Brain Buffet

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Gut microbiomes - 41

It was easier to be skinnier a few decades ago[1].

This makes immediate sense to me at a surface level. In the nearly 40 years since the 80s, there's been an explosion of food choice, availability, and changes to the type - more meat in the diet, more fast food, more junk food, more processed foods, so on. This should come as no surprise.

But the interesting takeaway here is that the because of all of these dietary choices, many of which were and continue to be more about availability than about conscious decision even though the latter has increased as well, they affect the gut microbiome. And the gut micribiome affects the rest of the body.

It affects brain health. The bacteria in the gut produce approximately 90% of the body's serotonin, used in regulating emotions, and can send signal to the GI system to stimulate or suppress digestion[2]. What you put into your stomach affects your emotion and your stomach can make you crave certain foods, reinforcing the diet that you're feeding it.

Good bacteria in the gut flora feed off fiber; bad bacteria feed off sugar. A few decades ago, and probably trending backwards all through human history, it was easier to be hit and maintain a target weight because the reinforcing feedback loop of gut flora to diet to body health only had a few specific kinds of fuel to choose from, and as the gut flora is changed both by selection in diet and by the changes to the quality of food (which have less mineral content due to intensive farming, for example), makes the feedback loop negative, and harder to break.

1: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/09/why-it-was-easier-to-be-skinny-in-the-1980s/407974/

2: http://depts.washington.edu/mbwc/news/article/the-gut-microbiome-and-brain-health

Working backwards - 40

There is apparently a mechanism by which human beings, and presumably all biological organisms which leverages this technology, can reverse their biological age[1]. Chronological age is how old you actually are and biological age is how old you seem, or present, based on epigenetic markers indicative of chemical changes in the DNA.

By using a combination of growth hormone, which spikes insulin levels, and then countering those spikes with two different types of medicine used to treat diabetes, the researcher who tested this on himself was able to 'reverse' his biological age by 2.5 years.

This is early days, but still very exciting. In a sci-fi novel called Ringworld that I enjoyed when I read and still think about warmly after years, the protagonist had extended his love through the use of something called "boosterspice". In another scifi novel, Time Enough for Love, a character extended his life by centuries through the use of techniques like filtering out old, toxin-riddled blood and pumping in fresh blood[2]. It's exciting to think about the fact that people alive today, perhaps even people in my generational cohort, will be able to easily pass a century in age - and more importantly, to spend those years in reasonably healthy bodies, rather than anchored to life support.

1: https://www.inverse.com/article/59096-humans-reverse-epigenetic-clock

2: https://nypost.com/2018/09/10/young-blood-could-be-the-secret-to-long-lasting-health-study/

Compromised - 39

Kompromat, short for "compromising material" in the Russian culture, is damaging information about someone which can be used to blackmail, extort, or put them away. Kompromat can be legitimate, acquerid through security services like spying on someone, or it could be completely forged and used for purely political reasons of getting someone out of the way and putting them in prison or even executing them.

Early on in this practice it used to be planted drugs, grainy videos of prostitutes hired by the KGB, and other entrapment techniques. More recently kompromat appears in the form of cybercrime. The information in either case is often sexual in nature, such as when a civil servant was the victim of a gay honey trap during a time in Britain when homosexuality was against the law.

Some enemies of Russia say the government plants child porn on them[1]. What a tactic, what a world.

1: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/09/world/europe/vladimir-putin-russia-fake-news-hacking-cybersecurity.html

A shot to the heart - 38

In Yemeni, 3 men who were convicted of raping and killing a 10 year old were shot in the heart 5 times and then suspended from a crane in the public square[1].

I have mixed feelings about the death penalty. I don't necessarily dislike it on the principle of the state's monopoly of violence, which is to say I think that certain crimes or actions can be punishable by it if we could arrive at an ineffable conviction. In most cases this doesn't happen. Political motivations and individual biases skew arrests and convictions. Over 100 people have been exonerated from death row since the 1970s[2], people found guilty, sentenced to death, and then found innocent. So clearly the penal system needs some work still.

But assuming this was one of those irrefutable circumstances? I'm not conflicted about it.

1: https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/1001264/yemen-news-execution-paedophiles-shot-hung-crane-killed-boy-ten-pictures
2: http://www.ncadp.org/pages/innocence

Rocko's Modern Life - a review - 37

Genre: Animation; short; action
Rating: 6/10

Not for the series, but for the new short Static Cling. For me, this short was something which I could call entertainment, which I would say if you ended up watching you wouldn't turn off in the middle of it or regret the time that you spent consuming it, but that if you came to Static Cling because you liked the series a lot, your nostalgia may find itself disappointed.

