Friday Four

Friday, January 27, 2012

1. I saw Mona Simpson's eulogy for Steve Jobs recommended very strongly at HBL recently, but didn't expect it to be as moving as it is. If you haven't already read it, do so now.

2. Natural selection in a flask... A laboratory reports that it has succeeded in solving a very difficult problem -- getting a single-celled species to evolve into a multicellular form -- much more easily than many in the field thought possible.

An evolutionary transition that took several billion years to occur in nature has happened in a laboratory, and it needed just 60 days.

Under artificial pressure to become larger, single-celled yeast became multicellular creatures. That crucial step is responsible for life's progression beyond algae and bacteria, and while the latest work doesn't duplicate prehistoric transitions, it could help reveal the principles guiding them.

"This is actually simple. It doesn't need mystical complexity or a lot of the things that people have hypothesized -- special genes, a huge genome, very unnatural conditions," said evolutionary biologist Michael Travisano of the University of Minnesota, co-author of a study Jan. 17 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. [minor format edits]
The whole journal article can be found here. It is amusing to compare the amount of time this took to the duration of the demonstration in the next item.

3. Slower than molasses. The world's longest-running lab demonstration was started in 1927 and is continuing today:
The pitch-drop experiment -- really more of a demonstration -- began in 1927 when Thomas Parnell, a physics professor at the University of Queensland in Australia, set out to show his students that tar pitch, a derivative of coal so brittle that it can be smashed to pieces with a hammer, is in fact a highly viscous fluid. It flows at room temperature, albeit extremely slowly. Parnell melted the pitch, poured it into a glass funnel, let it cool (for three years), hung the funnel over a beaker, and waited. Eight years later, a dollop of the pitch fell from the funnel’s stem. Nine years after that, another long black glob broke into the beaker.
The demonstration languished in storage for years until a faculty member learned of it and persuaded his department to display it again. Today, it can be viewed on webcam, but the last time a drop fell, there was a camera malfunction, so nobody has, to this day, gotten to watch a drop fall.

4. What are the benefits to rising early in the morning? Some of these I don't or can't take full advantage of, but I have definitely noticed a few since shifting to waking up at 3:00 a.m. for my personal projects. The writer's advice on how to become an early riser is sound, although, in my case, I simply made the shift all at once/quit sleeping until 5:00 or 6:00 "cold turkey".

-- CAV

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