Sunday, December 5, 2010

Instagram + iPhone

My flickr feed is a lot more interesting since I got the iPhone 4 and Instagram.  I used to not take as many mobile pictures with my old iPhone since the camera just wasn't that good.  The iPhone's new HDR feature combined with the 5megapixel sensor makes it a pretty awesome camera.  My dSLR has been gathering dust (i still plan to upgrade it though to the new Nikon D7000).

Here's some samples of some pictures I never would have taken with my Nikon.









Monday, February 15, 2010

Pachyderm Area Network

I was watching JANE MCGONIGAL's talk on New Yorker about games and using games to solve real word problems.  
She predicts that by 2013 we will find ourselves living our lives inside of massively multiplayer games.  We're not talking about World of Warcraft type online games but real world or 'offline' games.
She mentions car based games where your goal is get better mileage, ChoreWars  a game that applies gaming to household chores, and SharkRunner which integrates real data from actual sharks swimming around wild in the oceans.


This reminded me of a paper i wrote in 2008 for a class at George Mason. The paper proposed merging social networks like facebook with the social networks of other species. Specifically the endangered Asian Elephant.    


 http://mason.gmu.edu/~mbrashie/IT304/The_Next_Step.html



Saturday, February 13, 2010

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Buying Good Beef in Bulk




On a whim I decided to buy a quarter of a cow.  Even though I didn't have all the facts before committing to buy I did know these three truths.
  1. If it was good for paleolithic man, with which everyone in my immediate family shares blood type, than it is good for us.  
  2. Most cows are processed through large factory farms where they are injected with tons of pharmaceuticals to make them grow big and grow fast and fight off infections caused by their crowded living conditions.  
  3.  Everybody seems to get cancer or heart disease nowadays. 
What I didn't know before I tried to make up for in research into organic grass fed beef after I made the purchase but before I took delivery.  I'll try to pass on as much information as I can remember from that research.


Where and How Much?
Last October a woman that works in my building posted a ad on the digital bulletin board stating that for $400 I could buy a 1/4 portion of a cow from a farmer she knows, a guy by the name of Kevin Diehl in Pennsylvania. The ad further stated that the cow is not treated with any hormones, antibiotics, or any other chemicals.  It's just a cow in a field doing it's thing.  Those are my words, not from the ad.  
A 1/4 portion equates to 200lbs of meat "on the hoof".  Awesome! That's $2/lb however by the time you get it "in the freezer" it's more like 120lbs which comes out to $3.48/lb. 
"On the hoof" basically means they weigh it while it's still a cow.  It includes the head, tail, bones, hair, hooves, teeth, and everything else that makes up the cow.  When you strip away all that you're left with just meat, fat and some bone all cut to your specifications and wrapped in pretty white butcher paper.
You can learn more about buying grass fed beef at eatwild.com or this article on eHow.  


Why Buy Organic Grass Fed Beef? 
My wife and I decided a while ago that we were going to eat healthier foods and generally be more aware of the quality of food we consume.  Neither one of us has any desire to be a vegetarian and we don't want the kids to skimp on animal proteins.  Muscles, brains, organs, these things need protein. Our goal is simply to reduce the amount of artificial food stuff that we consume.  So when I saw the ad for organic beef I jumped on it.
What I found out after I committed to buy the quarter cow is that grass fed organic beef seems to be just about the healthiest source of red meat you can buy.  It's much more healthy  than the meat you get from factory processed grain fed cows which are confined, overfed, and pumped full of chemicals.
For example read the list below that I stole from eatwild.com.
A 2009 study by the USDA and researchers at Clemson University in South Carolina determined that compared with grain-fed beef, grass-fed beef was:
  1. Lower in total fat
  2. Higher in beta-carotene
  3. Higher in vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)
  4. Higher in the B-vitamins thiamin and riboflavin
  5. Higher in the minerals calcium, magnesium, and potassium
  6. Higher in total omega-3s
  7. A healthier ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids (1.65 vs 4.84)
  8. Higher in CLA (cis-9 trans-11), a potential cancer fighter
  9. Higher in vaccenic acid (which can be transformed into CLA)
  10. Lower in the saturated fats linked with heart disease
Kevin Diehl, the farmer who raised the cow, delivered the meat to my office building last week.  The four of us beef buyers met him in the parking lot and took possession of our quarters.  
Did I mention you will need a lot of freezer space?  I got the 14.8 cubic foot Frigidaire Energy Star model
It was a little overkill for this much meat but I intend to use it to store a bunch of other frozen food.  The economics of frozen food is a whole other blog post.  Suffice to say you can save a lot of money by getting a freezer and buying food in bulk.
For my $400 I got 120 pounds of meat consisting of:
  •  7 or 8 roasts
  • a half dozen or so 1 1/4in. steaks of various types
  • a dozen or so 1 1/2lb packages of ground beef
  • 5 boxes of hamburger patties
  • a bunch of cubes for stew.
But How Does it Taste?
The short answer is: it tastes really really good.  The night after I took delivery I pan fried a sirloin steak with a recipe I got from the Cook with Jamie cookbook. The steak was delicious as was the ground beef we had tonight in tacos.  Both had really good flavor and texture.  I can't wait to grill a porterhouse next week.



