[sticky entry] Sticky: Welcome to new subscribers

2018-Dec-07, Friday 02:00
mindstalk: (juggleface)
I hope the new users enjoy it here.

My journal is mostly bloggy: links, books I've read, thoughts about things. I don't grant access much nor post things that need it.

I use tags aggressively but never played with styles much; I crosspost to Livejournal, and that style is better at showing my tag cloud, and also has more 'memories' of posts I particularly liked. I should re-post some blasts from the past.

I'm into a bunch of fandoms, but these days that manifests as reading fics at AO3 or FF, or discussions at RPG.net. I'm in some communities here, but, ghost town.

Feel free to comment on things!
mindstalk: (Default)
DC: I know 6+ people, and saw 1 of them in 5 weeks, plus a bonus person from Baltimore.

Philadelphia: Within 25 hours I've seen all 5 people I know and introduced 3 of them to each other.

Truly it is the city of brotherly love.

Captain Marvel

2019-Apr-07, Sunday 21:54
mindstalk: (Default)
As mentioned, I saw it last Sunday. It was pretty fun. I actually saw it 1.4 times: the projector died after an hour, but we got into another showing almost right after.

Late night
Fast and furious, no color, testosterone poisoning
Dark Phoenix
Missing link
Spider man far from home
Frozen ii, no words
Avengers endgame. One scene of green trees. Alternate versions?

The color notes are because I look out for the whole teal and orange thing. Though I forgot partway through Marvel. It started out that way, was greener on Earth, and then I stopped paying attention to that.

I usually see one movie a year that's not while visiting my friend for Christmas, guess I got it out of the way early this year. (Last year was Black Panther, a showing in my office building.)

Shipping, so vague spoilers )

More DC stuff

2019-Apr-07, Sunday 21:49
mindstalk: (Default)
Thursday I went to the Tidal Basin again. Not nearly as insane as last Saturday, and I had a good time, with lots of photos I haven't sorted through yet. I walked clockwise around the whole basin, taking in the Jefferson and FDR memorials this time.

Saturday I was in the area -- getting off at Smithsonian -- but going back to museums, hitting the Freer/Sackler museum of Asian art. Also snooping in and around the Smithsonian Castle a bit.

Today I explored Alexandria's Old Town, before meeting a friend for dinner, it was decent. Wouldn't feel compelled to live there; friend does probably because of her job in Naval Harbor, which is otherwise pretty painful to get to.

Last Sunday I'd seen Captain Marvel with her, which I guess I never mentioned here.
mindstalk: (riboku)
I went to the DC Tidal Basin today to see the cherry blossoms. It felt like so was everyone else in the metro area: tons and tons of people. General crowds boosted by the DC Kite Festival happening on the National Mall, with lots of spiffy kites in the air: dragons, hawks, owls, other things. From a distance it looked like an aerial war fleet attacking the Washington Monument.

I almost felt sorry for the drivers trying to inch their way through the crowds. Was also surprised the roads weren't just closed.

Lots of cherry trees, lots of blossoms, lots of slow movement because crowds. It was pretty.

I did some sitting and gazing or reading, but mostly walking. I had neither the food nor friends for a proper ohanami picnic -- nor a nearby proper bathroom, one advantage of the Super Seekrit Boston Site.

Eventually I escaped, bounced off of long security lines at the nearby museums, and had a disappointing burger at a pub with a bathroom. After that I realized I wasn't that far from the White House, so I might as well go try to see it -- wasn't high on my list, but if I was there...

Turns out a huge area around it is cordoned off and it's barely visible. Not just the South Lawn "President's Park" on Google, and Ellipse; Wikipedia says the latter is open to the public but it didn't look it. Military helicopters were taking off or landing continuously, though.

Lafayette Park north of the WH was open, and hosted the protests you'd expect, plus an anti-circumcision protest I'd seen marching around earlier.