It was a fun walk down memory lane but the short was more concerned with that, with some light satire overtones lampooning modern society, than it was with an engaging story. There was a lot of references to old characters and old stories, which used time I think would have been better spent on the "A" story. Taking Ralph Bighead as an analog for the show creator it seems like the creation of another Rocko was something the creator wasn't totally interested in and had to be essentially pulled into the studio to make (money was no doubt the bait) and, if this is true, then it kind of shows.

If you have a Netflix subscription already you might enjoy watching it, but not something I'd say you should go out of your way for.

Building worlds and interactions - 36

I wrote this for a casual discussion on game design in shared virtual spaces, and wanted to capture it here.

Make your lore[1] accessible and changeable

Ideas are cheap. Execution is expensive because that is where costs of time and energy tend to concentrate. The brain is engaged in an almost constant stream of ideation, so much so that practices have grown out of learning to silence the chatter[2].

What does this mean to me in the context of worldbuilding and making your lore interactive and engaging? In particular for a collaborative community that engages through forum media?

To me it means that it's very easy to make something "cool", something which on the surface appeals but which further probing reveals has little substance. Because execution is what makes the substance; it comes later, after ideation.

In the digital age with countless generators to use as starting points or for inspiration and unparalleled accessibility to information, from the full text of public domain and open source works, to samples or snippets of commercial products, to analyses of texts and shared knowledge on YouTube, Wikipedia, news websites, etc. Ideas as germs are in hyper-abundance. Having a cool idea is not enough to make it popular because cool ideas are actually very common. On its own a cool idea is just a pitch. A pitch needs to be developed into a full work before it can hope to actually compete.

So in this context, what makes an idea valuable? How accessible it is to players and how much it can be transformed via that interaction. In terms of following paths of least resistance, I speculate that more players are more drawn to lore they can easily change or adopt[2], and that they can see the realization of this change as a result of their character's actions.

1: Essentially "intellectual property"

2: Meditation

3: In video games this translates to the open world and sandbox games steadily gaining in popularity; in the analog world we see this with TTRPGs like D&D and Pathfinder. Another more recent and more direct example is Gloomhaven, where character actions physically alter the board game equipment.

A change in tune - 35

You know about the Equifax breach[1]?

Did you know about the settlement[2]?

If you knew about both of these things, see item number 5 for an update. After promising a settlement to refund people 125 per person that filed a claim, Equifax received so many claims that they can no longer promise that settlement and anyone opting into it is likely going to get far less than they expect. So they recommend going with the free monitoring instead.

They knew how many accounts got leaked. When arriving at a fine and settlement offering, how did this take them by surprise?

1: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2017/09/equifax-data-breach-what-do

2: https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/cases-proceedings/refunds/equifax-data-breach-settlement

Food for Trash - 34

Places like this already have a presence in some parts of the US and Europe, but what puts this one ahead of the pack in terms of intrigue is that the program then plans to repurpose the plastic waste to build more durable roads[1] in the city of Ambikapur.

If you've never gone really, truly hungry for an extended period of time, you may not know what it's like to be so desperate to food that you're willing to do almost anything. It's literally a matter of life and death, and people pushed to the edge of their limits by starvation isn't good for anyone. Although this isn't a panacea for all of the world's ills, and there will remain plenty which require attention and solutions, I think a program like this is beneficial for all parties involved at lower and higher levels.

On the lower level you have someone being able to easily earn themselves food they can live on, and not just cheap junk food. On the higher levels you have a crowd-sourced initiative to clean up the streets. Littering is so serious a social offense in some countries that in Germany it moves the needle of empathy nearly a dozen percentage points when it comes to helping out a perceived outsider. The study is really showing the power of social norms and littering was chosen because of it being race and culture neutral, but I think it still sends a strong signal.

And plastic in particular is an issue for the human animal, so putting it to task on improving infrastructure, which improves transportation not just of people but of goods and of services, is one of the best things we could be doing with our plastic waste, if it has to be produced at all.

1: https://www.vice.com/en_in/article/xwnb3j/people-can-exchange-trash-for-free-food-at-indias-first-garbage-cafe

2: https://www.inverse.com/article/58124-discrimination-against-immigrant-study

Ethiopia leads the charge - 33

By planting 350 million trees in 12 hours[1]. Back in July I wrote about[2] how planting trees could be the "game changer" for how we approach the fight for climate change - just one pillar of many but an important one that's both cheap and effective.

Ethiopia is 67th when ranked by GDP[3], and they are leading the charge for the rally against climate changes and the apocalyptic disaster that climate change promises to visit on the human species and the global ecosystem.