Pan Fried Sirloin Steak. Cook with Jamie pg 158
Originally uploaded by michaelb1
So......
I bought a huge portion of grass fed organic beef.  It saved me some money. It tastes really good. It's healthy for me and my family.  
After only two meals I can say that I will buy another 1/4 cow when this meat runs out.  By my calculations my family of five eating two or three red meat meals per week should go through the entire 120lbs in about..........I have no idea.












Saturday, January 2, 2010

Path of my Ancestors



My ancestors left Africa 50k years ago. They settled in the Middle East 45k years ago. They moved into southern central Asia 40k years ago.  Then they moved into cental Asia 35k years ago. About 30k years ago, as CroMagnon's they colonized Europe. Most people in modern Spain and Ireland carry the same haplogroup as me.


Your Y-chromosome results identify you as a member of haplogroup R1b.
The genetic markers that define your ancestral history reach back roughly 60,000 years to the first common marker of all non-African men, M168, and follow your lineage to present day ending with M343, the defining marker of Haplogroup R1b.
If you look at the map highlighting your ancestors' route, you will see that members of haplogroup R1b carry the following Y-chromosome markers:

M168 > P143 > M89 > L15 > M9 > M45 > M207 > M173 > M343
(Less is known about some markers than others. What is known about your journey is reflected below.)

Today, roughly 70 percent of the men in southern England belong to haplogroup R1b. In parts of Spain and Ireland, that number exceeds 90 percent.
What's a haplogroup, and why do geneticists concentrate on the Y chromosome in their search for markers? For that matter, what's a marker?

Each of us carries DNA that is a combination of genes passed from both our mother and father, giving us traits that range from eye color and height to athleticism and disease susceptibility. One exception is the Y chromosome, which is passed directly from father to son, unchanged, from generation to generation.
Unchanged, that is unless a mutation—a random, naturally occurring, usually harmless change—occurs. The mutation, known as a marker, acts as a beacon; it can be mapped through generations because it will be passed down from the man in whom it occurred to his sons, their sons, and every male in his family for thousands of years.

In some instances there may be more than one mutational event that defines a particular branch on the tree. This means that any of these markers can be used to determine your particular haplogroup, since every individual who has one of these markers also has the others.
When geneticists identify such a marker, they try to figure out when it first occurred, and in which geographic region of the world. Each marker is essentially the beginning of a new lineage on the family tree of the human race. Tracking the lineages provides a picture of how small tribes of modern humans in Africa tens of thousands of years ago diversified and spread to populate the world.
A haplogroup is defined by a series of markers that are shared by other men who carry the same random mutations. The markers trace the path your ancestors took as they moved out of Africa. It's difficult to know how many men worldwide belong to any particular haplogroup, or even how many haplogroups there are, because scientists simply don't have enough data yet.
One of the goals of the five-year Genographic Project is to build a large enough database of anthropological genetic data to answer some of these questions. To achieve this, project team members are traveling to all corners of the world to collect more than 100,000 DNA samples from indigenous populations. In addition, we encourage you to contribute your anonymous results to the project database, helping our geneticists reveal more of the answers to our ancient past.
Keep checking these pages; as more information is received, more may be learned about your own genetic history.