Other DC observations:
* Metro stations tend to have escalators to the exclusion of stairs
* They tend to have just one set of escalators, to the surface, while Boston stations tend to have multiple stairs up, often reach all four corners of an intersection.
* Lots of separated bike lanes.
* I'd heard people joke about the Washington Monument being phallic, but really, there's nothing else to call it. It's a tall tapering thing arising from nearly flat ground, with no ornament or other visual interest other than being a tall line, a permanent erection dedicated to the Father of Our Coutry.

sweet tea poll

2019-Mar-30, Saturday 20:33
mindstalk: Tohsaka Rin (Rin)
Open to: Registered Users, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 8

If you're a young adult from southern Virginia, in an In'n'Out in San Diego, and you ask for sweet tea:

View Answers

You should not be mocked, that's perfectly reasonable
1 (12.5%)

You should be mocked, silly Southerner
0 (0.0%)

You should not be mocked, mocking is cruel and this hardly merits it, but in my heart I'm mocking you, silly Southerner
4 (50.0%)

3 (37.5%)

Question inspired from eavesdropping on the subway tonight.
mindstalk: (Earth)
Lord of the Rings was written between 1937 and 1949, though Return of the King's 1956 publication was delayed due to him revising the ending.

The Great Smog, killing 4,000 Londoners and sickening 100,000 more, happened in 1952. While it seems a bit late to have had a direct impact on the novel, it's kind of indicative of the times. The fact that the British peppered moth evolved from light to dark in order to blend in with polluted surfaces also seems relevant.

The industry most of us have known is *much cleaner* than that Tolkien grew up with and wrote under, thanks to various Clean Air Laws. (Also, exporting to poorer countries.)

(And those laws, of course, aren't saving us from global warming.)
mindstalk: (science)
His essay on osanwe-kenta says it's not limited by range, just familiarity, like Mind Touch in the Blue Rose RPG. While we see some telepathy in LotR, one doesn't really get a sense of long range communications. Ditto for the Noldor in Beleriand, I don't recall a sense of either using palantiri (supposedly invented by Feanor!) or telepathic cell phones between intimates.

One of the Middle-Earth palantiri was put up in Elostirion and could only look west, back to the Master-Stone in Avallone. This tells me Elrond could have been chatting with his (biological) parents for the past 3000 years. Raise your hand if you ever thought that was implied by the texts...

some tree stuff

2019-Mar-21, Thursday 11:39
mindstalk: (riboku)
Currently reading The Secret Life of Trees by Colin Tudge, not to be confused with the more recent The Hidden Life of Trees by a German forester.

What is a tree? The obvious popular, and functional, definition is a tall plant on a stick, outgrowing competition in a race for sunlight. The least interesting definition requires the stick to be made of wood[1], rather than herbal stems kept up by water pressure; I'll call that "woody tree". A more evolutionary definition of "trees proper" invokes secondary growth, and specifically the cambium, a sheath of cells around the trunk that generate wood on the inside and bark on the outside (xylem and phloem), contributing to growth outward as well as upward.

The tree lifestyle is one of the targets of convergent evolution, hit by Lepidodendron, tree ferns, some Carboniferous horsetails, various monocots.

The tree proper encompasses conifers (and their gymnosperm relatives, cycads and ginkgo) and most flowering (angiosperm) trees, which suggests their common ancestor was a tree, and also that the first flowering plant was a tree, despite the vast mass of angiosperms that have since shed all wood and tree-ness.

Flowering plants can be divided into primitive dicots, true dicots (eudicots), and monocots. The big distinction is that monocot leaves grow from the base, rather than the tip or edge; grasses are monocots, and having their growth region below the ground means they can survive grazing, which is part of why they've become so successful in the last 40 million years. There are five groups of monocot 'trees', none of which have the cambium of trees proper, so the first monocot must have been herby, with subsequent re-inventions of the tree lifestyle. Some of those have a form of secondary growth but not the cambium. Monocot trees include Joshua trees and palms.

[1] Lignified cellulose. Cellulose is floppy, having lots of lignin molecules in it makes for a rigid matrix that can stand up on its own.

DC metro pfft

2019-Mar-16, Saturday 19:39
mindstalk: (Nanoha)
Wanted to go to a museum today, got to the station, found that on the weekend the Orange and Silver run every 22-24 minutes. Worse, today the Silver wasn't running east of Ballston, so I didn't get the usual overlap effect. 22 minutes! For a subway! On a Saturday afternoon! Really, now.

The Red Line that loops through DC seemed to be better, like every 12 minutes, which still isn't great.

Mostly did a lot of walking through Arlington neighborhoods today.

Ballston: lame
Rosslyn: almost but not quite dead
Courthouse: not bad, had cheap good Pho, passed interesting coffeehouses.
Clarendon: yeah that's the ticket.

Weird mix of lots of construction and lots of "opening soon" restaurants. Like the racist mall[1] food court was half "opening soon".

