The Molecular Basis in How Exercise Changes the Human Body

A recent paper published on PLoS One explains the molecular basis of how exercise changes the human body’s muscles and fat cells. Turns out, it’s the methylation (addition of CH3-groups) to various DNA segments that has the capacity to turn on/off certain genes. The New York Times summarizes:

Of the new studies, perhaps the most tantalizing, conducted principally by researchers affiliated with the Lund University Diabetes Centre in Sweden and published last month in PLoS One, began by recruiting several dozen sedentary but generally healthy adult Swedish men and sucking out some of their fat cells. Using recently developed molecular techniques, the researchers mapped the existing methylation patterns on the DNA within those cells. They also measured the men’s body composition, aerobic capacity, waist circumference, blood pressure, cholesterol levels and similar markers of health and fitness.

Then they asked the men to start working out. Under the guidance of a trainer, the volunteers began attending hour-long spinning or aerobics classes approximately twice a week for six months. By the end of that time, the men had shed fat and inches around their waists, increased their endurance and improved their blood pressure and cholesterol profiles.

Less obviously, but perhaps even more consequentially, they also had altered the methylation pattern of many of the genes in their fat cells. In fact, more than 17,900 individual locations on 7,663 separate genes in the fat cells now displayed changed methylation patterns. In most cases, the genes had become more methylated, but some had fewer methyl groups attached. Both situations affect how those genes express proteins.

The genes showing the greatest change in methylation also tended to be those that had been previously identified as playing some role in fat storage and the risk for developing diabetes or obesity.

So what?

The overarching implication of the study’s findings, says Juleen Zierath, a professor of integrative physiology at the Karolinska Institute and senior author of the study, is that DNA methylation changes are probably “one of the earliest adaptations to exercise” and drive the bodily changes that follow.

Quite interesting.The field of epigenetics is fascinating.

The Problem with Medium as a Platform

In her most recent post, Cheri Lucas Rowlands pondered where her writing lives. Outside of blogging on WordPress, she published something on Medium:

I finally published my first post on Medium — a two-minute read called “Trashing Photography.” I’d been working on a longer piece weaving two threads on the death of album listening and my process of taking digital photographs, the latter of which ultimately won the battle. But I was unhappy and frustrated with what I wrote, so I ripped the piece apart and ran the remaining 300 words that didn’t completely suck.

After publishing the post, however, I realized it was an abridged version of something I’d already written on this blog last year — regurgitated musings on the new way I take photographs. So I wondered: What’s the point of setting up an account on another publishing platform? Am I saying anything new? Does this space offer a different angle of me — an extension of the Cheri you encounter here — or am I just repackaging my thoughts?

I liked this analogy:

A writer who publishes on various platforms on the web is like an animal peeing in different places. I’m simply marking my territory — expanding the Cheri Lucas Rowlands brand far and wide. While this analogy makes me laugh, it also makes me feel rather dirty, but I get that that’s what we do these days.

I have an account set up on Medium, but as of yet, I haven’t published anything on there. I’m wary. Why? Allow Kenneth Reitz to summarize my hesitation:

Once I flipped the switch, I excitedly started a few dozen draft posts, serializing all the half-baked ideas I had been collecting in my notebook. As months went by, I found myself happily writing as my traffic slowly declined.

This isn’t the end of the world, but here’s the kicker — I couldn’t do anythingabout it.

  • I couldn’t embed any content in a post.
  • I couldn’t track referrers to know where my readers are coming from.
  • I couldn’t search Twitter for my posts because of the massively shared domain.
  • I couldn’t pick my own URLs.

These are deal-breakers to me. I want to be able to embed content (videos, tweets, etc.) into a post. I want to be able to customize my URLs. And I want the analytics to figure out how people are finding my blog. WordPress allows all of these things; Medium does not.

I guess if you don’t care for all of those things and just want to publish something, Medium is a good choice. But not for me. Not yet.

Google Partners with Starbucks for Faster WiFi

Beginning August 2013, the WiFi connectivity at your local American Starbucks is likely to become much faster. Google has just announced a major partnership with the coffee chain in this blog post:

Coffee shop + Internet—it’s a pairing that many of us have come to rely on. WiFi access makes work time, downtime, travel time and lots of in-between times more enjoyable and productive. That’s why we’re teaming up with Starbucks to bring faster, free WiFi connections to all 7,000 company-operated Starbucks stores in the United States over the next 18 months. When your local Starbucks WiFi network goes Google, you’ll be able to surf the web at speeds up to 10x faster than before. If you’re in a Google Fiber city, we’re hoping to get you a connection that’s up to 100x faster.

