicholson

(via Andrew Sullivan)

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Alphabet of Awesomeness.

The Alphabet of Awesomeness. So much geekery put into this.

Quote of the Day

"And, irrespective of what one might assume, in the life of a science, problems do not arise by themselves. It is precisely this that marks out a problem as being of the true scientific spirit: all knowledge is in response to a question. If there were no question, there would be no scientific knowledge. Nothing proceeds from itself. Nothing is given. All is constructed."

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Gerald Blanchard, Master Thief

This is a movie. Or maybe ten movies. Geeky Canadian kid parachutes into a castle to steal a princess's jewel, robs banks, travels internationally to complete numerous jobs and then gets caught by a pair of Winnepeg policemen.
“Never in policing does the bad guy tell you, ‘Here’s how I did it, down to the last detail,’” McCormick says. “And that’s what he did.”

After spending so much time chasing Blanchard — and then talking to him — McCormick and Levasseur developed a grudging regard for his abilities. And Blanchard grew to admire their relentless investigation. Like a cornered hacker who trades his black hat for white, Blanchard took on a new challenge: working the system from the inside. He provided such good information that McCormick and Levasseur were able to put together an eight-hour presentation for law enforcement and banking professionals. “When those guys hear what Blanchard told us,” McCormick says, “you can hear their assholes pucker shut.”
Update: One of our Gentle Readers expressed the opinion that the link at the top of this post, coupled with the blockquote above, were insufficient citation for the source article. Far be it from me to undercite or to make you actually click on a link to find out what's on the other end of it, so here's the Full Monty:
Bearman, Joshua (2010) "Art of the Steal: on the Trail of the World's Most Ingenious Thief." Wired, 18.4, April. Conde Nast, New York, NY. Online: http://www.wired.com/magazine/2010/03/ff_masterthief_blanchard/all/1 Accessed March 24,2010

Christopher Alexander

Katarxis No. 3 has a treasure trove of interviews and articles about uber-architectural theorist and Pattern Language author Christopher Alexander, including a great review of his four part opus, The Nature of Order, and a good interview:

But the trouble is that even the people that I think are the most far-sighted and the most intelligent in dealing with that stuff are completely, I'd say almost 100 percent trapped in the notion of combinations. Of recombination and recombination of components.

MM: The reductive technology in the early industrial period which still very much grips us? Pulling things apart and putting them together in little bitty pieces instead of trying to create wholes?

CA: Right. And of course what happens in the biological world is that the wholes come about by differentiation - not by assembly. And that's an entirely different class of things.

MM: That's a crucial point, isn't it?

CA: Yes, very very - absolutely crucial. And probably - it's probably the single most serious issue, because without that you just cannot get there. And yet so much of the definition of an architect, the definition of a contractor and of a subcontractor, and all these things - they're all virtually assumed to be playing some role in the assembly process. And the idea that all these folks might be playing roles in a differentiation process, and that it really and truly was that, is just I think almost out of reach at the moment. And I think it's one of my biggest aims in the Nature of Order is to show what this means, that it is feasible, to set it up as a model of our profession, what we must do.

Christopher Alexander

Katarxis No. 3 has a treasure trove of interviews and articles about

Monday, March 22, 2010

Library Porn, Renaissance Edition

When at home, I a little more frequent my library, whence I overlook at once all the concerns of my family. ‘Tis situated at the entrance into my house, and I thence see under me my garden, court, and base-court, and almost all parts of the building. There I turn over now one book, and then another, on various subjects, without method or design. One while I meditate, another I record and dictate, as I walk to and fro, such whimsies as these I present to you here. ‘Tis in the third storey of a tower, of which the ground-room is my chapel, the second storey a chamber with a withdrawing-room and closet, where I often lie, to be more retired; and above is a great wardrobe. This formerly was the most useless part of the house. I there pass away both most of the days of my life and most of the hours of those days. In the night I am never there. There is by the side of it a cabinet handsome enough, with a fireplace very commodiously contrived, and plenty of light; and were I not more afraid of the trouble than the expense—the trouble that frights me from all business—I could very easily adjoin on either side, and on the same floor, a gallery of an hundred paces long and twelve broad, having found walls already raised for some other design to the requisite height. Every place of retirement requires a walk: my thoughts sleep if I sit still: my fancy does not go by itself, as when my legs move it: and all those who study without a book are in the same condition. The figure of my study is round, and there is no more open wall than what is taken up by my table and my chair, so that the remaining parts of the circle present me a view of all my books at once, ranged upon five rows of shelves round about me. It has three noble and free prospects, and is sixteen paces in diameter. I am not so continually there in winter; for my house is built upon an eminence, as its name imports, and no part of it is so much exposed to the wind and weather as this, which pleases me the better, as being of more difficult access and a little remote, as well upon the account of exercise, as also being there more retired from the crowd. ‘Tis there that I am in my kingdom, and there I endeavour to make myself an absolute monarch, and to sequester this one corner from all society, conjugal, filial, and civil; elsewhere I have but verbal authority only, and of a confused essence. That man, in my opinion, is very miserable, who has not at home where to be by himself, where to entertain himself alone, or to conceal himself from others. Ambition sufficiently plagues her proselytes, by keeping them always in show, like the statue of a public, square:

“Magna servitus est magna fortuna.”

[“A great fortune is a great slavery.”
—Seneca, De Consol. ad. Polyb., c. 26.]

They cannot so much as be private in the watercloset. I have thought nothing so severe in the austerity of life that our monks affect, as what I have observed in some of their communities; namely, by rule, to have a perpetual society of place, and numerous persons present in every action whatever; and think it much more supportable to be always alone than never to be so.

-Michel de Montaigne
"Of Three Forms of Commerce"
Essays, Book III, Part 96
Cotton Translation.

"Use all your powers..."

The harrowing technical challenge of remastering The Godfather trilogy.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Links for Later

Jan Willem van de Wetering bio, obituary, summary of work, review of Alexandra David-Neel biography. I hadn't heard that he'd passed a year or so ago.

A little house porn entry, of a guy who keeps a lot of religious artifacts, and at one time collected jobs (39?) and names(44?). More here.

"This isn't about health care." Tea Partiers shout n-word, f-word at members of Congress, threaten violence, revolution.

Kohle Yohannan interview. I wish he'd do a book on home restoration about Greystone Court.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Alex Chilton

Reading assignment for the day: go read Joshua Ellis' excellent essay, "Children by the Millions Wait for Alex Chilton" in Coilhouse. If you grew up at a time and in a cultural subgroup when liking the Smiths was a sign of election and finding obscure albums by 4AD bands required going to the record store with the scary looking staff, this essay's for you.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Karl Lagerfeld vs. Bruce LaBruce

Lengthy Karl Lagerfeld interview in Vice Magazine. I get booklust overthe man's library.

Your relationship to technology is kind of interesting.
Well, I hate telephones. I prefer faxes because I like to write.

Who are you faxing? Nobody faxes anymore. You’re like the only person with a fax machine.
People I’m really friendly with have faxes. Anna Wintour has one. We speak via fax. And in Paris I send letters to people.

That’s a lost art.
I have somebody to deliver letters all over every day.

You send a note over.
Yes, I send notes.

That’s very Victorian.
Yes, but there’s not one bit bad about the Victorian. Civilized living for me is like this. I’m not a chambermaid whom you can ring at every moment. Today, you know, most people act like they work at a switchboard in a hotel.

The whole culture of cell phones, texting, and instant messaging is very impersonal and also very distracting.
I’m not working at a switchboard. I have to concentrate on what I’m doing. The few people I have in my telephone are already too much. When I’m on the phone I talk, but I really want to be alone to sketch, to work, and to read. I am reading like a madman because I want to know everything.

I think that you might have Asperger syndrome. Do you know what that is? It’s a kind of autism. It’s like an idiot savant.
That’s exactly what I am. As a child I wanted to be a grown-up. I wanted to know everything—not that I like to talk about it. I hate intellectual conversation with intellectuals because I only care about my opinion, but I like to read very abstract constructions of the mind. It’s very strange.

That’s quite Asperger’s. There’s a boy who’s 20 years old; you can see him on YouTube. He’d never seen Paris from the air before and they flew him over Paris in a helicopter. Then they took him to a studio and he drew the entire city. Building by building, street by street.
I can do that with the antique Greek world.

That’s what I’ve heard.
If I had to make another choice I would have studied languages and antique civilizations.

Did you study Latin at all?
Yes, but for someone who speaks German it’s easy. It’s the same grammar and it’s pronounced the same way. For French speakers it’s much more difficult. When I was 10 or 12 years old I could speak Latin like I speak English. But I cannot speak Latin with French people. I don’t understand the way they pronounce it. For me, they don’t pronounce it right. But I love dead languages. Homer was one of the first books I read when I was starting to read. I think the Iliad is still one of the greatest books in the world.

There's also a really good piece in this issue in which someone interviews a modern Viking about Viking fashion.

Red and blue were signs of wealth because they were the most difficult colors to make. For example, the only way to make blue stick to fabric was to mix it with urine from a man who had been partying for three days.