I may have passed a very pink cherry tree, so I need to look those up now. Hoping to get a better flower viewing experience was part of why I came down.

[1] "No low-riding pants allowed."

DC first week

2019-Mar-15, Friday 21:20
mindstalk: (12KMap)
My peregrinations brought me to DC Sunday, on an unexceptional if kind of long Amtrak ride (7 hours from Boston.) I'm actually staying in Arlington, which means I can add Virginia to my lists of states visited/slept in. Due to, um, high uncertainty at work, the week has basically been vacation.

Monday: Smithsonian Zoo. Decent, decent size, and free. Cold and vet meant a bunch of animals were out of sight, but I got to see all seven Asian elephants, quite a lot of gorillas and orangs, and some decent small mammals, including the always-cute and always-mobile sand cats. There were a couple of beavers, one of which kept attacking a metal door; I don't know if it was trying to get in for food, to go inside, or get to a female -- a third beaver was found on the other side.

The zoo also had a T. Rex skull, with conservation information of "Extinct"; I sent a picture to a friend, who replied "Are you okay???", I guess worried that I was feeling extinct. I just thought the info was hilarious.

Tuesday: Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. Pretty big. I think I managed to eyeball most of it in three hours, but that's with a hall being closed, and some pretty superficial eyeballing. I spent particular time in a mosasaur room, Mud Masons of Mali, African Peoples in general, and Human Origins. Mosasaurs are apparently overgrown monitor lizards, which I found kind of funny. Pterosaurs are archosaurs, like dinosaurs and crocodilians; plesiosaurs were apparently some whole other branch of reptiles, on the same level as archosaurs, turtles, and lizards.

Wednesday: mostly veg, with a bit of going out for restaurant food and shopping.

Thursday: long walk through Arlington, largely trying to find parks, even though nothing non-evergreen is green yet. I did find a couple parks that probably will be nice later, but my overall reaction to Arlington has been 'meh'.

Friday: long walk through DC proper. Got out at Metro Center, walked east along H street; very monumental even without actual monuments. (I.e. big buildings with little retail.) Chinatown has the standard gate and like a street or two of businesses, it's tiny. After consulting satellite views a bit, I jumped over to Dupont Circle as looking more residential/mixed than downtown DC, which it was. Nothing super exciting until I consulted some lists of DC walks, and discovered Embassy Row wasn't far to the west. Also that it's mostly along Massachusetts Avenue, a major street, which is pretty funny coming from Boston/Cambridge. I did see many embassies, there seems to be a range from "we can afford to lease a building" to "we can afford to build our own culturally-redolent building with security gates", Turkey being the star there. Japan had a huge ground but the big building looks like a bunker.

Then I headed further west into the Georgetown neighborhood, said to have a lot of nice buildings. It does! Though also really narrow ones. Certainly looked like a pleasant neighborhood, though I imagine the rents are high. Supermarkets... actually looks like you'd be near either a Safeway or TJ, so not bad there.

Metro: nnng. Rail is rated by distance, 7 day passes exist but are pricy -- $38.50 for 7 days, which would just fail to pay for itself if you commuted 5 days at the maximum distance for that pass. And I was told that still doesn't get you onto the buses, which is another $17.50 for a pass. Probably better just to load money on a card.

Escalators seem broken a lot. Some stations are reeallly deep. Actual stairs are very rare, it's all escalator or elevator. Lights on the edge of the platform light up when a train approaches. Stations have next train timing displays which are nice. The Red Line trains inform you that they are "a 7000 series train" and also have a dynamic route display like some of the trains in NYC.
mindstalk: Tohsaka Rin (Rin)
Some years ago, I read someone commenting on the ubiquity of servants in a well-off pre-appliance household, and how they were invisible in e.g. Jane Austen. This had given me the idea that they didn't appear at all. Now I'm re-reading Price and Prejudice for the first time in years, and while they don't appear as characters (so far, 1/5 in; I think some of Darcy's do when Lizzie visits Pemberley), they do in fact get mentioned a lot.

While Jane is sick at Bingley's, "a servant", "a housemaid", and his housekeeper are mentioned. There's also Nicholls, presumably his cooking, making white soup for a ball.

Mrs. Bennett mentions keeping servants, Mr. Bennett says he hopes she ordered a good dinner, she frostily assures Mr. Collins that they can keep a good cook, and "Lydia, my love, ring the bell—I must speak to Hill this moment."