Google has long invested in helping the Internet grow stronger, including projects to make Internet access speedier, more affordable, and more widely available. The free Internet connection at Starbucks has become an important part of many communities over the years, such as in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, or for students without Internet at home who do their homework at Starbucks

The ambitious project is going to unroll in every Starbucks in the United States! I guess I am going to have to switch over from Caribou to Starbucks as my preferred coffee shop… (Grudgingly so, I might add).

Here’s a thought: I’ve read multiple times that Starbucks has had problems with people mooching their WiFi for hours (sometimes not even buying a product while inside the store). Will this problem become exacerbated with the faster WiFi roll-out? My guess is yes.

ZestFinance and the Nuances of Modeling Credit Risk

Pando Daily has a post about Peter Thiel leading a $20 million funding round for a four year old company called ZestFinance. Their goal is to better predict consumer behavior. They model more than 10,000 data points and arrive at more than 70,000 potential signals of consumer behavior. This was the most interesting bit in the article:

Not all signals are obvious, Merrill explains, noting for example that the way a consumer types their name in the credit application – using all lowercase, all uppercase, or correct case – can be a predictor of credit risk. Other seemingly trivial data points include whether an applicant has read a letter on the company’s website and whether the applicant has a pre-paid or post-paid cell phone.

ZestFinance had evolved its business model to that of an underwriting service provider to third-party subprime lenders, “exiting the lending business to avoid the appearance of competition with its new partners.” Will be interesting to see if their methodology gains acceptance in the wider banking sector in the years to come.

Read the entire post here.

The Rise of the One-Day Contract in Sports

What do Donovan McNabb, Jason Elam, and Hideki Matsui have in common, besides being professional athletes? As this story explains, they’re part of a growing number of players who have signed a one-day contract, typically to close out their careers:

The one-day contract has become a rite of passage for the modern athlete — a select few, anyway — before he retreats from the spotlight. Matsui, a former outfielder who signed his one-day deal Sunday at Yankee Stadium, was treated to an pregame ceremony behind home plate. In his final capacity as a team employee, he was responsible only for throwing out the first pitch. He wore a tie beneath his jersey.

You’d think Jerry Rice would have wanted to get paid for his one day contract:

With his 1989 Super Bowl ring swinging from a chain on his neck, Rice signed a deal for $1,985,806.49, which commemorated his rookie season (1985), his uniform number (80), his retirement year (’06) and the 49ers. The sum was ceremonial, and Rice was not actually paid a cent.

Will Pujols sign a one day contract with the Cardinals? Why didn’t Michael Jordan do the same with the Chicago Bulls?

Walter White Reads Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ozymandius”

A new teaser for the final season of Breaking Bad, premiering August 11, exemplifies Walter’s maniacal ambition through Walter’s recital of Percy Bysshe Shelly’s poem, “Ozymandius.” I first read this poem in my AP English class, and it’s still one of my favourites. No spoilers here, either! Watch the awesomeness below:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: `Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear —
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.’

So looking forward to the final season!

Is Your iPhone App Making You Fat?

Kathy Sierra hasn’t blogged in years(1), but she’s written something new this week about willpower, self-control, and cognitive drain. In particular, she posits that many apps that you use on your phone deplete your cognitive resources, which make it easy for you to succumb to unwanted things (like eating more cookies, etc):

An experiment asked one group of dogs to sit, just sit, nothing else, for a few minutes before being released to play with their favorite treat “puzzle” toy (the ones where the dog has to work at getting the treats out of it). The other group of dogs were allowed to just hang out in their crates before getting the treat puzzle.

You know where this goes: the dogs that had to sit — exercising self-control — gave up on the puzzle much earlier than the dogs that were just hanging out in their crate.The dogs that were NOT burning cognitive resources being obedient had more determination and mental/emotional energy for solving the puzzle. Think about that next time you ask Sparky to be patient. His cognitive resources are easily-depleted too.

Now think about what we’re doing to our users.

If your UX asks the user to make choices, for example, even if those choices are both clear and useful, the act of deciding is a cognitive drain. And not just while they’re deciding… even after we choose, an unconscious cognitive background thread is slowly consuming/leaking resources, “Wasthat the right choice?” 

If your app is confusing and your tech support / FAQ isn’t helpful, you’re drawing down my scarce, precious, cognitive resources. If your app behaves counter-intuitively – even just once – I’ll leak cog resources every time I use it, forever, wondering, “wait, did that do what I expected?”. Or let’s say your app is super easy to use, but designed and tuned for persuasive brain hacks (“nudges”, gamification, behavioral tricks, etc.) to keep me “engaged” for your benefit, not mine (lookin’ at you, Zynga)… you’ve still drained my cognitive resources.

And when I back away from the screen and walk to the kitchen…

 Your app makes me fat.