Ha. Yes, you had to cook the fabric in it. I have friends who’ve tried it and apparently it smelled so bad they had to evacuate the house and leave the windows open for two days. Cooked male urine does not smell good.

The Future of Publishing

Watch all the way through.

(via boingboing)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Straight and Crooked Wisdom

From an amazon.com review of La Rochefoucauld's Maxims by someone usernamed "tepi", part of a longer essay:

The famous Indian classic, Kautilya's 'Arthasastra,' a treatise which deals with the attainment of worldly ends, distinguishes between two kinds of wisdom - Straight and Crooked. To the former belong (to use Western examples) such works as 'The Imitation of Christ' by Thomas a Kempis, a work which teaches how, ideally, the virtuous should live, while overlooking the fact that often it would be extremely impractical and socially disastrous to live in such a way.

The second class of books, those which teach the art of 'Crooked Wisdom,' is exemplified in the East by Kautilya's 'Arthasastra' itself, and in the West by such works as Balthasar Gracian's 'The Art of Worldly Wisdom,' Francesco Guicciardini's 'Maxims and Reflections of a Renaissance Statesman' (Ricordi), and by the present collection of Maxims by La Rochefoucauld.

These books are both highly realistic and extremely practical, for they depict, not man as he is supposed to be, but man as he is with all his selfishness, stupidity, ambition, arrogance, malice, laziness and other imperfections, and they teach the art of how, not merely to survive, but even to thrive in the midst of our far from perfect fellow men and women. And, certainly in the case of La Rochefoucauld, this teaching is done with great precision and wit.

'Crooked Wisdom,' then, should not be understood as the product of a crooked mind, but as the clear-sighted wisdom one needs to survive in a world teeming with such minds, a world, as Tancock says, involved in a "sordid struggle of self-interests, a scramble for power, position, and influence in which the foulest motives and methods [are] decked with labels such as duty, honor, patriotism, and glory."

Monday, March 15, 2010

Meme Recursion Alert

Eduard Khil, better known as "Mr. Trololo", views and comments on YouTube tributes to his own video...on YouTube.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Goodbye McQueen, Part 2

Alexander McQueen's last show features masterpieces printed on cloth embroidered with gold, and dresses made of feathers coated in gold leaf--formal wear for future ecclesiastics.

More: New Yorker review of the show.
More: Showstudio review of the show.

House Porn 13: The Treehouse

The Wilkinson residence in Portland, Oregon is an example of a house purpose built to be non-fungible. The architect Robert Harvey Orchatz built it around the clients pastimes: the viola, choral singing, friends who enjoy gourmet cooking, and a desire to make ice cream on a large deck.

Apparently, it was constructed largely with intern labor.

Often, these organic buildings look too hippy-dippy or overly conceptual to be really comfortable, but I could imagine living here.

Links for Later

DeLong on Little on Rawls on Marx on whether capitalism is just.

Jason Kuznicki: Reasoning with Alcibiades. A discussion of Plato's Symposium.

The Bromosexuals. This constant tribalization post-metrosexual reminds me of 90's britpop, where there was a newly named musical school every six weeks. For the record, I'm an übersexual, pronounced with an extra ümlaut.

Goal directed vs. stimulus driven attention.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Eclipse at Varanasi 2009

Brilliant BBC coverage of last year's total eclipse. Watch in full screen.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Two More from Kottke

Make sure to check out David Foster Wallace's papers going to the University of Texas and the rediscovery of the cure for scurvy.

Oh, heck, just read his whole blog. Like boingboing, he posts most of what's great about the net first.

Tron Legacy Trailer

To quote Jason Kottke: "Fuck. Yes."

What's it like being a VC?

Mark Suster has found a great job, and describes its pleasures well.

I'm envious. As he says, "you have to be a pretty big baby to complain about being a VC."

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Dream Journal

Spend a lot of time making flajacks with the roadies from Wayne's World. They hide some of the pancakes in backpacks & make a huge mess with dozens of waffle irons and crepe makers all plugged into the same wall outlet. Later, we go searching for my father's childhood pajamas, which are made of blue and yellow Chinese silk. Neil Gaiman stops by and tells us that there are "short, perfectly round men disguised as Fester Addams working as cabbies and showroom touts all over London".

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Jamie Oliver Teaches Kids about Food

Jamie Oliver sorts out people murdered by food, 350-pound 16 year olds, and first graders who don't recognize a potato. Entire school lunch programs are redesigned for $6500.

Proportional Design Technique

from david kadavy