So, remember how I mentioned that the last question at my book talk in DC was about transhumanism? Well, here’s a particularly amusing body augmentation:
If you’re a rugby player, you’re going to take a lot of hits — and you might even lose a tooth or two. Rather than replace those lost incisors with regular old implants, athletes might consider something more useful — a steel tooth that doubles as a bottle opener.
Speaking of impressive new bodily powers, I liked this Nautilus piece on the breath capacity of free divers:
In recent years, the feats of free divers have forced Lindholm and other scientists who study physiology to explain not only what humans are capable of underwater, but how much control we have over the speed of normal metabolic functions. Many of these feats, including some of the adventures that lay ahead for Prinsloo during her 2011 record attempt, were detailed in the 2014 book, Deep, by James Nestor, who spent several years traveling to far-flung regions of the globe to learn about the sport and understand why anyone would want to do it. Free divers, scientists say, may push evolutionary buttons honed in a simpler epoch. A time, perhaps, before obstetricians, when it was paramount to slow down to survive a perilous passage through a birth canal that restricted blood flow. It was a time when natural selection, for whatever reason, favored traits that allowed us to downshift our biological systems into a slow gear we are only beginning to rediscover. It can be a dangerous process, physiologists say, but available to us all.
I loved this essay on data visualization and redesign, and was struck by the author’s point about what makes this form of critique different from those of other arts:
The technique of “critique by redesign” in some ways works uniquely well in data visualization. A movie critic can’t remake a movie. An art critic can’t ask the subject of a portrait to sit for a second time. A book critic may be able to rewrite a sentence, but not a whole book. But with data visualization, if there’s access to the underlying data set, and the data is not too complicated, it’s feasible to create at least a rough redesign.
In semi-related news, I should have something up on GitHub that you can poke at yourself on Monday.
I’ve seen a number of critiques of Spinster by Kate Bolick (a book that, as my frustrated friends keep pointing out, includes no actual spinsters). Via my friend Catherine, I found some quotes on spinsterdom that one blogger liked better, and I was most struck by this one:
The spinster aunt is a great literary figure, but a great person to have in your life, I think.
I think so, too. Especially if you’re different.
Actually, that brings up an idea I had. I’m like a big film nut. For years I’ve been thinking of writing a book called Old Dames. Before World War II, in 80% of films there were major grandmother and maiden aunt characters. The films were not centered around the person, they were asexual, obviously. It would have taken hours to get the corset off. But they were the wisest, quite often. They were the ones who would give the heroine advice, or they were the ones who would remain calm in a crisis.
What happened to that character? Shouldn’t feminism have made that character more interesting rather than making her disappear? Now it’s Jane Fonda, who can still compete for her son with his wife. That’s what happened. All of that wisdom and step back from society so that you can value it disappeared from film.
Catherine is also the cause of me finding this Argentine cast cover of “I’m Alive” from Next to Normal, and I’m quite grateful.
Heading north now, I heard about the mysterious tunnel found in Toronto, and the explanation of where the 10 meter tunnel came from is better than I could have hoped.
But the most surprising thing I learned this week is definitely that introducing the measles vaccine to a community doesn’t just drop the rate of measles infections but of every other infectious diseases! Here’s why:
Like many viruses, measles is known to suppress the immune system for a few weeks after an infection. But previous studies in monkeys have suggested that measles takes this suppression to a whole new level: It erases immune protection to other diseases, Mina says.
So what does that mean? Well, say you get the chicken pox when you’re 4 years old. Your immune system figures out how to fight it. So you don’t get it again. But if you get measles when you’re 5 years old, it could wipe out the memory of how to beat back the chicken pox. It’s like the immune system has amnesia, Mina says.
I already saw some discussion of whether this means you could give someone measles on purpose to try to address an autoimmune disease. Reminds me of this xkcd.
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