Friday, September 26, 2008

Are We Still Evolving?

I recenlty read an amazing article in Seed on Evolution. Here are the highlights:

Humans "showed up" 45,000 years ago and it doesn't appear that we've changed much in those years. It's easy to make that assumption since natural selection chooses the most fit to survive through reproductive success; the problem however is that we nurse our sick back to health. Mating isn't a privilege so even the less fit pass their genes on. Well the Human Genome and HapMap projects are changing what we know about how we're evolving. It appears that up to 10 % of the human genome appears to be evolving, but most mutations have a neutral effect, making them neither fitter or less fit. The HapMap project has found gene variations in some populations that were not present in other geographic areas, but are moving over time proving that genetic drift is occuring.

One of the best examples of recent human evolution is the spread of the mutation for adults who can digest milk. It popped up 8,000 years ago and has spread to most parts of the world, but not all, only 9 of 10 Asian Americans lack the mutation. Hawkes, an anthropolist studying demography and the constraints on our adaptation believes that the global population explosion that coincided w/ the agricultural revolution is the main driver of adaptive evolution. He exclaims that our world has changed rapidly and our DNA is still catching up. Hapmap has provided great insight because it lets us compare parts of the human genome that are different between people; it gives us a glipse at patterns of gene inheritance.

So now for the question at large: Are we getting smarter?

Several different studies have been conducted on the topic. Bruce Lahn an evolutionary geneticist raised some controversial issues because his work could easily be misinterpreted as claiming that brain evolution has occurred in some races but not others. The fact is we know very little about brain evolution and it's difficult to understand how intelligence is selected for. Here is one of his most interesting thoughts about the possibility of the evolution of intelligence: "500 million years ago earth experienced the Cambrian explosion, a rapid increase in diversification of life forms. It may take a long time to evolve certain components, but once you have them, very little evolutionary time could give you great diversity. The brain may take a long time to get to a certain level of intelligence and then, once it's there, it makes possible a cultural explosion."

He goes on to say intelligence builds on intelligence, increasing intelligence, increases the complexity of culture, which pressures intelligence levels to rise, which creates more complex culture and so on.

I'm fascinated by the way humans are evolving and becoming more intelligent. It's clear that some people are smarter than others; but that is somewhat of a subjective statement since there's mathematical intelligence, emotional intelligence, creative intelligence, etc. If we follow Lahn's theory it could be possible that these intelligences are merging. In this way maybe we are moving toward another explosion where the brain becomes able to do exponentially more than it has been. Time will tell.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Slacker Uprising

Today Michael Moore released his newest documentary called Slacker Uprising which can be downloaded here and watched for free compliments of Mike. It's an effort to encourage younger generations to get out, vote and make a difference this upcoming election. I hope the film helps, after all our president doesn't use the internet and our vice president doesn't believe in dinosaurs.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Greydone Square - Aethiesm & Hip Hop/Hop

Atheism is hitting mainstream culture and it's getting harder to ignore. I've been interested to see how evolution has shifted our religious perspective and how people from gen X are torn on how religion should be a part of their life. It's also been interesting to see all the content being created by a new generation who is expressing how their views on religion have shifted.

I recently got Compton Effect and Greydon Square (Eddie Collins) is one smart cookie. He's thoughtful, writes intelligent lyrics and tells a great story. He is also very public about his belief of atheism. He mixes great beats and his most recent album has been a success. More importantly, hearing hip/hop embrace atheism is refreshing. His fascination with physics and atheism has enabled him to create a powerful album. The hip/hop category has been littered with drugs, violence, and women cliches; so how will things change now that Greydon is showing that hip/hop raises important issues? Collins, who calls himself the 'black Carl Segan' isn't Will Smith and he isn't 50 Cent; he's a new breed and he's challenging youth to think about who they are. He's had some interesting experience and it shows; his stories and lyrics resonate with authenticity.

Excerpt from Wikipedia on Greydon Square:
Collins grew up in Compton, California, where he was raised as an orphan and would become immersed in the gang culture. In May 2001, he enlisted in the United States Army. He would go on to serve in the Iraq War in March 2004. After returning from Iraq, Collins began attending college in Phoenix, Arizona as a physics major. It was at this time that he began questioning his prior religious beliefs and became an outspoken atheist, posting videos on YouTube and becoming a member of the Rational Response Squad, and of the pro-democracy movement Grand Unified Theory. He has appeared on Nightline in regard to the RRS' Blasphemy Challenge, and his music has attracted fans such as Penn Jillette and Richard Dawkins.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Realistic Approach to Conservation

Some of the world's problems seem unconquerable these days. Take the energy crisis for example; we could probably sell our SUV, ride our bikes more often or turn in our empties to redeem the CRV, but what's the impact? The problem is that for some reason this doesn't feel like enough; we can't see any impact so we don't change our habits.

Well, what if there was a way to see how our actions impact society? Relight NY is a good start. It's an interactive site that lets you do good and see the tangible results. It lets you adopt a building in NYC and tasks you with converting all it's lighting to CFL. The objective is to get organizations or schools to help make NYC more efficient and help the city conserve massive amounts of energy. Most importantly, it provides a way to see the progress and encourage action to accomplish a goal that will positively benefit the community.

For a while now there have been a lot of good ways to conserve energy, like recycling, eating local food or giving up your car, but the difficult thing seems to be finding a way to get people on board. What if we find more ways to involve everyone, to change habits? Nike Plus allows people to track their workout behavior, compare their progress with other in the community and compete with their athletic friends.

Well now there's a way for you to show off how green you. Wattson is the Nike Plus of energy. They have a transmitter that connects to your electric lines between your fuse box and electric meter that sends data to an alarm clock looking device that you can set up in your house. Holmes is the software this device pairs with that allows you to analyze your power usage and determine ways to become more efficient.

I think this is a great idea because often we forget how much money we are spending by leaving the lights on or the computer running. If we're constantly reminded that we're racking up the bill maybe we'll be more likely to conserve?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Technology reversal

Apple is trying to be Microsoft and Microsoft is trying to be Apple. Today Apple released Genius, an application that "helps" connect you with music by means of a complex algorithm; and Microsoft released the first film in a series of comedies that is supposed to brand Microsoft as a more user friendly company.

These are my first two initial thoughts.

1. Microsoft, you need to create something that is user friendly; software or a product people love to use, then re-brand yourself. In the mean time, thanks for the parody of what it would be like if Bill & Jerry got injected into reality TV.

2. Apple, I like the Genius play list feature; not because I can't figure out how to make a playlist myself, but because I like to look at the 38,172 songs I have loaded in iTunes arranged with a fresh perspective. I do not, however, like the genius sidebar that insists on telling me songs that I need to buy.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Take Action

I love it! Here is a powerful message, a strategic campaign that not only urges Californias to take action, it explains why and then provides an easy way to do so. Blue Shield wants to change healthcare for the 6.7 million Californians who aren't covered. They recently produced an entertaining message; this video in combination with placing life size statues around California to make the statement that it's time to do something.

Yes, it' s a compelling message but I like how they've also created a tool for people to voice their opinion by using a feature on their site to quickly and easily send an email to nancy Pelosi.

Monday, September 8, 2008

A Quick Snippit

Postcards are great because they let people know you're thinking of them. Several companies have offered services allowing people to send cards to one another but this is the first one I've seen that is truly customizable. The best part is that it's simple to use yet highly personal. It's called and it lets you upload a song and picture of your choice and send it off to someone you know. Share a moment of your life -