According to the world happiness report4, Ethiopia is 127th in ranking. I'll be curious to see how this effort affects Ethiopia's GDP, as it courts positive attention on what I hope is an international scale, maybe leading to some extended good will, maybe leading to some commercial interests, but am also curious how the country will rise in happiness index with the mounting evidence that shows that trees, and not just low lying vegetation, provide a mental boost to the human animal[5].

1: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/ethiopia-plants-350-million-trees-12-hours-breaking-world-record-2019-07-30/

2: https://listed.to/@brainbuffet/6787/plant-trees-to-fight-climage-change-26

3: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(nominal)

4: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Happiness_Report

5: https://www.sciencealert.com/increasing-urban-tree-cover-gives-community-mental-health-a-boost-says-new-study

Active vs passive consumption

Passive consumption - mindless entertainment. Reality TV often falls into this category since it is often a scripted simulation of reality whose events and interactions are engineered, to various degrees, to provide entertainment. Sort of like the junk food version of media. You can find this version in any medium. There's junk food magazines, websites, books, movies, and even activities, like games; there's a big divide between a game like scrabble and a game like farmville.

Active consumption - Unlike food, at least part of how much value can be squeezed from a piece of content is how you're actively digesting it, but it starts with making a conscientious effort to seek out high quality content. Shows that challenge perspectives, that give you new information, whether in the non-fiction arena or just an insight into human behavior (improved theory of mind applies to fictional content the most). It isn't enough to just sit in front of good content being thrown at you, you have to engage your mind into noticing and doing things with that content. This is where you get improved retention and fodder for creative inspiration later on in life.

Aquaman - a review - 31

Genre: Action; adventure; fantasy
Rating: 6/10

Minor spoilers - just assume this is the case every time.

In short - it was fine. Mediocre might be an equally suitable word.

Things that I liked were the fight choreography. I'm not very familiar with what trident combat would look like in the hands of superhumans or in the more buoyant environment of the underwater kingdoms, but it looked good and was exciting to watch.

Things that I didn't like were that the movie felt very busy, trying to cram too many plot points into an already over-extended and puffy movie. I didn't like how much of it backgrounds and set pieces were CGI. I especially didn't like how many times clunky and exposition heavy dialogues were interrupted by conveniently timed/placed explosions. On that note the Black Manta antagonist was too quickly introduced and shuffled off, and the alleged moral crisis / wound which should have been afflciting our hero was only touched on here and there.

It was fine. If you found yourself watching it by happy accident or convenience you'd live but I don't think this is something a movie-goer should seek out.

Under the silver lake - a review - 30

Genre: Comedy, crime, drama
Rating: 6/10
Minor spoilers.

I didn't know that this had a comedy genre tag when I started watching it. The description and trailer make it seem more like a mystery than anything else, but knowing that adds an extra special shine on one of my favorite moments in the movie. Around the 18 minute mark the protagonist finds that his car has been keyed. He hears some noises up the block and goes to investigate, there discovering a few pre-teens keying cars and pissing on them. Enraged the protagonist goes up to one and punches him in the face. One of the fallen's friends runs up and gets punched in the dick. I thought it was hilarious.

That moment aside the movie was pretty aimless. There were unresolved questions at the end of it, in a way that detracts from satisfaction rather than enhancing it. There's no real explanation for the Owl's Kiss for example, especially what happened to her after her second appearance.

I believe the protagonist to be an unreliable narrator as they describe some past behaviors that fit into the scope of one or another kind of mental disorder, schizophrenia with a little OCD/OCPD and a rage issue or two, or something along those lines, enough to have me wonder for at least part of the movie if it was all or mostly a concoction of the main character's imaingation. At the end of the movie I'm pretty confident that most of it is real enough, and that I know who the dog killer is which is important for no real reason other than that it gets asked a lot.

I thought the scene with the songwriter was interesting. Although it was a bit much in attributing every popular song to one songwriter, the idea of popularity being pumped out with machine-like regularity is an interesting one and not too far off from at least one real world example[1].

Ultimately the movie was entertaining enough, but also frustrating, maybe transparently so, and not a movie I would prioritize seeing over something with better structure.

Incidentally this movie was made by the same guy who did It Follows, which I like da lot more

1: https://nypost.com/2015/10/04/your-favorite-song-on-the-radio-was-probably-written-by-these-two/

Mobile and rentable spaces - 29

An interesting survey in Japan found that people were renting cars for: naps, as temporary work space, temporary storage, to charge devices, to have a private conversations, to eat lunch, and a few other things.

