For some reason, back in the ’90s, everyone kept reminding people what decade it was, and using it to justify progressive behavior. (Let’s blame it on Y2K.) This video is a supercut from a bunch of segments from movies and TV shows, documenting the phenomenon.
Monthly Archives: September 2011
It’s funny how things like this come to light not because they exist at all, but because they broke a record. In this case the news isn’t that two-faced cats exist, or that they’re common enough to have a group name (Janus cats) because apparently everyone knows that already; no, the news is that one (or two) named Frankie and Louie is now in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the oldest one, like anyone actually cares about that.
So back to the real shocker: the Harvey Dent of cats. The medical term for it is disprosopus, which literally means “two-faced” in Greek. It’s caused by the embryo having too much of a protein called the Sonic Hedgehog Homolog — seriously. It’s called that because the hedgehog gene was discovered first, but then three homologous genes (ones that serve similar functions) were also found; the first two were named after kinds of actual hedgehogs (desert and Indian), but the third was named after the fictitious video game character. Anyway, the Sonic Hedgehog Homolog (SHH) controls a bunch of things during embryonic development, including how wide the face is — too wide, and things start to duplicate. So you end up with a cat like FrankenLouie that has three eyes, two mouths and two noses. (Interestingly, the Sonic Hedgehog Homolog is also involved in turning chickens into dinosaurs).
Normally, animals and people (yes, it happens to people) with this disorder don’t survive for more than a few days or weeks because of related complications. For example, a two-faced pig named Ditto died of pneumonia because he was breathing through one mouth while eating through the other and got food in his lungs. The reason FrankenLouie has been able to live so long is because it only has one functional esophagus.
About three years ago, a girl named Lali Singh was born in India with two complete faces: four eyes, two noses, two mouths. She was revered as a reincarnation of the warrior goddess Durga, who had three eyes. Raised without proper medical care, she died at two months old from a heart attack. She was the oldest known disprosopic human.
Here’s a video of Frankie and Louie:
From New York Daily News and The Sun
It’s been about 6 weeks since HP decided to stop making webOS hardware, that date itself about 6 weeks after the launch of the first webOS tablet, the TouchPad. After that announcement, HP held a fire sale for the TouchPad at the ridiculously cheap price of 100$, or a quarter of normal retail. Needless to say, stores couldn’t keep them on the shelves and that fire sale probably did more to spread the use of webOS than anything up to that point. Just this week, Amazon — possibly due to the success of HP’s fire sale, — decided to release a 200$, 7″ Android tablet called the Kindle Fire; both the iPad and the TouchPad are 10″.
Interestingly, the Fire runs a forked version of Android 2.3 (a.k.a. Gingerbread). That version of Android, along all the other 2.x versions of it, was designed to run on a phone, not a tablet; the 3.x (a.k.a Honeycomb) versions of Android are the ones meant for tablets. So why did Amazon use the phone version of Android on their shiny new tablet? Because Google, ever the benevolent behemoth, has pledged to make Android open-source. And they kept that pledge through the 2.x versions of it, but announced that 3.x would not be made open source. However, 4.x (a.k.a Ice Cream Sandwich (if you haven’t figured it out, the code names are an alphabetical progression of sweets)) will merge the phone and tablet versions together and will be open sourced; but who knows when that’ll be.
In the meantime, Amazon did the best they could and took the most recent open-sourced version of Android (2.3), forked it from the Google-controlled repository so they had their own copy, tinkered with it and made it work on the Fire. But wouldn’t it be nice if they had a bonafide tablet operating system, designed for tablets? One that by the way, is actually nicer than Android? Well apparently some Amazon execs thought exactly that, because yesterday HP leaked that it was trying to sell webOS, that there were a few interested parties, and that Amazon was the closest to finalizing a deal.
