"I love the word practice. How do you get to Carnegie Hall? You practice. How do you get to the Carnegie Hall of your soul, of your life, how do you get to the concert hall where you make best music inside yourself? You practice. How do you practice? You change your behavior. Every day. It’s very difficult, and you constantly are falling down and you have to constantly try to change it again."
Mandy Patinkin on Charlie Rose last night. (via jsmooth995)
Beyond “The Selfish Gene” to “The Selfish Network”
The grasshopper is the gene, and the locust is the networked swarm.
David Dobbs has a very interesting article out in Aeon about the incompleteness of “selfish gene” theory and the rise of an idea called “genetic accommodation”. Accommodation is the appearance of a trait, say larger muscles or faster running, in response to the environment, within a single generation (it sounds Lamarckian, but it’s not). Dobbs’ article is full of some pretty high-level biology, but it’s a very crucial lesson on the realities of natural selection in complex creatures and complex populations.
Chances are, if you’re a student of genetics and evolution, you know about Richard Dawkins and “the selfish gene”. This theory, and the book of the same name, places the gene at the center of evolution, and presents the organism, you or I, as vehicles for their replication and selection. It is beautifully written, well thought-out, and it made Dawkins the star he is today.
Unfortunately, the idea of “selfish genes” is incomplete, at least according to many modern evolutionary biologists. In complex creatures, there are a host of changes in appearance, ability and behavior (so-called “phenotypes”) that do not result from discrete genetic mutations, but rather from changes in how those genes are expressed, and these often show in the same generation, not just in offspring.
Dobbs gives us the example of the locust and the grasshopper, which ( I did not know this), are the same species! When food goes scarce, the lone hopper morphs into a swarming species that can lay waste to fields at Biblical proportions. These changes are not at the level of DNA changes within the gene, they manifest in how that DNA is read and turned into proteins or whatever the gene product turns out to be.
There are two important keys here: 1) Genomes are full of mutations and differences, most of which are silent and don’t contribute to natural selection, and 2) in complicated creatures such as us, genes are subject to complex, squishy, variable networks, and it’s mutations in many genes within and between networks that often lead to phenotypes.
That’s an incomplete oversimplification itself, but if you’d like to dig deeper, read this PZ Myers piece on how evolution is about networks. As for me? I’ve studied molecular genetics for about ten years now, and while Dobbs is right that the simple “selfish gene” idea needs work, gene expression differences are also dependent on genes, and those genes can be mutated and selected, or not, so after a while this whole networked snake begins to eat its own tail.
Evolution is hard. Most people, if they even accept it, don’t get far enough in biology classes to see just how hard it is. In school, we begin our study of genetics with the study of Mendel’s peas, a simple and idealized example to demonstrate how statistics and ratios are at play in the distribution of genes. But then almost instantly, if we go on with our studies, we learn that these idealized scenarios are incomplete, and that’s not how the real world of natural selection and population genetics works. So we look for where our rules are broken, and we apply new, often complex, rules to fill in the gaps.
This is how science itself works. Our idealized classroom scenarios, like Dawkins’ “selfish gene” or Mendel’s peas, are important tools to have in our toolbox, but they are incomplete. It is important that learn to identify their deficiencies, and to use new observations to create new tools … and with them we are always working to build a better house.
Which we then hope is not flattened by a locust swarm.
Check out Die, Selfish Gene, Die by David Dobbs. What do you think?
Legislation for drone-hunting licenses was proposed in our Colorado state congress this year.
all things are delicately interconnected — jenny holzer
"The medium, or process, of our time — electric technology — is reshaping and restructuring patterns of social interdependence and every aspect of our personal life. It is forcing us to reconsider and re-evaluate practically every thought, every action, and every institution formerly taken for granted. Everything is changing: you, your family, your education, your neighborhood, your job, your government, your relation to “the others”. And they’re changing dramatically."
Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Message (via stoweboyd)
The first item I see in Amazon’s Swansea warehouse is a package of dog nappies. The second is a massive pink plastic dildo. The warehouse is 800,000 square feet, or, in what is Amazon’s standard unit of measurement, the size of 11 football pitches (its Dunfermline warehouse, the UK’s largest, is 14 football pitches). It is a quarter of a mile from end to end. There is space, it turns out, for an awful lot of crap. […]
On my second day, the manager tells us that we alone have picked and packed 155,000 items in the past 24 hours. Tomorrow, 2 December – the busiest online shopping day of the year – that figure will be closer to 450,000. And this is just one of eight warehouses across the country. Amazon took 3.5m orders on a single day last year. Christmas is its Vietnam – a test of its corporate mettle and the kind of challenge that would make even the most experienced distribution supply manager break down and weep. In the past two weeks, it has taken on an extra 15,000 agency staff in Britain. And it expects to double the number of warehouses in Britain in the next three years. It expects to continue the growth that has made it one of the most powerful multinationals on the planet. […]
If Santa had a track record in paying his temporary elves the minimum wage while pushing them to the limits of the EU working time directive, and sacking them if they take three sick breaks in any three-month period, this would be an apt comparison. It is probably reasonable to assume that tax avoidance is not “constitutionally” a part of the Santa business model as Brad Stone, the author of a new book on Amazon, The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, tells me it is in Amazon’s case. Neither does Santa attempt to bully his competitors, as Mark Constantine, the founder of Lush cosmetics, who last week took Amazon to the high court, accuses it of doing. Santa was not called before the Commons public accounts committee and called “immoral” by MPs. […]
Because Amazon is the future of shopping; being an Amazon “associate” in an Amazon “fulfilment centre” – take that for doublespeak, Mr Orwell – is the future of work; and Amazon’s payment of minimal tax in any jurisdiction is the future of global business. A future in which multinational corporations wield more power than governments. […]
"They dangle those blue badges in front of you," says Bill Woolcock, an ex-employee at Amazon’s fulfilment centre in Rugeley, Staffordshire. "If you have a blue badge you have better wages, proper rights. You can be working alongside someone in the same job, but they’re stable and you’re just cannon fodder. I worked there from September 2011 to February 2012 and on Christmas Eve an agency rep with a clipboard stood by the exit and said: ‘You’re back after Christmas. And you’re back. And you’re not. You’re not.’ It was just brutal. It reminded me of stories about the great depression, where men would stand at the factory gate in the hope of being selected for a few days’ labour. You just feel you have no personal value at all." […]
It’s taxes, of course, that pay for the roads on which Amazon’s delivery trucks drive, and the schools in which its employees are educated, and the hospitals in which their babies are born and their arteries are patched up, and in which, one day, they may be nursed in their dying days. Taxes that all its workers pay, and that, it emerged in 2012, it tends not to pay. On UK sales of £4.2bn in 2012, it paid £3.2m in corporation tax. In 2006, it transferred its UK business to Luxembourg and reclassified its UK operation as simply “order fulfilment” business. The Luxembourg office employs 380 people. The UK operation employs 21,000. You do the math. […]
"It’s a form of piracy capitalism. They rush into people’s countries, they take the money out, and they dump it in some port of convenience. That’s not a business in any traditional sense. It’s an ugly return to a form of exploitative capitalism that we had a century ago and we decided as a society to move on from." […]
It’s a mirror image of what is happening on the shop floor. Just as Amazon has eroded 200 years’ worth of workers’ rights through its use of agencies and rendered a large swath of its workers powerless, so it has pulled off the same trick with corporate responsibility. MPs like to slag off Amazon and Starbucks and Google for not paying their taxes but they’ve yet to actually create the legislation that would compel them to do so.
Just uploaded a new pattern I made with Processing and the HYPE Framework on Society6.
So weird when people tell you they like your tumblr. Cool, thanks, I excel in both scrolling and clicking.
"We need more digital producers because in this maelstrom of money, with all this attention on ‘digital innovation in the arts’, they are the missing pieces of the jigsaw who will tip the scales in favour of projects being successful. There are plenty of so-called collaborations between arts organisations and digital companies. But they often fall over or under-deliver because project partners have very different objectives, aren’t able to understand what each other is saying, can’t share what needs to be done next."
As the weather turned chilly, I thought about putting out the word on Twitter about my annual turtleneck vision quest. But that seemed both inefficient and potentially annoying to those followers (the vast majority no doubt) who didn’t care to hear my concerns about cuff length and fabric heft. What I needed was a way to reliably crowdsource my shopping with a community of people who were, in essence, agreeing to accompany me on a shopping trip and expecting me to return the favor. That’s when I joined the Prowl, a social networking site founded last August by the creators of the popular parent-networking sites CafeMom and its spinoffs, Mamás Latinas and the Stir. (via The Prowl: A shopping social network and new rival to Pinterest.)
"This is a revolutionary shift. Once upon a time, medicine was a discipline based on the nuanced diagnosis and treatment of sick patients. Now, Big Data, networked computers and a culture obsessed with knowing its numbers have moved medicine from the bedside to the desktop (or laptop). The art of medicine is becoming the science of an insurance actuary."