Microbes in oceans and soils are evolving to eat PLASTIC 

Any molecule that has stored energy is going to represent a niche that bacteria can take advantage of.

Microbes in oceans and soils are evolving to eat PLASTIC Researchers in Sweden measured samples of DNA at hundreds of locations around the world, taken from both soil and water. They found 30,000 enzymes in these DNA samples that have the potential to degrade 10 different types of commonly used plastic, including the widely-used polyethylene terephthalate (PET).

Microbes in oceans and soils are evolving to eat plastic, a new study reveals in a breakthrough that could help boost recycling of commercial packaging waste.

Researchers in Sweden measured samples of DNA at hundreds of locations around the world, taken from both soil and water.

They found 30,000 enzymes in these DNA samples that have the potential to degrade 10 different types of commonly used plastic, including the widely-used polyethylene terephthalate (PET).

What’s more, there appears to be a higher concentration of plastic-eating microbes where there is more plastic waste for them to break down.

It’s thought the soaring use of plastic for packaging over the last 70 years has given ‘sufficient evolutionary time’ for various microbes present in the environment to respond to these compounds.

Source: Microbes in oceans and soils are evolving to eat PLASTIC Researchers in Sweden measured samples of DNA at hundreds of l…

The Doc Savage Formula

Lester Dent was the staff writer who, the house name Kenneth Robeson, penned all but 20 of these 181 novel-length tales of the science adventurer and globetrotting detective Clark Savage, Jr. Dent created a workmanlike product, on tight deadline, to his wordcount.

 

Lester Dent Master Plot Formula

This is a formula, a master plot, for any 6000 word pulp story. It has worked on adventure, detective, western and war-air. It tells exactly where to put everything. It shows definitely just what must happen in each successive thousand words. No yarn of mine written to the formula has yet failed to sell. The business of building stories seems not much different from the business of building anything else.

Here’s how it starts:

  1. A DIFFERENT MURDER METHOD FOR VILLAIN TO USE
  2. A DIFFERENT THING FOR VILLAIN TO BE SEEKING
  3. A DIFFERENT LOCALE
  4. A MENACE WHICH IS TO HANG LIKE A CLOUD OVER HERO

One of these DIFFERENT things would be nice, two better, three swell. It may help if they are fully in mind before tackling the rest.

A different murder method could be — different. Thinking of shooting, knifing, hydrocyanic, garroting, poison needles, scorpions, a few others, and writing them on paper gets them where they may suggest something. Scorpions and their poison bite? Maybe mosquitos or flies treated with deadly germs?

If the victims are killed by ordinary methods, but found under strange and identical circumstances each time, it might serve, the reader of course not knowing until the end, that the method of murder is ordinary.

Scribes who have their villain’s victims found with butterflies, spiders or bats stamped on them could conceivably be flirting with this gag.

Probably it won’t do a lot of good to be too odd, fanciful or grotesque with murder methods.

The different thing for the villain to be after might be something other than jewels, the stolen bank loot, the pearls, or some other old ones.

….

Here’s the second installment of the master plot.

Divide the 6000 word yarn into four 1500 word parts. In each 1500 word part, put the following:

FIRST 1500 WORDS

  1. First line, or as near thereto as possible, introduce the hero and swat him with a fistful of trouble. Hint at a mystery, a menace or a problem to be solved — something the hero has to cope with.
  2. The hero pitches in to cope with his fistful of trouble. (He tries to fathom the mystery, defeat the menace, or solve the problem.)
  3. Introduce ALL the other characters as soon as possible. Bring them on in action.
  4. Hero’s endevours land him in an actual physical conflict near the end of the first 1500 words.
  5. Near the end of first 1500 words, there is a complete surprise twist in the plot development.

….

SECOND 1500 WORDS

  1. Shovel more grief onto the hero.
  2. Hero, being heroic, struggles, and his struggles lead up to:
  3. Another physical conflict.
  4. A surprising plot twist to end the 1500 words.

….

THIRD 1500 WORDS

  1. Shovel the grief onto the hero.
  2. Hero makes some headway, and corners the villain or somebody in:
  3. A physical conflict.
  4. A surprising plot twist, in which the hero preferably gets it in the neck bad, to end the 1500 words.

….

FOURTH 1500 WORDS

  1. Shovel the difficulties more thickly upon the hero.

  2. Get the hero almost buried in his troubles. (Figuratively, the villain has him prisoner and has him framed for a murder rap; the girl is presumably dead, everything is lost, and the DIFFERENT murder method is about to dispose of the suffering protagonist.)

  3. The hero extricates himself using HIS OWN SKILL, training or brawn.

  4. The mysteries remaining — one big one held over to this point will help grip interest — are cleared up in course of final conflict as hero takes the situation in hand.