Given Amazon’s commitment to random products like the Kindle and their deep interest in the tablet market, they would probably be the best thing that could happen to webOS — and might actually save it from the brink of doom. Although Amazon likely wouldn’t bring back webOS phones, it would at least be nice to see them create some valid competition to the iPad. Not to mention keeping alive the last vestige of the venerable Palm Inc., the first and most terribly managed mobile computing company, which nevertheless had some of the best designs and breakthroughs in the field.
If you’re a fan of Mad Men, there’s a new, clever video cut of the scene when Don Draper presents his idea to Kodak for an advertising campaign for one of the first slide projectors, the Kodak Carousel. But instead of the Carousel, in this video he’s presenting the new Facebook Timeline, which is basically a curriculum vitae of your personal life, and is a lot like a long slideshow. Too bad Facebook didn’t think of launching the feature like this.
There doesn’t seem to be a version of the video that can be embedded, so you have to go to YouTube to watch it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wAcyJhsamcQ
For ten years between 1996 and 2006, some 50,000 women participated in a study in which they reported how much coffee they drank and if they got diagnosed for depression or went on anti-depressants; they reported other things too, but these are the ones that turned out to be correlated. About 5% of the women developed depression, but ones that drank two cups of coffee a day were 15% less likely to develop depression; four cups a day: 20% less depression.
An important thing to note is that the study just found a correlation between more coffee and less depression, not causation. In other words, they have no idea if more coffee causes less depression, or if less depression causes more coffee cravings, or if a third factor — could be anything, like eating carrots or synchronized swimming — is causing both lower depression and more coffee cravings.
For 33 years, Andy Rooney has been closing 60 Minutes with his colorful essays, and this Sunday will be his last regular one. He is now 92 and has been working for CBS for 62 years, since 1949. He’s been with 60 Minutes since its debut in 1968. Last year, CBS summed up his career in video narrated by his colleague, Morley Safer:
Jack Horner is a heavyweight in the world of paleontology: he discovered the first dinosaur egg in the Western hemisphere, the first dinosaur nests with baby dinos, the first dinosaur soft tissue, and he consulted on Jurassic Park (the movie). That last one is especially important, because his dream has always been to have a pet dinosaur. However, as he explained in a TED video in March, the way they do it in Jurassic Park would not work: extracting DNA from the blood of a mosquito caught in amber and cloning it would just result in a lot of mosquitoes and trees. So he and his colleagues went out to try to find dinosaur DNA from fossils. They found some soft tissue, some proteins, hemoglobin even, but no DNA. After a while, they concluded that DNA just doesn’t last that long — about 100,000 years is their guess.
But along the way, he has also been leading the paradigm shift from dinosaurs-as-reptiles to dinosaurs-as-birds, which is now generally accepted in light of all the evidence for it: dinosaurs were social — reptiles are not, — they nested, some of them flew, they had feathers, and modern birds have a lot of anatomy in common with dinosaurs. In fact, birds are now biologically classified as avian dinosaurs and the old-school ones are called non-avian dinosaurs.
Since birds and dinosaurs have so much in common, genetically speaking, he had a thought: what if instead of finding dinosaur DNA, we just re-create the dinosaur? We know what the end result would look like from the fossils, and we have birds that are kind of similar, so all he would need to do is figure out how to tinker with a bird to make it turn into a dinosaur — kind of like turning a Honda Civic into a hot rod. There are a few different ways to do that kind of tinkering:
- Breeding: over the centuries, we’ve turned wolves into very unwolf-like creatures, like a Maltese dog. Something similar probably turned dinosaurs into birds.
- Transgenesis: we can take genes from one thing and put it into another, and get a mouse to grow a human ear, or make fish that glows in the dark like coral reefs.
- Atavism activation: animals have all kinds of genes, the effects of which are normally suppressed at some point during development, usually as an embryo. But, sometimes they’re not, and you end up with snakes with legs, people with tails, and chickens with teeth.
