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Saturday, July 8

NB: Take this with a pinch of salt, it's only a bit of fun and I don't intend to cause offence to anyone.

A study on the lateness of females

It's been worrying me for some time exactly what the nature is, and the cause of, lateness in females. Certainly it's not a subject that has been neglected - I've read mathematical treatments and other less serious studies. Lateness is a tragedy that we all have to cope with, and it's responsible for intolerable stress, more often than not among the male population who have to put up with girlfriends who can't get dressed quickly, or friends who say 'I'll be there at nine,' but really mean 'If you're particularly lucky and I'm in a good mood, I might consider phoning you up on the following day to apologise for not being there. If you're unlucky, then you're going to have to call me for the apology and you might not even get one.'

However, as yet, no-one has attempt to delve into the root of the matter. And as they say:

"It's all in the genes."

Now. Let's assume that there is some sort of gene coding for lateness in females. After all, anecdotal evidence such as 'You're just like your mother,' shows that lateness is hereditary. However, already, this assumption raises multitudinous questions, for example:

Why are some females more late than others?
Men are late as well, right?
How does this gene work?
Where is this gene located?

I'll attempt to answer all these questions in due course.

Statistical studies (the raw data of which I seem to have mysteriously mislaid) show that females have a significantly higher 'lateness' for events in general (a.k.a. 'going out') than males, with 1% confidence levels. So it seems reasonable to assume that even if this lateness gene (hereafter referred to as L8gN) is present on males, it would occur predominantly in women.

With this in mind, I believe that L8gN is possibly located on the X chromosome. As we all know, males possess an X and a Y chromosome, whereas females possess two X chromosomes. Hence, females get 'double the dose' of L8gN.

Of course, I must stress that the term L8gN only refers to the genotypical manifestition of the phenotypical behaviour referred to as 'lateness'. It is not a single gene. Why? Examine the following graphs below.


Figure 1 refers to the distribution of lateness among females if L8gN were composed on only one or two genes with the traditional dominant/recessive pattern. Quite clearly, Figure 1 depicts a fictional scenario since from experience and from statistical evidence we can tell that lateness is not a discrete phenomenon - rather, it is continuous. You don't get three distinct categories of lateness, you have females who are not late at all to females who are extremely late, with every step in between.

Figure 2 refers to a continuous normal distribution of lateness. This is far more plausible, and points to L8gN being present as multiple genes all influencing the same behaviour, i.e. a polygenic trait. This normal distribution curve will be familiar to any student of mathematics or indeed science, as it depicts the traditional bell-shaped curve where the majority of females are of 'average' lateness, with females who are extremely early or late tapering off in frequency.

Ah, but what about males, I hear the folk of the gentler persuasion cry! Indeed, males are late - in some cases males can be extremely late. Yet as mentioned before, they are in general not as late as females.


Figure 3 shows the distribution of lateness in males, derived from statistics. Standing out straight away is the fact that it seems to appear the same as the normal female distribution, but squashed and shifted to the left - it's been positively skewed. This confirms our suspicions that while some males can be late, they do not occur as often as early males. In addition, the average lateness of males is lower than that of females - a well known fact.

Speculation on retrotransposons

While it would be simple just to attribute the increased lateness of females due to the doubled-up presence of L8gN on both X chromosomes, that doesn't solve the problem completely. How can some males be so late - as late as the latest females, if they only have one X chromosome? The answer lies with the latest cutting-edge genetics research.

Recently, it's been discovered that entire genes along with introns and other smaller sections possess the ability to cut themselves out of DNA and move or copy themselves to other situations - these are known as retrotransposons. It's my conjecture that parts of the L8gN are retrotransposons, and thus in males who are especially late, the retrotransposons are responsible due to the fact that they add more copies of themselves to the male genome.

This sheds light on the possible origins on L8gN - could L8gN be a remnant of a viral infection that infected germline cells and became inextricably locked in our genome? Who knows...

Possible cures

Gene therapy is the most obvious, yet it can only be applied to embryos - it's not inconceivable that we could genetically engineer embryos to cut out all occurences of L8gN and thus result in a child who is not late at all. truly a wonder of the modern age. However, it is hugely unlikely that any gene therapy treatment could work on adults or indeed children due to the massive number of cells involved. There may not be any hope for us, but there still yet is for our children.