  5. Final twist, a big surprise, (This can be the villain turning out to be the unexpected person, having the “Treasure” be a dud, etc.)

  6. The snapper, the punch line to end it.

Source: The Doc Savage Formula

L. Ron Hubbard wrote a large amount of pulp stories, and quickly settled on a “practical joke” format. The plot twist, by which the hero wins, would take on the form of a practical joke played upon the adversaries. They would think they had victory in the bag, and the hero would be three or four steps ahead by the end of the story.

Update: The Misleading Murderer you Know, latest data

Those who follow the debate on restoring Second Amendment rights have probably heard the other side proclaim some variant of:

“Most victims are murdered by people they know.”

The implication is defending yourself from a murderer is futile, because there is no point in trying to defend yourself from a person who is close to you.

This is a way of lying with statistics.The truth is far different.

Few victims are murdered by someone they live with.

In 2013, this correspondent published an essay on the Misleading Murderer that you Know. The numbers were from 2010. This update uses the latest numbers. They  are from  the FBI Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) for 2019.

The most accurate crime statistics involves homicides, particularly murders. The most easily solved homicides are murders of passion between intimates. The hardest homicides to solve are those where there is no connection between the murderer and the victim.

The largest category of victim in the FBI reports of victim relationships to their murderer is unknown. In 2019, those victims are 49% of the total. It is a huge number. Some of this is because FBI Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) are often filed before an investigation is complete. As murders of passion among intimates are the easiest to solve, this means a much higher percentage of strangers and acquaintances fall into the unknown category when the UCR report is filled out.

The clearance rate for murder in 2019 was 59%. This means 41% were not solved. About 84% of the murderers who are unknown by the time of the UCR report remain unknown. It is likely most of the 16% solved are not intimate partner murders. Those that are, are unlikely to have been living with their victim.

Source: Update: The Misleading Murderer you Know, latest data

A Politically Incorrect Thanksgiving List

As I think about all that I’m thankful for this year I realize that, in addition to my wonderful wife, family, friends and Church, there are a number of things that come to mind that have to be placed in the category of “politically incorrect” or even (horrors) the unwoke.

1. Styrofoam cups and take-out containers—I love Styrofoam containers, especially in the winter. I like my coffee to be piping hot and I want it to stay that way to the very last drop. Paper cups just don’t do it, plus I typically have to use two. Also, the best way to be sure that your take-out orders remain hot all the way home is for them to be packaged in Styrofoam. It is truly a great invention. Paper is a terrible substitute.

2. Plastic Grocery Bags—they are clearly the most convenient way to bag your groceries, but they are also sturdy and great for a whole host of second, third, and fourth uses. The most important is, of course, disposing of kitty litter. (We have 4 cats.) Also, as an unintended effect, they take up far less landfill space than paper bags.

3. Carbon Dioxide—As a living and breathing human being I am so completely thankful for CO2. Without it no life on earth, especially mine, would be possible. It is food for all plant life which is food for all humans.

4. Our well protected system of private property and free exchange—without it there would be no capitalism and without capitalism we would all be living in abject poverty.

5. Market generated profits—The biggest single driver for people to provide goods and services for others (like me and my family) are profits. If it weren’t for the lure of profits and the ability to earn and keep them, we wouldn’t have any of the great material advantages in our lives—great technology, warm and comfortable homes, inexpensive transportation to all parts of the world, tremendous medical advances, you name it. None of these things would exist without the possibility of producing them for a profit.

6. Market entrepreneurs—These are people who are constantly on the look out for better ways to satisfy the needs and wants of others. And when entrepreneurs are successful, we are all made better off. Great entrepreneurs that I’m particularly thankful for include John D. Rockefeller, whose market insights and innovations drove down the price of kerosene in the late 1800s by almost 70 percent, making lighting affordable to the masses and giving them a life after sunset. As an unintended consequence he probably did more to save the whale than any single human being that ever lived. I’m also thankful for Henry Ford for figuring out how to make relatively fast personal transportation—the car—affordable to people other than the rich. Others who I’m especially thankful for include Sam Walton, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. What all of these great entrepreneurs have in common is they figured out ways to bring what were once luxury goods to the middle and lower classes at very low cost.

7. Millionaires and Billionaires (especially billionaires)—Because they love profits these people put all of that extra wealth in investments which add to the country’s stock of capital and provide a more prosperous future for everyone.

8. The Petroleum and Coal Industries—For providing the affordable and always available energy that makes every aspect of my material and physical wellbeing possible.

9. The Second Amendment—While I have never owned or even shot a gun I am, without a doubt, more protected from both criminals who may attempt to harm me and a government who may try to take away my other rights, when my fellow law abiding citizens right to keep and bear arms is protected.