That last atavism really got his attention: dinosaurs had teeth, so maybe if he tinkered with a chicken embryo enough, he could create a chickensaurus. In a Wired article, he explains that he doesn’t want to change the chicken genome, but rather interfere with its development — for example, to stop the process that keeps the chicken from developing teeth and hands, or activating the genes that make a tail. In effect, he would be reverse engineering a chicken into a dinosaur. He doesn’t know how to do most of this, so he’s trying to build a team that could.
There are plenty of skeptics that say that even though you can make a chicken with teeth, they’re not real teeth — they have no enamel and couldn’t tear flesh, for example — they’re just vestigial; and if you add a tail to a chicken, it probably wouldn’t work right because who knows what other kinds of adjustments would be needed to the chicken’s body to make it deal naturally with a tail. But over the past three decades, a lot of people have called Horner crazy, and he’s been right every time. And given the advances that scientists have been making in genetics and molecular biology, it wouldn’t be the craziest thing to see a chicken with teeth, a tail and hands become a real pet chickensaurus.
Until then, there is one cool prehistoric animal that could, in theory, be resurrected today: the woolly mammoth. Samples of their DNA exist, extracted from fossilized hair, and the elephant is a very close relative of the mammoth — much much closer than a bird is to dinosaur — so in theory, an elephant embryo could be reprogrammed to turn into a woolly mammoth. It would just cost 10 million dollars to do it. And the same could probably be done with a Neanderthal pretty soon too.
Jack Horner’s TED talk is pretty interesting if you have 16 minutes to spare:
In a lot of ways, it’s seems to be following the pattern set by Google Buzz and Google Wave: a lot of build-up, following by a mad rush-in by the early adopters, followed by a slow death as late adopters don’t materialize, and early adopters get bored and move on to the next new shiny thing. According to Yahoo! Finance, people in the know — like Linked-In execs and the CEO of Dropbox’s competitor, Box.net — don’t really see Google+ going anywhere.
And over the past couple of weeks, Facebook has been overhauling its website:
- To one up Google on the one feature they did better than Facebook, Google Circles, they made their friend lists not only more visible, but automatic! Now you don’t have to even figure out which circles your friend Alan is in: Facebook will do it for you.
- They added one-way Twitter-like subscriptions (which Google+ also has) and the Twitter-like news-ticker.
- They added the timeline feature, which lets you pour in even more personal data into Facebook and is therefore a win/win: you get more of your life story in one place, you get to spend more time on Facebook stalking people’s life stories, and Facebook gets even more information about you, so they can show you even better tailored ads while you’re spending all this extra time on Facebook.
- They made it really easy to automatically post what you’re listening to and watching, so your friends can spend even more time on Facebook.
The over-arching theme: user engagement – to prevent mass exodus. (If you’re looking for a chuckle, the overhaul was announced at Facebook’s F8 conference, where SNL’s Andy Samberg did a great impersonation of Zuckerberg, who made it really awkward at the end.)
A few months ago, Google+ was the new toy with some cool features; now, the honeymoon’s over and the ex’s new haircut looks really good. In the first month, it looks like only about 1 in 10 Google+ members actually visited the site. Judging from the numerous anecdotes comparing it to a deserted wild west town, that figure sounds about right. And in November, Google+ is opening up to developers who will hopefully make some sort of tumbleweed game.
In the end, Facebook will win because it is focused on doing one thing, and doing it well: connecting you to your friends. Apple is focused on making computer-things you love, and they’re bigger than Google. Google used to be focused on search, and no one beats it at that. No one beats it on web-mail either, and their news reader is also hard to beat. But they’re trying to be everything to everyone, and they can’t win big battles with their tightly-focused, smart competitors. Microsoft certainly didn’t, and if Google is something, it’s the new Microsoft.
In the meantime, Diaspora* — the open-source, distributed social networking platform — will be shortly released as a beta, after about a year and a half of development thanks to some hefty Kickstarter funds.
Update, Oct 10 2011: Google+ lost 60% of its active users
From Yahoo! Finance