Other avenues of research

It is alleged that certain females, and possibly females in general, possess a gender-wide behaviour known as 'stroppy-ness' (hereafter referred to as sTRp1-gN-NS). Now, the author doesn't wish to comment on these allegations, but in the interests of scientific inquiry they must be addressed from an objective viewpoint. For most of the time, this sTRp1-gN-NS has been attributed by males by the unfortunately inciteful words (which, as a result, are usually mumbled) - 'It's that time of month again.'

True, this could be a hormonal thing. But perhaps it's genetic? Perhaps it's the same thing as L8gN - perhaps it's even located in the same place. I feel that the only solution to this enigma is to conduct correlation studies between lateness and sTRp1-gN-NS. Expect more information on this in the near future... (that is, if I survive the next few encounters with female friends who read this weblog)

1:08 PM | permalink | discuss


Friday, July 7

I completely forgot that I'd actually done a nice infographic-cum-artwork based on Use of Weapons in the Gallery. Don't worry, it's not supposed to make any sense unless you've actually read the novel.

11:55 PM | permalink | discuss


Surprisingly, we haven't had much coverage of the whole Supreme Court Boy Scouts affair here in the UK, so it's interesting for me to keep up with the commentary on the Internet - in fact, I didn't even know what the Supreme Court ruling was until today. I felt that this op-ed piece in the Washington Post was particularly telling.

Sometimes I wonder exactly how dumb people can be sometimes. I know I shouldn't say dumb, but that's what it seems like. When a teacher wrote an article in her school magazine about the terrible state of sex education they had, it provoked a furore - that she had written the article in the first place. Soon enough, parents were complaining about the choice of literature English teachers were setting, or drama teachers staging 'indecent' plays.

Free speech? Freedom of expression? It's absolutely incredible what some people will do. This school, by the way, has to say that abstinence is the only fool-proof method of contraception - they're not allowed to advocate other methods. Unsurprisingly, studies have shown abstinence does absolutely nothing to reduce the amount of teenage sex going on.

Use of Weapons, by Iain M Banks

I'll start off by saying that I think Banks is probably the best author I've ever read, so take this review with a pinch of salt. Still, Use of Weapons probably ranks as possibly the best book, SF or no SF, that I've ever read. It paints a complex, sometimes hard-to-understand, picture of a soldier's past - a mercenary who's being used by an impossibly powerful and sanctimonious civilization called the Culture to do its dirty work.

There are two parallel strands of storyline in Use of Weapons which are sometimes hard to figure out. Probably you'll only really understand what's going on with a second reading - but it's worth it. Banks seems to have been born with a talent to describe the truly twisted and dark elements of humans and mix them together with our other characteristics. The frequent splashes of humour only serve to provide contrast against the depressing nature of this novel.

I read a comment about Use of Weapons on the Internet - this woman said that her husband read the novel and couldn't get to sleep afterwards for days. He also tried to get her to read it, just so he could have someone to talk to about it. My copy of Use of Weapons disappeared recently so I'll have to order a new one, but it'll be worth it. I plan to lend it out to any number of people in order to convert more people to the Banks cause.

Rating: 9/10 out of 10. A classic. Don't be put off by its slightly confusing nature at first, although I have to admit that if you're not hooked after the first few dozen pages, with the stylish cruelty of it all, then you're just not a Banks person. Banks' next novel, Look to Windward, will be released in a month's time.

Tomorrow: I may have a break from reviewing.

4:29 PM | permalink | discuss


Thursday, July 6

More snippets from Michael Moore's The Awful Truth - 50% (!) of US tax dollars go to military spending, as opposed to 2.7% of UK tax dollars. Does the US have a militar that is 20 times better than ours? (actually, forget I asked that, I have a horrible feeling that they do. But do you need such a powerful military?).

(On further research, I found that this figure was not true. In fact, the US only spends 14% on military, that's about $274 billion. Check out Understanding USA for the source figures).

That young ragamuffin Euan Blair (once described by The Times as the most influential teenager in Britain) was caught 'drunk and incapable.' What a wonderful description, 'incapable.' Of what, inquiring minds inquire.

What interests me is that this stunning piece of world-shakingly important news ranks as high as, say, protests in Northern Ireland and an airplane hijacker being killed. They say that people want news about celebrities and what Prince William is wearing - but who gives? The only reason we're interested is because the media hypes it up so much.