Your Ancestral Journey: What We Know Now
M168: Your Earliest Ancestor


Fast Facts
Time of Emergence: Roughly 50,000 years ago
Place of Origin: Africa
Climate: Temporary retreat of Ice Age; Africa moves from drought to warmer temperatures and moister conditions
Estimated Number of Homo sapiens: Approximately 10,000
Tools and Skills: Stone tools; earliest evidence of art and advanced conceptual skills
Skeletal and archaeological evidence suggest that anatomically modern humans evolved in Africa around 200,000 years ago, and began moving out of Africa to colonize the rest of the world around 60,000 years ago.
The man who gave rise to the first genetic marker in your lineage probably lived in northeast Africa in the region of the Rift Valley, perhaps in present-day Ethiopia, Kenya, or Tanzania, some 31,000 to 79,000 years ago. Scientists put the most likely date for when he lived at around 50,000 years ago. His descendants became the only lineage to survive outside of Africa, making him the common ancestor of every non-African man living today.
But why would man have first ventured out of the familiar African hunting grounds and into unexplored lands? It is likely that a fluctuation in climate may have provided the impetus for your ancestors' exodus out of Africa.
The African ice age was characterized by drought rather than by cold. It was around 50,000 years ago that the ice sheets of northern Europe began to melt, introducing a period of warmer temperatures and moister climate in Africa. Parts of the inhospitable Sahara briefly became habitable. As the drought-ridden desert changed to a savanna, the animals hunted by your ancestors expanded their range and began moving through the newly emerging green corridor of grasslands. Your nomadic ancestors followed the good weather and the animals they hunted, although the exact route they followed remains to be determined.
In addition to a favorable change in climate, around this same time there was a great leap forward in modern humans' intellectual capacity. Many scientists believe that the emergence of language gave us a huge advantage over other early human species. Improved tools and weapons, the ability to plan ahead and cooperate with one another, and an increased capacity to exploit resources in ways we hadn't been able to earlier, all allowed modern humans to rapidly migrate to new territories, exploit new resources, and replace other hominids.

M89: Moving Through the Middle East


Fast Facts
Time of Emergence: 45,000 years ago
Place: Northern Africa or the Middle East
Climate: Middle East: Semiarid grass plains
Estimated Number of Homo sapiens: Tens of thousands
Tools and Skills: Stone, ivory, wood tools
The next male ancestor in your ancestral lineage is the man who gave rise to M89, a marker found in 90 to 95 percent of all non-Africans. This man was born around 45,000 years ago in northern Africa or the Middle East.
The first people to leave Africa likely followed a coastal route that eventually ended in Australia. Your ancestors followed the expanding grasslands and plentiful game to the Middle East and beyond, and were part of the second great wave of migration out of Africa.
Beginning about 40,000 years ago, the climate shifted once again and became colder and more arid. Drought hit Africa and the grasslands reverted to desert, and for the next 20,000 years, the Saharan Gateway was effectively closed. With the desert impassable, your ancestors had two options: remain in the Middle East, or move on. Retreat back to the home continent was not an option.
While many of the descendants of M89 remained in the Middle East, others continued to follow the great herds of buffalo, antelope, woolly mammoths, and other game through what is now modern-day Iran to the vast steppes of Central Asia.
These semiarid grass-covered plains formed an ancient "superhighway" stretching from eastern France to Korea. Your ancestors, having migrated north out of Africa into the Middle East, then traveled both east and west along this Central Asian superhighway. A smaller group continued moving north from the Middle East to Anatolia and the Balkans, trading familiar grasslands for forests and high country.

M9: The Eurasian Clan Spreads Wide and Far


Fast Facts
Time of Emergence: 40,000 years ago
Place: Iran or southern Central Asia
Estimated Number of Homo sapiens: Tens of thousands
Tools and Skills: Upper Paleolithic
Your next ancestor, a man born around 40,000 years ago in Iran or southern Central Asia, gave rise to a genetic marker known as M9, which marked a new lineage diverging from the M89 Middle Eastern Clan. His descendants, of which you are one, spent the next 30,000 years populating much of the planet.
This large lineage, known as the Eurasian Clan, dispersed gradually over thousands of years. Seasoned hunters followed the herds ever eastward, along the vast super highway of Eurasian steppe. Eventually their path was blocked by the massive mountain ranges of south Central Asia—the Hindu Kush, the Tian Shan, and the Himalayas.
The three mountain ranges meet in a region known as the "Pamir Knot," located in present-day Tajikistan. Here the tribes of hunters split into two groups. Some moved north into Central Asia, others moved south into what is now Pakistan and the Indian subcontinent.
These different migration routes through the Pamir Knot region gave rise to separate lineages.
Most people native to the Northern Hemisphere trace their roots to the Eurasian Clan. Nearly all North Americans and East Asians are descended from the man described above, as are most Europeans and many Indians.