Finally, on Collins' visit:

"During dinner, Mr. Bennet scarcely spoke at all; but when the servants were withdrawn,"

So they are invisible as people -- more so than in Game of Thrones, say -- but they and their services are acknowledged as existing.

As a contrast, Bilbo and Frodo don't seem to keep any servants other than the gardening service; not only are none mentioned, but both bachelors are mentioned in the context of doing housework themselves. Sam does go off to Crickhollow "to do for Mr. Baggins" but that seems more about Sam than Frodo actually needing or expecting a servant.

Spot the userpic pun!
mindstalk: (Enki)
There's a book out there, David Graeber's Debt: the First 5000 Years, which I've heard about but not read, talking about the origin of money. This is one summary/review, including:

Graeber notes that the mainstream view of money as emerging from barter spot trades goes back to Adam Smith (Graeber 2011: 24). The modern neoclassical economics profession is obsessed with barter because they regard money as a neutral veil and their “real” analysis of economies is essentially that of a barter system

I'm currently reading The Big Problem of Small Change, a book Amy was reading sometime after we met. It includes (page 93 hardcover, Medieval Ideas About Money; Qualifications) the following translation of a bit from the Roman Digest (of law), 18.1.1, written by the Roman jurist Paulus before AD 235 (when he died.)

All buying and selling has its origin in exchange or barter. For in times past money was not so, nor was one thing called 'merchandise' and the other 'price'; rather did every man barter what was useless to him for that which was useful, according to the exigencies of his current needs; for it often happens that what one man has in plenty another lacks. But since it did not always and easily happen that when you had something which I wanted, I, for my part, had something that you were willing to accept, a material was selected which, being given a stable value (aestimatio) by the state, avoided the problems of barter by providing an equality of quantity (aequalitas quantitatis). That material, struck with a public design (forma), offers use (usus) and ownership (dominium) not so much by its substance (ex substantia) as by its quantity (ex quantitate), so that no longer are the things exchanged both called wares but one of them is termed the price (pretium).

(Source in Google Books, I think. I doubt we have any idea whether he was making this up, expressing common knowledge of the time, or referring to sources now lost to us.) [2019 edit: an earlier expression was Aristotle, in Politics I-9.)

The author calls this obscure; seems pretty clear to me. Nothing says it's an accurate story, of course. But it is 1500 years earlier than Adam Smith, though still several centuries after the invention of coinage.

A few pages later is another translation, this of the words of Pope Innocent IV, who lived in the 1200s.

We believe, however, that the king, by his right, and by the fact that money receives authority and general acceptance from his effigy or mark, can make money of somewhat less, but not much less value than the metal or matter from which it is made. Therefore, in the first case, when he wants to diminish a money already made, we do not believe he can do so without the consent of the people, but with its consent we believe that he can, just as anyone is allowed to renounce his right. And because the business of the king is considered to be the business of all, for this reason the consent of the majority of the notables of the kingdom suffices.

Bolding mine.
The authors add:

The passage comes from viewing seigniorage as a tax. At the time, kings were expected to live from the revenues of their own lands, and taxes could only be levied with the consent of the people. The treatise on money by the Germany scholar Gabriel Biel repeats this doctrine and adds arguments that debasement is a relatively efficient and fair form of taxation, falling on all classes alike.

I'm guessing most of us don't at a gut level think of "no taxation without representation" or "consent of the people" in association with medieval kings, thus this blog post. At one level that's from not correlating the contents of our minds properly, as "The Call of Cthulhu" put it, at least for those of us who know what the basic function of Parliament or the Estates-General was, i.e. to be persuaded by the king into approving taxes. But I think it's one thing to know of a couple instances of that (or more, after I read about Spain's Cortes-General), and another to read a 1200s Pope say so, so casually.

Of course the bit about 'notables' means we're not talking super democratic here. But still.

Also, this article on the Estates-General said things I condensed as

elective component: elected by monks, by rich people in towns, in 1302.
1468 towns elect an ecclesiastic, noble, and burgess. 1484 invites all
estates to elect; universal and direct suffrage for all orders, but
countrymen couldn't get to town, so elected electors to represent them.
Early lots of control over taxes, ceded during Charles VII out of
"weariness" in Hundred Year's War. Refused to grant a regency in 1484.
1484 had deliberation in common; 1560 had orders deliberate separately.
Advisory on legislation; petition; could grant right to modify
fundamental laws of the regime.