This is fascinating for a number of reasons. As the article points out a good amount of money that these companies make is from the miles that get driven. If a car is rented and then parked, they don't get as much money and so may start trying to tack a fee onto these stationary renters. Which they shouldn't. They should continue to provide the same value for the same product regardless of how the customer is using it and the fact that some people have found useful-for-them ways shouldn't be financially penalized.

But this is a very interesting thing to consider. If we abstract away from thinking about this as rental cars and instead as temporary contained space, the applications can get very interesting. Imagine being able to go to an empty lot, requesting a giant cube, throwing a party over the course of a few hours or hosting an event over the course of a few days, with septic tanks and gravity-fed water add-on options of course. General purpose, movable, temporary space-units could make for an interesting (good and bad I'm sure), future.

Intelligence won't always save you - 28

Sometimes it's the problem. To a certain degree, more intelligent people, which here I'll define using the theory of multiple intelligence as having a high general G factor, can just as easily make mental traps for themselves as can less intelligent people. The reasons for these traps or the way the traps look may be different but they're traps nonetheless.

A great example of this is Isaac Newton's fascination with alchemy and his habit of drinking mercury to extend his life. He lived into his 90s, so maybe it worked, but he also died of mercury poisoning - who knows how long he might have lived or what else he might have contributed to the scientific fields if not for that little thing he managed to convince himself was the truth? Newton was an absolute genius, but even he . . .

This particular case may seem more excusable because it was dealing with something not as easily verified in Newton's time as in our time. But it turns out there's relatively simple biases that shortcut the mental defenses even of people with higher intelligence and an analytical thinking style.

In this case, simply repeating something over and over again will lend itself to the appearance of credibility. This is already recognized as having hypnotic power in music, in slogans and propaganda, and really breaks down the veneer of things in the world. If you ever ask yourself why you see something being said over and over again, even when its blatantly and obviously not true or just a pandering to an audience or a party, here it is. The more you say something, the more something is allowed to be said, the more it seems like the truth. This, I think, is extremely important to keep in mind when making your way through the world, and can help inform a lot of the decisions that corporations take with regards to the nature of content they allow on their platforms.

What do parties watch? - 27

This study separated their demographic into Blues, Reds and Purples. I won't bother to define them since I'm providing the link and you can dive into them for more details as needed.

In this study Blues made up 47% of the population, which has the most women and the largest number of African Americans. The reds are 35% and made up the highest proportion of senior citizens. And the Purples made up 18&, and had the largest share of Asians and Hispanics, had the most religious people, and the people most satisfied with their lives (hybrid vigor at play?)

Blues liked: "Modern Family, The Big Bang Theory, The Simpsons, South Park, and Law & Order: SVU."

Purples, who watched the most TV (is this at all related to the happiness? escapism and improved theory of mind from consumption of fiction?) liked: "The Voice and Dancing with the Stars, but they also like Saturday Night Live — a favorite among Blues as well — and Duck Dynasty, which is preferred by Reds."

Reds claimed they didn't watch much entertainment TV but when they did, preferred: "Hallmark, History and Ion channels, and NCIS"

Where it gets the most interesting is where the parties overlap: "America’s Funniest Home Videos, Bones, Criminal Minds, MythBusters, and Pawn Stars".

Pawn Stars is the least liked show by all parties, and the four remaining shows, which are liked by all the parties, share the distinction of being oriented around valuing and seeking "Truth".

Plant trees to fight climage change - 26

I imagine most people are aware of the massive existential / catastrophic threat posed to humanity by climate change.

There are a couple of propositions that have been put up on how to address this. There are a couple of things to consider. Transportation and electricity production make up more than half of the tracked sources of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the EPA. But 10%, which is not an overwhelming number but still large enough to factor, is produced by livestock.

So after you factor in the very real need to cut back on emissions by using renewable energy and vehicles (not just cars) with alterate energy sources, one very real way to combat climate change is to reduce meat in the human diet in favor of vegetables, or insect protein, or lab grown meat.

Getting past these practical and preferred solutions that involve changes to the way human beings live life, one interesting approaching one company is taking is pulling the carbon straight out of the air.

But one method which could prove to be fantastically effective (and we still need to do the stuff mentioned above) is planting about a trillion trees. They pull carbon for energy, combat heating by providing shade, and young trees pull even more carbon than old ones so we would get a lot of the benefit upfront rather than later on. It's by and far the cheapest method and has the additional benefit of helping to prevent the loss of biodiversity. Which is good for us too, of course. Plus I think it would be really neat to re-forest and cover the earth in green again.