M45: The Journey Through Central Asia


Fast Facts
Time of Emergence: 35,000
Place of Origin: Central Asia
Climate: Glaciers expanding over much of Europe
Estimated Number of Homo sapiens: Approximately 100,000
Tools and Skills: Upper Paleolithic
The next marker of your genetic heritage, M45, arose around 35,000 years ago, in a man born in Central Asia. He was part of the M9 Eurasian Clan that had moved to the north of the mountainous Hindu Kush and onto the game-rich steppes of present-day Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and southern Siberia.
Although big game was plentiful, the environment on the Eurasian steppes became increasing hostile as the glaciers of the Ice Age began to expand once again. The reduction in rainfall may have induced desertlike conditions on the southern steppes, forcing your ancestors to follow the herds of game north.
To exist in such harsh conditions, they learned to build portable animal-skin shelters and to create weaponry and hunting techniques that would prove successful against the much larger animals they encountered in the colder climates. They compensated for the lack of stone they traditionally used to make weapons by developing smaller points and blades—microliths—that could be mounted to bone or wood handles and used effectively. Their tool kit also included bone needles for sewing animal-skin clothing that would both keep them warm and allow them the range of movement needed to hunt the reindeer and mammoth that kept them fed.
Your ancestors' resourcefulness and ability to adapt was critical to survival during the last ice age in Siberia, a region where no other hominid species is known to have lived.
The M45 Central Asian Clan gave rise to many more; the man who was its source is the common ancestor of most Europeans and nearly all Native American men.

M207: Leaving Central Asia


Fast Facts
Time of Emergence: 30,000
Place of Origin: Central Asia
Climate: Glaciers expanding over much of Europe and western Eurasia
Estimated Number of Homo sapiens: Approximately 100,000
Tools and Skills: Upper Paleolithic
After spending considerable time in Central Asia, refining skills to survive in harsh new conditions and exploit new resources, a group from the Central Asian Clan began to head west towards the European subcontinent.
An individual in this clan carried the new M207 mutation on his Y chromosome. His descendants ultimately split into two distinct groups, with one continuing onto the European subcontinent, and the other group turning south and eventually making it as far as India.
Your lineage falls within the first group, M173, and gave rise to the first modern humans to move into Europe and eventually colonize the continent.

M173: Colonizing Europe—The First Modern Europeans


Fast Facts
Time of Emergence: Around 30,000 years ago
Place: Central Asia
Climate: Ice Age
Estimated Number of Homo sapiens: Approximately 100,000
Tools and Skills: Upper Paleolithic
As your ancestors continued to move west, a man born around 30,000 years ago in Central Asia gave rise to a lineage defined by the genetic marker M173. His descendants were part of the first large wave of humans to reach Europe.
During this period, the Eurasian steppelands extended from present-day Germany, and possibly France, to Korea and China. The climate fostered a land rich in resources and opened a window into Europe.
Your ancestors' arrival in Europe heralded the end of the era of the Neandertals, a hominid species that inhabited Europe and parts of western Asia from about 29,000 to 230,000 years ago. Better communication skills, weapons, and resourcefulness probably enabled your ancestors to outcompete Neandertals for scarce resources.
This wave of migration into Western Europe marked the appearance and spread of what archaeologists call the Aurignacian culture. The culture is distinguished by significant innovations in methods of manufacturing tools, more standardization of tools, and a broader set of tool types, such as end-scrapers for preparing animal skins and tools for woodworking.
In addition to stone, the first modern humans to reach Europe used bone, ivory, antler, and shells as part of their tool kit. Bracelets and pendants made of shells, teeth, ivory, and carved bone appear at many sites. Jewelry, often an indication of status, suggests a more complex social organization was beginning to develop.
The large number of archaeological sites found in Europe from around 30,000 years ago indicates that there was an increase in population size.
Around 20,000 years ago, the climate window shut again, and expanding ice sheets forced your ancestors to move south to Spain, Italy, and the Balkans. As the ice retreated and temperatures became warmer, beginning about 12,000 years ago, many descendants of M173 moved north again to repopulate places that had become inhospitable during the Ice Age.
Not surprisingly, today the number of descendants of the man who gave rise to marker M173 remains very high in Western Europe. It is particularly concentrated in northern France and the British Isles where it was carried by ancestors who had weathered the Ice Age in Spain.