There was a great section on a programme today called The RDA on BBC Choice where they suggested that a great way to get people interested in world affairs is by infiltrating the news into soap operas. E.g.:

Bar girl: Dave, what's wrong?
Dave: Well... I don't know...
Bar girl: It's the situation in Indonesia isn't it?
Dave: Yeah. It's just that... what with the elections and all the violence, I don't know what'll happen.
Bar girl: Dave. Look. Suharto'll have to give back the money he stole...

And so on. I think it's a winning concept.

Moonseed by Stephen Baxter

Unlike most people, I enjoyed Moonseed quite a lot - perhaps it's because Baxter's SF was the first read 'hard SF' I'd ever read. Anyway, Moonseed is about how a strange substance taken back by the Apollo missions from the Moon has spooky nanotech properties that make it break down rocks. It's self-replicating, so basically the Earth starts getting eaten up. At first it's a relatively plausible read, staying firmly down to earth (both figuratively and physically). Then, as people realise what's going on, everything blows up, you have mass evacuations and Britain invades Ireland (alas, that was only mentioned in passing in the novel).

It's hard to describe how Moonseed reads, probably because the last time I read it was over a year ago. However, two things stand out - the love interest of the hero, which seems remarkably well formed when compared to other SF novels, and the trademark Baxter NASA A-Team. By the latter, I mean the fact that in every single Baxter novel, he has a go at NASA for its general incompetence and proceeds to outline how NASA could go to the moon/Titan/Mars/the stars with two elastic bands, a few retro-fitted Shuttles and some ATLAS rockets.

Of course, true to form, the novel ends typically crazily with things occurring out of this world and the Earth being blown up. I feel that Baxter tends to get carried away with his endings. However, what the hell, it's science fiction and it's good fun.

Rating: 7 out of 10. I'm getting pretty irritated at myself for giving the last three novels 7 out of 10 so the next once I'm going to review will be damned good (or damned bad). Still, that's what Moonseed is - an enjoyable read that's slightly flawed. Last I heard of it, Moonseed was optioned by Canal+ to be turned into a TV movie. Exactly how they'd do it, I have no idea.

Tomorrow: Use of Weapons by Iain M Banks

8:48 PM | permalink | discuss


Wednesday, July 5

With all these technological advances into wireless networking, you can be connected to the Internet. So when I received an email from a person who was currently on holiday on a rowing boat somewhere in the back of beyond in America, I was duly impressed. Until he kept on sending messages to a mailing list I'm on and I began to wonder - what are you doing, hunched over a keyboard while on a lake?

I took a short break yesterday to walk for a few hours with some friends and quickly got back to check my mail and other such mundane things. I've found that the Internet is really quite amazing at sucking time up; I never actually bother surfing around randomly - I have a shortish list of regularly updated websites that I check frequently for interesting news. The thing is, if I'm at the computer then I'll tend to check them constantly - which is frankly a waste of time.

Now, that's my fault, not the computer's fault. I managed to spend several hours at the computer today working constantly without looking around the web at all. All too often, people say that they receive hundreds of emails and that the Internet is responsible for several trillion man-hours being lost every day - of course, it's not the Internet, it's people.

And so the moral of the story is: Sorry for not updating my weblog recently, guys.

I mentioned a while back something called Project Voyager, from which I am hoping to procure some money. It's a channel/content-provider/weird-web-thing that is seeking to educate the 'average 15 year old' about science. Oh, and they have $23 million so far. So you see why I'm interesting.

Project Voyager certainly is interesting, if only for the fact that its founder claims to have been visited by aliens. There's a good interview with him at Salon, although a Google search uncovers other interviews (not about Project Voyager though).

Some interesting facts I read in the Financial Times 'The Business' supplement. On the 1905 Tour de France, the top four finishers were disqualified for catching the train (almost as impressive as my school's cross-country run where roughly 5% of the runners didn't cheat, i.e. did not take a shortcut or drive most of the way). There's also a peculiar rule that you weren't allowed to receive any mechanical help on your bike, so in 1913 when the race leader snapped his front forks off his bike, he carried them to a blacksmiths' and spent four hours crafting a new set of forks out of a piece of metal on his own. He was promptly awarded a penalty due to 'illicit assistance' in the form of the blacksmith's boy pumping the bellows.