And finally, just because it's too cool not to share at every opportunity, one version of the oath of allegiance of Aragon's nobility:

"We, who are as good as you, swear to you, who are no better than us, to
accept you as our king and sovereign, provided you observe all our
liberties and laws, but if not, not."

I have to say, while I hate to buy into "democratic Europe, Asian despotism", I haven't heard of anything similar in Asia, particularly in China, Japan, and India. At least on a robust scale; early India had some republics, and Buddha was probably born in one than as a prince, but my reading of medieval India did not include kings having to wrangle taxes out of their subjects. Then again, India's history is kind of lacking in detail. China and Japan seem more pointed examples.
mindstalk: (Default)
I like doing botecs or Fermi estimates, and I also like doing them in reverse, framing a number I already know. I'll be doing the latter here.

Say I want to estimate the GDP of the USSR, not trusting their numbers. I'll posit some facts: population of 290 million, rounded to 300 million (I assume they're less likely to lie about numbers of people.) Subsistence agriculture GDP/capita of $500/year. Modern US GDP $50,000/capita -- but we're talking about 1991, 30 years ago. I know US productivity growth has been meh, so let's say the US was $30,000 back then.

So, Soviet GDP will be a GDP/capita (equivalent) estimate times population. From childhood reading I think I also know something about the Soviet lifestyle and economy: concrete apartment buildings with steam heat and electricity, supermarkets, subways, cars, aircraft carriers. Also expenses like ICBMs and a space program. Yeah, they often had the inferior version of things, but an ugly clunky concrete apartment is still a lot of resources.

So what are some GDP/capita estimates? $1000 seems too low, barely above African poverty, if that. $5000? Sure. $15,000? That's half the US of the time -- we also know the Soviets were a lot poorer than America, so it shouldn't be *higher* than that. So 5k-15k, for a GDP of $1.5 trillion to $4.5 trillion. And for a single figure, I like taking the geometric mean, so $8660/capita, and GDP of $2.5-2.6 trillion.

Wiki says $9200 for the USSR, and Trading Economics gives $36-37K for the US of the time.

As for Wal-Mart, how much could it be making? How many people does it sell to, and how much? I know it started in the US, and failed to expand into Germany, which suggests it has tried to expand. It sells to lots of people, but not everyone. Famously it sells to poor people, so they can't be spending *that* much on it. Many people may go there for groceries and regular household expenses, which suggests $200-400 per person, or $2000-5000/year. How many such regular shoppers? 50 million is certainly a lot in US terms. The US alone can't be 300 million, but maybe it they expanded a lot abroad it could be.

So, 50 million * 2000 = $100 billion/year. 300 million * 5000 = $1.5 trillion. That's a big range! But unavoidable when you don't much. Geometric mean is $390 billion. Actual number is $514 billion. Not bad. The real figure suggests, at $3000/year per person, 171 million people. Wiki says it's in 27 countries and multiple brands like Asda... though this raises the question of whether the $514 billion was for the whole conglomerate or just "Walmart". Wiki suggests the former, whew!

USSR vs. Wal-Mart

2019-Mar-05, Tuesday 14:37
mindstalk: Tohsaka Rin (Rin)

1989 GDP: $2.7 trillion in 1989 dollars. By this calculator that would be $5.4 trillion today, and that's not touching nominal/PPP issues (or fake Soviet statistics issues).

1990 population: 291 million, with 152 million workers.

Economic activity: everything from farming to space probes.


2018 sales: $500 billion in 2018 dollars. Or $514 billion, for the fiscal year ending in Jan 2019.

2019 employees: 2.2 million.

Economic activity: a whole lot of super-sized grocery stores and distribution trucks.

Why am I posting this? Because people are praising some book that one reviewer says claims "we are now surrounded by companies and organisations that are as large or larger than the USSR at its apex", and I want to inoculate people against bad ideas. Given that 10% of my USSR GDP is still bigger than Wal-Mart...

Darker Than Black

2019-Mar-02, Saturday 01:19
mindstalk: (Default)
I found I can watch it via Amazon Prime. Re-watch time! A lot of plot I don't recall details of, and a lot of stuff that seems strikingly familiar for having seen it once years ago. The real question is whether it'll make more *sense* now.
mindstalk: (juggleface)
I discovered a friend is in an amateur commedia troupe, and went to a performance tonight; it was pretty fun. The group is hard to search for, so here's me helping:





Though I'm not sure Google even searches this journal; I said not to for a long time and I don't know if the revocation ever took.