M343: Direct Descendants of Cro-Magnon


Fast Facts
Time of Emergence: Around 30,000 years ago
Place of Origin: Western Europe
Climate: Ice sheets continuing to creep down Northern Europe
Estimated Number of Homo sapiens:
Tools and Skills: Upper Paleolithic
Around 30,000 years ago, a descendant of the clan making its way into Europe gave rise to marker M343, the defining marker of your haplogroup. You are a direct descendent of the people who dominated the human expansion into Europe, the Cro-Magnon.
The Cro-Magnon are responsible for the famous cave paintings found in southern France. These spectacular paintings provide archaeological evidence that there was a sudden blossoming of artistic skills as your ancestors moved into Europe. Prior to this, artistic endeavors were mostly comprised of jewelry made of shell, bone, and ivory; primitive musical instruments; and stone carvings.
The cave paintings of the Cro-Magnon depict animals like bison, deer, rhinoceroses, and horses, and natural events important to Paleolithic life such as spring molting, hunting, and pregnancy. The paintings are far more intricate, detailed, and colorful than anything seen prior to this period.
Your ancestors knew how to make woven clothing using the natural fibers of plants, and had relatively advanced tools of stone, bone, and ivory. Their jewelry, carvings, and intricate, colorful cave paintings bear witness to the Cro-Magnons' advanced culture during the last glacial age.
This is where your genetic trail, as we know it today, ends. However, be sure to revisit these pages. As additional data are collected and analyzed, more will be learned about your place in the history of the men and women who first populated the Earth. We will be updating these stories throughout the life of the project.


Friday, January 1, 2010

My Favorite Books of 2009

In 2009 I decided to read more dead tree based content instead of web based content.  Here's a few of my favorites with a brief comment on each.  I also threw in some honorable mentions. Note, not all of these books were published in 2009.  I just got around to reading them in 2009.


Under the Dome, Stephen King

I love books with a premise that seems to come out of nowhere.  Giant dome isolates a small town in Maine does the trick.  The moral of the story: Liberals and conservatives got to stick together against the nut jobs. This book made me hate the villain, Big Jim Remmie.









 The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, Alain De Botton

Work wasn't always equated with your happiness and life dreams.  It was merely something you did as quick as possible so you could eat and pursue your hobbies if you had any.
Somewhat Malcolm Gladwell'ish and a great read.  The book describes, with great detail and insight, many disparate workers and industries all across the globe.  From the guy that paints the same tree over and over for years in every possible weather and lighting to the South American rocket launch of a French made satellite for a Japanese company the book packs a lot of information gathered from  all corners of the globe in an effort to explain why we do what we do.



Shadow Divers, Robert Kurson

A couple of regular guys discover a sunken U-Boat off the coast of New Jersey.  It's not in any history books.  True story.  It's awesome.












Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell

I knew it!  Success does not come from brains and hard work alone.  It takes a village, and luck, and cultural legacy, and......it takes more than hard work and brains.










The Lost City of Z, David Grann

An amazing true story of Col. Percy Fawcett as he explored the Amazon looking for the mythical City of Gold.  This book made me want to explore.  It planted the seed in my brain that I should ride my motorcycle across the country and back.  My trip wasn't as adventurous as Col. Fawcett's journey but at least bugs didn't try to live in my eyeballs.  Supposedly Brad Pitt is producing the movie.








The Signal, Ron Carlson

This "mens fiction" novel by Ron Carlson was another inspiration for me to drive my motorcycle across country.  His descriptions of the Wyoming back country are great.  The Washington Post says it better than I can: Carlson "writes like Hemingway without the misogyny and self-parody".  









1776, Douglas McCullough

McCullough writes history like it's fiction (in a good way).  I felt like I was there watching General Washington outmaneuver the British.  My only regret is that the book only covers the year 1776 and not the entire war.










Honorable Mentions:  I really enjoyed these as well.  


The Flood, Stephen Baxter

Like Under the Dome this book explores what happens when things go bad.  An ocean under the Earths crust springs a leak and floods the planet over a 50 year time span.











The Singularity is Near, Ray Kurzweil

Humans and computers will merge in our lifetime.  Things are going to get very weird.












Shop Class as Soul Craft, Matthew Crawford

A very interesting book about how we kind of overdid it in the 90's and 00's in convincing ourselves that everyone has to be a knowledge worker with high tech skills.  There's lots of intelligence, creativity, math, and ingenuity in the trades and crafts.










The Host, Stephanie Myer

I know she wrote the sappy vampire books but this is good science fiction.  Benevolent aliens take over Earth via the body snatchers technique.  One of them lives within an isolated fugitive camp and goes native.  It's pretty creepy.











The Art of the Motorcycle, Thomas Krens

Beautiful bikes and the stories behind them.












Pirate Latitudes, Michael Crighton

I hadn't read Crighton in years but this reminded me of those numerous nights I stayed up late reading the Jurassic Park series.  This is a fun swashbuckling adventure set in 1665 Jamaica.  There's a ton of Spanish gold in a nearby and well guarded fort.  The protagonist is part Han Solo part Jack Sparrow and believes "gold in spanish hands is gold for the taking".  Steven Spielberg is making the movie.