The Business supplement is extremely readable - if it was on the Internet, it'd probably be acclaimed for having great design and articles. Seeing as probably over 50% of its content is either about the Internet or related to it, it'd be perfectly at home. It has some wonderful infographics as well - information architects would be overjoyed.

And now, the review:

The Hammer of God, by Arthur C. Clarke

Emblazoned prominently on the cover is the testamonial. 'Graceful and grave - The Sunday Times.' For once, I'll agree with their opinion; those words sum up the novel perfectly. The Hammer of God proceeds almost at a languid pace, with the trademark Clarke tangents about religion, aliens and flashbacks interspersed in the main story. It's quite impressive how he manages to weave in a number of seemingly irrelevant strands into a plot that's about a spacecraft trying to divert an asteroid from hitting the Earth.

Now, unlike some other stories about asteroids, there is very little action, if any, in The Hammer of God. Everything is planned out scientifically and Clarke proceeds to construct a typically optimistic view of the future with colourful characters and thoughtful interludes about how the future might unfold.

Even though I enjoyed reading them, the interludes are the real downfall of this novel - at some points, it seems like the novel is composed completely of random flashbacks and factual-sounding articles about what the Pope said, or some new religion, occasionally interspersed with a side-story about an asteroid heading for Earth.

That said, it's a perfectly competent novel. If you're a Clarke reader, you won't find any surprises, but you won't be disappointed - which is pretty much what you're going to expect at this late stage of Clarke's career (The Hammer of God was written about seven years ago).

Rating: 7 out of 10. An enjoyable, relaxing read that seems long yet is only 190 pages. I imagine that it would have been very easy for other authors to pad the thing out to at least double its length with contrived side-plots, adventures and obstacles but in the end there's really no need. If you like Arthur C. Clarke I recommend it, and if you don't, give it a go anyway. After you've read the other higher scoring novels I'm going to review, that is.

Tomorrow: Moonseed by Stephen Baxter

7:43 PM | permalink | discuss


Monday, July 3

Actually, there is something that I can write about - I finally went and repaired the link to the About page you can see in the sidebar, and updated the content as well. Contrary to what some people believe, I knew perfectly well that the link was broken, it was just that... [snip long, contrived justification]

8:46 PM | permalink | discuss


I find it reassuring that even when I have absolutely nothing interesting to write about that I've seen on the Internet (apart from some Project Voyager thing which appears to have vanished without trace from Salon) I can always just review books.

As promised, the review of Darwin's Radio (a little late, yes):

Darwin's Radio, by Greg Bear

I had very high expectations of Darwin's Radio after reading several positive reviews of it from different sources. Since it was also concerned with genetics and molecular biology, it seemed like the ideal novel for me - so in retrospect I think maybe a little disappointment was inevitable.

Darwin's Radio is about the idea that within our DNA are seemingly useless pieces which actually are the driving force for human evolution. When it seems that humans are under excessive stress, a biological computer (there's not really any better word) comprised from the interactions between all the humans in the world gives the order, via a highly infectious virus, to start messing about with the DNA. As a result, millions of women begin to have miscarriages and Strange Things are going on concerning their babies. Everyone gets panicky and as usual the US overreacts. Someone fortuitously discovers a Neanderthal in perfect condition proving this weird hypothesis and it's a race against time for our heroes to save the world. Or something like that.

It was certainly an enjoyable read. Admittedly, it was slow to start but became gripping once it was going. The only major criticisms I have is that while the majority of the genetics and biology talk is perfectly solid, the whole 'biological computer driving evolution' seemed a bit hokey. But what the hell, it's science fiction.

I was particularly impressed with the character development. Not of the two main heroes, but of the two bystanders who slowly become the 'bad guys' in a completely believable process. It's been a while since I read something so convincing.

Rating: 7/8 out of 10. It's not amazing, yet it deserves more than 7. Even though I think it's a perfectly good book, I got the feeling that something was lacking. Anyway, that's just me; everyone else I know who's read Darwin's Radio thought it was great. It's in paperback - go and buy it.

Tomorrow: The Hammer of God by Arthur C Clarke

8:24 PM | permalink | discuss


 
 

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