Konichiwa my kick-ass readers! I hope all of you stalwart samurai out there are having a wonderful week, and a thrilling Thursday. My morning started with a mile of freestyle.
It’s been a while since I’ve done a “things I like thursday post,” mostly because I’ve been busy making up recipes, learning about DNA, running races, and setting my august goals. My go-to sources for interesting information have been replete with distressing and depressing dispatches (my sources are The New York Times, and…The New York Times Editorial page…I could probably stand to add some variety to my media menu). Between the African Ebola outbreak; the continuing crises in Ukraine, Gaza, and Iraq; our legislature’s inability to accomplish ANYTHING of substance before adjourning for the summer; and the continuing career of Kim Kardashian…it can be difficult to maintain a sunny disposition.
However, even though the world might seem like a cavalcade of chaos, there are always awesome things to be stoked about. Here’s a few bits of flotsam and jetsam that are brightening my life, lately.
1) Puppy Popsicles.
Last weekend I did something stupid: I grocery shopped hungry. Impulse-control is not my strong suit, and low blood-sugar brain-fog does not aid my decision-making process. Somehow these ridiculous canine confections ended up in my cart. I was ashamed and feeling buyer’s remorse at what a sucker I’d been as I unloaded the mountain of dry goods and sundries I’d selected: Puppy Popsicles are a ridiculously unnecessary, bourgeoisie purchase. Puppy Popsicles also happen to be Porter’s new favorite thing in the entire world.
How can I argue with something that brings about so much bliss?
2) Washington Governor Jay Inslee is doubling down on climate change.
Ocean acidification is causing a massive oyster die-off along the coast of the Pacific Northwest.
Governor Inslee, correctly noting that climate change is both an economic and environmental issue, has teamed up with the billionaire climate advocate Tom Steyer to bring this issue to the forefront in Washington. Together they are pushing for statewide caps on carbon emissions. Jay Inslee is awesome, I love that Washington has the opportunity to lead the nation on important issues.
3) Maggie Vessey’s awesome racing outfits.
Maggie Vessey is a middle-distance track runner from Soquel, California (just up the road from my Alma Mater, UCSC). She was sponsored by New Balance, but when that relationship ended she took matters in her own hands and began collaborating with a designer to create her own kit. Her unique uniforms are eye-popping, brightly colored, and one of a kind. In addition to looking fly on the field, she’s fast! She ran a personal best at the 800m and placed second at the USATF open this past summer.
I think Maggie’s outfits are fantastic. I love that she is expressing her individuality and athleticism.
Most protein bars, packaged food products, and convenience snacks freak me out. Usually they are loaded with artificial ingredients, or saturated with added sugar. Even some of the “natural,” “healthy” bars in appealing pastel packaging don’t really stand up to scrutiny: they usually are pretty stingy with the protein, or heavy on the honey. I recently discovered Picky Bars, and I’m totally hooked.
Lauren Fleshman, the runner, and her triathlete husband, Jesse Thomas, are the brains behind the company. Lauren herself is an awesome athlete (if you haven’t read her insightful article about on keeping it real and body image yet, go. Now. I’ll wait). These bars are an awesome product. A single bar clocks in at 200 calories, with 28 grams of carbs and seven grams of protein from whole food sources. They’re organic, gluten free, vegan, and super tasty. BooYah.
This is a classic paper in the field of evolutionary biology. It uses architectural metaphors to explain some fundamental concepts in adaptation and selection. It’s an entertaining read, full of two-dollar words, and it’s helping me frame my thinking in my own research.
The title refers to an architectural feature called a spandrel: the little triangle junction when a dome gets propped up on top of an arch. Spandrels happen to be a perfect place to add embellishments, and they make a building beautiful.
However their original intended purpose is architectural, not aesthetic. This paper makes the point that, when thinking about evolution, it’s easy to assign significance to a trait when in reality there is none. In the case of the spandrels it’s tempting to convince yourself that the building was designed with the spandrels in mind as a place to display artworks, when in reality that is simply the necessary shape to support the roof of the building. In other words: just because a trait is used for a particular function, that doesn’t necessarily mean that selection acted to generate that trait. There’s a temptation to see adaptation in everything, when, in reality, some traits simply arise due to genetic drift. Darwin himself said: “I am convinced that natural selection has been the main, but not the exclusive means of modification.”
Lately I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how bacterial genomes are organized, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of the spandrels. I think that bacteria put their genes in specific places for a very specific reason: so that the genes mutate faster and the bacteria can evolve. However, the possibility remains that those genes are have remained where they are and are mutating faster just because there hasn’t been any reason NOT to mutate those genes. It’s always good to second guess yourself, and this paper has been a fun new way to frame my thinking. I’m still pretty sure that I’m right about the genomes, though.
I think that’s enough out of me this week.
What are YOU enjoying these days?