In memoriam: Frederick Sanger

250px-Frederick_Sanger2Frederick Sanger, the only Briton to have won two Nobel prizes, has died. He worked in biochemistry, studying DNA and proteins. His first Nobel prize was awarded for being the first to sequence a protein, insulin. At the time, it required years of work to do so.  He found that it was made up of two peptide chains: all proteins are one or more peptide chains. He spent nearly ten years removing one amino acid at a time from the end of the protein and identifying it, then going on to the next.

Winning the prize enabled him to afford better facilities and gather bright students around him. His second prize was for an ingenious and efficient way of discovering the sequence of nucleotide bases in a molecule of DNA or RNA. The linking of base pairs gives the molecule its ladder structure. The Sanger method cuts the molecules at different places, sorts them by weight (and therefore length) and identifies the base on the end using fluorescent dyes of different colours. According to Wikipedia, he used the method sequence human mitochondrial DNA (16,569 base pairs) and bacteriophage λ (48,502 base pairs). His method was used to sequence the human genome and many others.

His work allowed us to understand the genetic basis of mutations and diseases and was important for the development of better vaccines. Frederick Sanger was also honoured with the Order of Merit for distinguished service in science as well as several other awards.

The Telegraph has quite a nice obituary: Frederick Sanger.

Feminism 101

Here is a good new resource about feminist issues in the high-tech field: Finally, a Feminism 101 blog.

The life of Bill Broderick

Humanist Bill Broderick lived in Belleville, Ontario, secure in the knowledge that there is no eternal punishment after death. He was a member of the Quinte Secular Humanists. Mr. Broderick, after a long and productive life, died at age eighty.

Whence the vitriol?

At the Center for Inquiry conference, skeptic Rebecca Watson, of the Skepchick blog, commented on someone else’s critique of her reaction to the Elevator Incident, which was, “Guys, don’t do that”—hardly inflamatory.

I have seen people write that Rebecca Watson insulted the blogger who had named her and criticized her reaction, and whose whose comment her she dissected.

She named her, a writer who had already publicly associated herself with the discussion. She “insulted” her. And yet “ignorant of a certain subject” is a description, not an insult? Rebecca Watson didn’t insult the person who had already publicly called her out by name, who pointed out that the writer was ignorant of sexism as it exists now and that she had absorbed a lot of misogynistic ideas. Both conditions are fairly common in young women who have been sheltered in a fairly egalitarian educational system and immersed in popular culture. And any young woman who showed a spark of feminism would be showered with disincentives–case in point: Rebecca Watson. Young women are likely disavow feminism as unfeminine, at least until they get older and wiser.

So, there wasn’t any insult. The writer of the critical blog post was there and could respond during question period if she so chose.

Now, can anyone explain the 8-week storm of insults, accusations, and threats—not reasoned arguments and counter-examples—that has been hurled at our clear-thinking feminist?

Everybody loves Kung Fu fighting!

I’m watching National Geographic’s Fight Science. They are working their through Mixed Martial Arts and various Kung Fu styles, with world champions and exemplars demonstrating their techniques against pressure sensors and high-speed cameras.  These are not just ordinary guys and gals from the fight school down the street: the MMA artists are armoured in muscles, the fighters have hardened their bones and muscles, and all have p0ractised for years.

Their statistics are impressive.: punches that can cause concussion and knockouts, kicks that can break ribs and bruise the heart,  strikes faster than a snake. Neat!

How technology changes us

Some technologies lead to new forms of empowerment:

  • Writing: more than memory, longer than living memory.
  • Printing: yet more knowledge preserved and multiplied.
  • Telegraphy: fast messaging for many over distance.
  • Automobile: personal freedom of movement.
  • Xerography: everyone’s a publisher.
  • E-mail:  return of the pen-pal and frequent mail delivery worldwide.
  • Personal computers: unprecedented data management & secretarial services  within households.
  • Cell phone: instant person-to-person locating and updating.
  • Blogs: anyone can publish a magazine all over the world.
  • Discussion groups with pseudonyms: exchange views and establish trust between strangers.
  • Twitter: everyone her own telegrapher.
  • Transfer money by cell phone: economic lubricant in poor countries.

India experiences ‘gendercide’

Social conditions in India mean that, for many people, male infants are valued more than female. Boys stay at home, bring in dowries, work for the family, and take care of parents in their old age. Girls leave home, cost dowries, work for the husband’s family, and take care of the husband’s parents. And families always try to have the children that benefit them.

Working within those rules, families reduce the number of female children by selective abortion, covert infanticide, and starvation or other deadly neglect.

The proportion of females in among children is at an all-time low.

Of course, this leads to problems at marriageable age. Instead of scrapping the dowry and reworking social expectations, parents of boys will be buying kidnapped girls.

How gullible are we?

Did this ever happen? I can imagine it happening: My favourite social experiment that supposedly really happened: someone set up a booth with an overhead banner that read “GIVE to the two-headed orphans of <some distant land>” and staffed it with a couple of good-looking booth-bunnies. According to the tale, they got lots of donations from guys who didn’t bother to read the sign.

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