Monday, November 13, 2006

SM, non-smoker, inso female, uninhibited, not afaird of cavemen.For walks on tundra and possible gene swap. No weirdos please.

Humans may be the way they are because 37,000 years ago our species mated with Neanderthals.

This is what Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigators at the University of Chicago propose based on a genetic analysis of a brain-size gene in modern humans.

Most humans these days have a certain version of the mircocephalin gene. If this gene spontaneously mutates the bearer has a much smaller head and brain. Homo sapiens has a good version of the gene.

They apparently acquired the D allelle of the microcephalin gene about 37,000 years ago. Since then D has become predominant, because humans animals with normal heads reproduce better than humans with small brains and heads.
Where the D allelle came from has been an open question. The Iniversity of Chicago scientists say it's possible -- even likely -- that modern humans picked it up by breeding with Neanderthals.
Neanderthals and humans diverged from each other about 1.1 million years ago, though both apparently remained sufficiently similar anatomically.
But these were different species. Did modern humans take advantage of Neanderthals routinely? If so, why? Because they were there?
The experience had to be eerie. Imagine if another member of the Homo family was extant and perhaps even attractive. Would there be laws against humans and Neanderthals fooling around?
They inevitably would interbreed. Then what?
We may owe our reign on at least one act of what we might now consider beastiality.
The idea makes the controversy over homosexual marriage seem like a colossal nothing.

Let Someone Else Worry For You, Sourpuss

The holiday season is stressful, so much so, that it's beginning to seem odd that we call it the holiday season.

Maybe another name would be better. Something like, "The Season of Obligations and Unhappy Relatives," or SOUR.

"I'm dreaming of a sour Christmas..."

A group in Arizona has formed to keep a lid on annual angst. It's called "The Worry Club."

Instead of battling to cheer up, go ahead and wallow in despair. Let your mood sink. Perhaps if you worry enough, whatever frightens you will dissipate. Like if you want to stop eating butter pecan ice cream, buy a half gallon and force yourself to eat it all in one sitting.

Unfortunately, anxiety does not tend to work like that. Let it run wild and it just gets worse. The brain has an inexhaustable supply of anxiety-inducing chemicals. Fret all you want, your neurons will make more.

Actually, The Worry Club helps people by listening and counseling. Don't plan to do too much, establish time for yourself, set realistic goals, let others help with cooking and decorating, and do not drink in excess. Do not expect to repair 30 years of discord.

And so forth.

So have a happy sweet and sour holiday.

Tuesday, November 7, 2006


Many physicists suspect that North Korea's recent nuclear test was what weapons designers used to call a fizzle.

There was a nuclear chain reaction and enough energy was released to send seismic waves from one end of the planet to the other. Even more would have been generated, but the device probably blew itself apart too fast.

This is not totally surprising, because making a workable atomic bomb is not easy. Thank goodness.

The idea is to take a sphere of pure plutonium-239 and compress it into a solid, super-critical ball. Then neutrons split nuclei, which emit more neutrons, which split more nuclei, and the chain reaction proceeds exponentially.

The smaller nuclei have extra binding energy, which they shed as gamma rays, x-rays, and a tremendous explosion.

However, the sphere must be compressed precisely and rapidly. Generally, the sphere is surrounded by carefully shaped conventional explosives. All of these charges have to be detonated at essentially the same instant. Not easy.

Circuitry originally depended on ultra-high speed switches called klystrons. Until a few days ago people interested in the details could find them online in old Iraqi military papers posted by the U.S. government for some strange reason.

When the Web existence of the atomic secrets became known they were quickly taken down.

The whole episode is bizarre.

The principles of atomic weapons are well known and the subject of many books. The difficulties lie in the details, like, how do you rig the explosives.

Once that gets out, assuming it hasn't already courtesy of the U.S., the world will be in a heap of trouble.

Death Takes A Job In A Hospital

U.S. medicine is increasingly expensive, filtered through unqualified insurance-o-crats and becoming less and less accessible.

But at least it's better than the medical system in Britain, where the chance of death by medical error is a breath taking 1 in 300.

Britain's senior doctor made the estimate recently. Presumably that's a lifetime risk.

That's about the lifetime risk in the U.S. of dying from gunfire, overdosing on narcotics, or falling down. According to the National Safety Council, the least likely accidental cause of death in the U.S. is by a snake or lizard bite.

The most common include car crash, self-inflicted gunshot (not really an accident, assault with a firearm, or the ever popular falling down.

In Britain, the average chap is 33,000 times more likely to die from a medical error in a hospital than in an air crash, according to the chief medical officer Sir Liam Donaldson. "In an airline industry, the evidence ... from scheduled airlines is the risk of death is one in 10 million. If you go into a hospital in the developed world, the risk of death from a medical error is one in 300," he said.

Perhaps Donaldson is counting the number of people who die in hospitals, which these days, includes most of us. Otherwise, he's defining medical error in a ridiculously broad way.

The message seems to be that if you want to avoid dying in a hospital, spend as much time as possible flying in an airliner.