Improv means that it might be worth going again tomorrow night, in Arlington, maybe checking out a Persian place nearby first.

dating globes

2019-Feb-22, Friday 23:38
mindstalk: (Earth)
There's this bizarre thing where the makers of globes don't date them. They'll put a copyright notice on, I'm looking at "Copyright by Rand McNally" right now, but not the date of the copyright or when the globe was made. Not. A. Single. One.

Which is annoying in terms of data transparency, but does provide a fun game of "can I figure out the period this globe describes?" from looking at the countries. S had an old globe with steamship routes still marked on it; the Central African Empire alone pinned it to a three year period, and the independence of Dominica (not the DR) helped give a Dec 1976-Nov 1978 range.

The place I'm staying right now has an even older globe, with FRENCH WEST AFRICA sprawling over it. It's very detailed, with all sorts of obscure towns, and plane routes, maybe steamship ones. Occasional "highest waterfall" notes, an explanation of the International Date Line, and the solar analemma.

But when is it from? That's actually a bit ambiguous; with the help of an online acquaintance making suggestions, I have it down to Feb-Dec 1958 *or* June-Dec 1959. There are lots of constraints giving a 1958-1960 range, but a couple of conflicting points.

Singapore lacks any (Br.) and has a national capital symbol, but is "Singapore", whereas countries are usually all-caps like "MALAYA". Even states and colonies are usually all-caps... then again, Singapore is a city. Anyway, Singapore gained full internal self-government in 3 June 1959. Meanwhile "CAMEROONS [sic] (Fr. Trust)" puts the globe before 1 Jan 1960.

But over in "FRENCH EQUATORIAL AFRICA" we have subdivisions like "CHAD" (sure) and "UBANGI-SHARI", which was renamed to "CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC" on 1 Dec 1958 (while not being independent yet.) "UNITED ARAB REPUBLIC" spans Egypt and Syria, so it has to be after Feb 1958.

We seem to have a conflict: independent-ish Singapore in 1959, but Ubangi-Shari in 1958.

OTOH, I might be mis-interpreting what it's trying to say about Singapore, or they might have been lazy about keeping up with changes in French Africa.

Oh, Guinea being independent puts it after 2 Oct 1958. So if we ignore Singapore we're down to a two month period in 1958. Pretty good!

There's "DAHOMEY" within "FRENCH WEST AFRICA" but not the (non-independent) "REPUBLIC OF DAHOMEY" which suggests being before 11 Dec 1958.

Separately, there's just "GERMANY", no FDR and GDR. I'd briefly thought it might be a pre-WWII globe, but then I saw North and South Vietnam and Korea. Also Israel. So, no. Both Germanies at the time insisted they were the one true Germany but I would assume that was true of Korea and Vietnam too.

Edit: I also learned some things. Like HADHRAMAUT where eastern Yemen is now, but part of Saudi Arabia. TRUCIAL OMAN, MUSCAT AND OMAN...

Edit 2: The globe has FR SOM, BR SOM, and SOMALIA. Somalia was a UN Trust Territory between 1950 and 1 July 1960, at which point it joined with British Somalia. No indication of trust status on the globe. BR SOM and SOMALIA seem to have a border but are also the same shade of yellow. But it can't be 1960, because Cameroon...

dinosaur facts

2019-Feb-18, Monday 15:38
mindstalk: (Default)
I'm currently reading The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs by Steve Brusatte, a 2018 book on dinosaur history by a professional paleontologist, obviously way more up to date than my childhood reading. I've learned a lot, not all about dinosaurs. Supplemented by some Wiki reading about periods:

Read more... )

sexless surprise

2019-Feb-18, Monday 15:14
mindstalk: (riboku)
When you look at the multicellular part of the tree of life, almost everything reproduces sexually. Not all the time -- some plants can self-fertilize, many plants can spread vegetatively, some animals are optionally parthenogenetic. But almost everything has sex as an option. Not all: there are some animal species that only reproduce by parthenogenesis. But they're all twigs on the tree of life, not lush branches, suggesting that this approach to reproduction doesn't last long. Why not? That touches on the question of why sex evolved in the first place, but a rather plausible answer is that it helps protect against parasites and germs, by mixing things up. Asexual reproduction looks like a good short-term genetic bet for the parent -- 100% of genes pass on! -- but yields a population of clones that can be scythed through by the parasite that figures out the key.