Bitcoin - a country's worth of electricity - 25

I recently found out that Bitcoin uses more energy than Switzerland.

I don't really know if this is a good or bad thing, but I do know that thinking about it in those terms is pretty intense for me.

It should come as no surprise that it doesn't come close to touching the consumption rates of the G7 countries. I am surprised to find that China uses more electricity than the United States by a factor of nearly 2x, but looking into the source table for the consumption rates of countries "below the fold", it got even more interesting.

Bitcoin uses about 64 TWh annually.

There are over 50 countries whose consumption is less than one million. That means that the amount of power being consumed mining bitcoin is not too far off from the same amount of power it would take to power 50+ countries for the year. Although I think the block chain, as a technology, is awesome and will lead to a lot of interesting things in the future, I'm not sure that cryptocurrency is the best use of the blockchain's technical capabilities, and am even less certain that its worth putting that much power into the mining of it versus distributing some of that demand to countries which can use it to power their infrastructure and bring services to their people . . . assuming the political infrastructure is in place to support that, which is admittedly a pretty big assumption.

The problem with immortal characters - 24

At least for live action, is the fact that they aren't immortal.

This pretty obviously stands to reason but I thought it was worth exploring the implications of it as well. I started thinking about it as a result of watching this show Lucifer.

A long running urban fantasy show called Supernatural has protagonists that are human. The characters around them can run the gamut from human to supernatural themselves, but the main characters are plain mortal. Another show, Angel, didn't run as long but it's widely accepted as being great and influential. A lot of the side characters are mortal but the main character is a vampire.

Angel got cancelled by its parent channel after five great seasons, but even if the showrunner, writers, and actors wanted to go back and capture some of that magic, even if they had the support and funding, they couldn't write around the fact that the main star has gotten many, many years older.

In animation, you don't see this. The voice doesn't change as much as skin does over the years so you can have a protagonist pretend immortality pretty well. Look at the Simpsons; they're ageless and have been for 20 years.

But in live action, people get older. Or they change in other ways; get pregnant, get scars, get ill, all things which can visibly impact their character on a show in which they should be functionally changeless.

I've held for a while now that animation is the future because of this. You don't face the same problems that TV does with actors who may want to do other roles, or who may quit acting altogether. For better or worse it's easier to find a voice stand in then a face stand in, so a show can continue running even if the voice actors for the major characters have to change.

This might change with Deepfake technology, if it can overlay a youthful appearance over an actor's face. I suppose time will tell.

Media literacy and the new age - 23

Finland is waging a war against fake news

At one of their education centers, a teacher works their way through a powerpoint presentation and provides the audience with a checklist of methods that Russian trolls use to deceive readers, including media manipulations, misrepresentations of facts and half-truths, group intimidation (voting down certain people and voting up themselves), and bot profiles.

On another slide is a diagram of a Twitter profile page showing them to look for things like stock photos, post volume, and lack of personal information. And at the end of it is a lesson on deepfake technology . . . back in 2014.

If the US took media literacy as seriously as Finland did, who knows where US citizens could be now in identifying propaganda? By a large degree this happens on an almost instinctive level on social media and during social media interactions. The catfish-era baked a certain degree of suspicion into people so they know not to take people's claims of identity and capabilities at face value, and to ask for proof. But there's some kind of disconnect in people on applying this standard universally, and not to get baited into deliberately misleading conversations with trolls and even the well-intentioned but misinformed or ignorant.

One thing that will help is that Google has joined the fight.

Pacts with the devil - 22

My first introduction into the idea of making deals with the devil was with Robert Johnson and the Cross Road Blues. This was before rock and metal had been invented, let alone stigmatized, and Blues was considered "the devil's music". As the myth goes Robert Johnson was a middling to shoddy guitar player who went away for a year and when he came back, he was able to do things with the guitar that stunned other players. It quickly built up that Johnson had traded his soul for the ability to play music like a virtuoso.

I later discovered the Goethe play about Faust, the doctor who made a deal with the devil to give up his soul so that he could learn all there was to learn about earthly science. He wanted to learn more than any other human in history has been able to learn and the devil takes him on quite a wild ride indeed.

I very recently came across an article that was talking about how a particular European folktale pre-date the Bible and Greek myths. This one is so old it existed before written record and was passed down largely intact by oral storytelling tradition. This tale was of a blacksmith who made a deal with the devil, exchanging his soul for the power to weld any materials together, then fixes the devil to an immovable object so the devil can't collect on his soul.

There are many more examples of people making deals with devils, and with mischievous elves, and with djinni which offer a similar take on making deals with supernatural beings and the good and bad ways those deals can end up.