I am not convinced entirely, but it does raise some good questions about the direction of modern-day distractions and our cognitive load.

Worth reading in entirety here.

What if Apple and Google Went to Actual War? A Thought Experiment

What would happen if two of the world’s largest tech companies went to actual war? That’s the thought experiment behind this Slate feature. Dan Kois provides the introduction:

I asked two experts here at Slate to do a little wargaming with me. Tech columnist Farhad Manjoo will play Google. Moneybox columnist Matthew Yglesias will play Apple. I will play referee as Farhad and Matt imagine their way through a (totally speculative!) (fictional and not true!) Google vs. Apple all-out-war for world supremacy. Could Google erase Apple from the Internet? Could iPhones control killer drones over Mountain View? How different is Apple willing to think? And how evil is Google prepared to be?

Google’s offensive begins with Ghostfruit:

It’s an unseasonably overcast morning in Mountain View when Larry Page gives the Go command. He does so with a heavy heart. Though the feud with Apple has been escalating for months, Google’s CEO has never given serious consideration to the plan known internally as Operation GhostFruit. Then Apple decided to test him, first by removing Google as the default search engine on the iPhone and iPad, and then—when Google complained to regulators and launched a petition drive calling on Apple to reinstate Google—by blocking Apple devices’ access to Google.com entirely. The iPhone and iPad provide the bulk of Google’s mobile ad revenue. Page has no choice but to go nuclear.

After a big acquisitions spree by Apple, their next offensive move follows:

War is a game of coalitions. Not only are there whole countries where Google barely exists (think China), but there’s a whole world of online services companies out there who’ve been chomping at the bit for a big Google scandal to get them into the game.Bing search, Outlook webmail, Yahoo Calendar, and Dropbox for storage. Google’s one-stop shopping is a convenience, but people in Google-hostile territory can use the Web without it and the company’s behavior is frightening people. Apple’s hearty band of loyalists can shop at the Apple Store and punch apple.com into the browser just fine—and while they’re there, many of them are adding their contact information to a new page which urges Apple fans to join the “Apple Army.” The photo accompanying sign-up shows a cheerful, attractive, multicultural group massed in front of Apple headquarters, everyone wearing T-shirts of bright, primary colors. In the first week, 20,000 Apple partisans sign up. 

Read on how Google responds. The Cult of Apple, however, grows to 500,000 in the last offensive.

The Charitable-Industrial Complex

Peter Buffett, a son of Warren Buffett, has an important op-ed piece in The New York Times in which he calls for a re-definition of charitable giving; he argues for humanism, not capitalism:

As more lives and communities are destroyed by the system that creates vast amounts of wealth for the few, the more heroic it sounds to “give back.” It’s what I would call “conscience laundering” — feeling better about accumulating more than any one person could possibly need to live on by sprinkling a little around as an act of charity.

But this just keeps the existing structure of inequality in place. The rich sleep better at night, while others get just enough to keep the pot from boiling over. Nearly every time someone feels better by doing good, on the other side of the world (or street), someone else is further locked into a system that will not allow the true flourishing of his or her nature or the opportunity to live a joyful and fulfilled life.

And with more business-minded folks getting into the act, business principles are trumpeted as an important element to add to the philanthropic sector. I now hear people ask, “what’s the R.O.I.?” when it comes to alleviating human suffering, as if return on investment were the only measure of success. Microlending and financial literacy (now I’m going to upset people who are wonderful folks and a few dear friends) — what is this really about? People will certainly learn how to integrate into our system of debt and repayment with interest. People will rise above making $2 a day to enter our world of goods and services so they can buy more. But doesn’t all this just feed the beast?

What can you do today and in the long term to bring down the perpetual poverty machine?

The Opposite of Loneliness

In two separate conversations over the weekend, I mentioned the concept/idea of loneliness. It reminded me of the late Marina Keegan’s essay on what the opposite of loneliness would be:

We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that’s what I want in life. What I’m grateful and thankful to have found at Yale, and what I’m scared of losing when we wake up tomorrow and leave this place.

It’s not quite love and it’s not quite community; it’s just this feeling that there are people, an abundance of people, who are in this together. Who are on your team. When the check is paid and you stay at the table. When it’s four a.m. and no one goes to bed. That night with the guitar. That night we can’t remember. That time we did, we went, we saw, we laughed, we felt. The hats.

Amen to this:

What we have to remember is that we can still do anything. We can change our minds. We can start over. Get a post-bac or try writing for the first time. The notion that it’s too late to do anything is comical. It’s hilarious. We’re graduating college. We’re so young. We can’t, we MUST not lose this sense of possibility because in the end, it’s all we have.

Humbling.