Bacteria and archaea evolve fast enough to keep up with each other and with viruses, perhaps... and, also, they have their own forms of gene transfer: conjugation (like sex), or transformation (uptake of plasmids, say.) (A side note: modern GMOs are thus less unnatural than you might think; genes jump around, even between multicellular animals, and GMOs are made via 'natural' techniques.)

There is one big exception to the "all twigs" statement: the bdelloid rotifers, a clade of 450+ species that have apparently been asexual for 25 million years. How do they pull it off? I'd thought maybe their cuticles were tough enough that they thoroughly kept out viruses and such, unlike anything else. But The Tangled Tree by David Quammen gave a better explanation. As freshwater plankton, they've evolved to survive drying out and being rehydrated. And it's not that they're really good at preserving their DNA through such stages; rather, they're decent at repairing the damage after rehydration. 'Decent' meaning that in the process they may incorporate foreign bits of DNA.

...they found at least twenty-two genes from non-bdelloid creatures, genes that must have arrived by horizontal transfer. Some of those were bacterial genes, some were fungal. One gene had come from a plant. At least a few of those genes were still functional, producing enzymes or other products useful to the animal. Later work on the same rotifer suggested that 8 percent of its genes had been acquired by horizontal transfer from bacteria or other dissimilar creatures. A team of researchers based mostly in England looked at four other species of bdelloids and also found “many hundreds” of foreign genes. Some of the imports had been ensconced in bdelloid genomes for a long time, since before the group diversified, while some were unique to each individual species, and therefore more recently acquired. This implied that horizontal gene transfer is an ancient phenomenon among bdelloid rotifers, and that it’s still occurring.

...biologists suspect that such drying-and-rehydrating stresses cause bdelloid DNA to fracture and leave cell membranes leaky. Given that they’re surrounded in their environments by living bacteria and fungi, plus naked DNA remnants from dead microbes, the porous membranes and fracturing could make it easy for alien DNA to enter even the nuclei of bdelloid cells and to get incorporated into bdelloid genomes as they repair themselves. Let me say that again: broken DNA, as a cell fixes it, using ambient materials, may include bits that weren’t part of the original. If that mended DNA happens to be in cells of the germ line, the changes will be heritable. Baby rotifers will get them and, when the babies mature, pass the changes along to their own daughters. Thus a bacterial or fungal gene can become part of the genome of a lineage of animals.

ridehail math

2019-Feb-16, Saturday 15:24
mindstalk: (thoughtful)
Ridehail being a more accurate name for Lyft and Uber than 'rideshare'.

Some people talk as if ridehail is the wave of the future, to become a dominant transit mode, despite neither company reporting profits yet. Let's see what that would be like.

The average American driver drives 15,000 miles a year. Ridehail cost per mile component is around $1. Total cost of urban trips (based on a sampling of the apps in Boston and LA) is $2-4/mile, going down the longer the drive is, maybe around $2/mile for 10 mile trips. If you replaced your car with ridehail, you'd be paying $30,000/year. Trés affordable! /s Now, maybe a lot of those miles are longer road trips you wouldn't use ridehail for, so your local driving might be 10,000 miles; that's only $20,000.

Different approach: the app prices are more constant in time units, about $1/minute. The average commute to work is 30 minutes; if you ridehailed to work, you'd be paying $60/workday, or $15,000 over 250 workdays (a year). That's just for your commute, never mind groceries, taking kids to school or things, going out...

That's all for the original product, single person on demand. If you do the Lyft Line/Uber Pool approach, that can halve costs. A mere $7,500 for your work commute! ...assuming no rush hour surge pricing. And car pooling has more time variability, of course. For the 10,000 miles of local driving, $10,000/year. Not that far from estimates of total cost of car ownership for 15,000 miles/year.

Urban car trips tend to be 15-30 MPH, I figure; 10,000 miles is 20,000 to 40,000 minutes, so $20-40K/yeared, or $10-20K pooled.

Competition is fierce, neither company is profitable, and there's doubt as to whether it's really profitable for drivers if they accounted for all costs, so prices are more likely to go up than down.

My T pass is $1014/year. Granted it's often slower (not at rush hour!) It's also 90-99% less likely to mangle or kill me, but most people don't worry about that.

April 2019

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