10. All heterosexual couples—For perpetuating the human race for about 300,000 years now and generating the most important resource on the planet—the human mind.

Source: A Politically Incorrect Thanksgiving List

Communism Destroyed Russian Cooking

Yes, I’m a bit of a foodie, so I’m fascinated by how people ruin cuisines.

Reason‘s December special issue marks the 30th anniversary of the collapse of the Soviet Union. This story is part of our exploration of the global legacy of that evil empire, and our effort to be certain that the dire consequences of communism are not forgotten.

In August 1936, Josef Stalin sent his commissar of food, Anastas Mikoyan, to the United States on the SS Normandie for a working holiday. The long-serving party member and diplomat was a natural fit for the expedition: He’d formerly served as trade commissar, and he took great pains to publicly profess his loyalty to Stalin, who rewarded him and Mrs. Mikoyan with the opportunity to travel from coast to coast sampling all sorts of luxurious American fare—popcorn, ice cream, hamburgers, bologna, cornflakes, and corn on the cob. The Soviet crew visited Midwestern dairies and slaughterhouses, fascinated by everything from meat processing plant capabilities to the griddles used to cook burger patties. Mikoyan soon became enamored with tantalizing new kitchen appliances and advances in refrigeration that had recently begun to proliferate in the U.S.—all inconvenient evidence of the splendor and efficiency brought by capitalism.

Over the course of the ’30s, Stalin’s government went to great lengths attempting to create, often through Socialist Realist–style propaganda, a cohesive national identity that could bind good Soviets together in service of the party. Part of the aim was to reimagine Russian home cooking via standardized, party-approved recipes.

Three years later, The Book of Tasty and Healthy Food was born. It was the fruit of Mikoyan’s grand adventure and an attempt to show comrades just how good they had it. The thick book, filled with glossy, full-page illustrations, was an exhaustive-seeming compendium of recipes organized by category. Its implicit message was that those who were loyal to the party would have access to the abundant delights depicted therein.

Source: Communism Destroyed Russian Cooking

Food in fiction

Still, food in fiction is a great opportunity for your reader to enjoy some vicarious strangeness (not all of it nice). I got to write about the delights of hákarl and soldier termites in various books. I think it was Sir Terry Pratchett who said everything tastes a bit like chicken if you’re hungry enough. Trust me on this: hákarl never tastes like chicken. Not even if you are starving.

Source: Food in fiction

Sunday assorted links

My peoples, the time has come for a MEGATHREAD. In 40 tweets I will explain another 40 concepts you should know. Strap in. Here we go:

  1. Abstraction: There are scales of explanation. A human can be considered a person, mammal, collection of cells, collection of stardust. Sometimes the reason people can’t see eye to eye is that they’re unwittingly considering things at different levels of abstraction.
  2. Scope Neglect: We evolved for the small scale of tribal life, so we can’t comprehend the big numbers that recently entered human life. We can appreciate the difference between 50 and 100, but not a million and a billion. It’s why we often treat geopolitics like family politics.
  3. The Law of Very Large Numbers: Given a wide enough dataset, any pattern can be observed. A million to one odds happen 8 times a day in NYC (population 8 million). The world hasn’t become crazier, we’re just seeing more of everything.
  4. Benford’s Law: Numbers in natural sets of data are not uniformly distributed (e.g. 30% of numbers have 1 as their first digit). Used by the IRS and other tax agencies to determine if you’ve lied about your finances.
  5. Brandolini’s Law (aka the Bullshit Asymmetry Principle): It takes a lot more energy to refute bullshit than to produce it. Hence, the world is full of unrefuted bullshit.
  6. The Toxoplasma of Rage: The ideas that spread most are not those everyone agrees with, but those that divide people most, because people see them as causes to attack or defend in order to signal their commitment to a tribe.h/t: @slatestarcodex
  7. Network Effect: The more people using a network, the more useful it becomes. A phone gains utility as more people use phones because more people can be called with it. It’s why Twitter & Facebook are so dominant; we’re stuck on these platforms because everyone else is.
  8. Paradox of Abundance: Easy availability of food led to obesity for the masses but good health for the few who used the increased choice to avoid the mass-produced junk. Equally, you can avoid intellectual diabetes by ignoring junk info like gossip & clickbait. h/t: @david_perell
  9. Parkinson’s Law: Work expands to fill the time allotted for it. No matter the size of the task, it will often take precisely the amount of time you set aside to do it, because more time means more deliberation & procrastination.
  10. Flow States: You’re in flow when you’re so engrossed in a task that the world vanishes and the work seems to do itself. Flow is automatic, and it makes work much easier than you imagined. All you have to do is overcome the initial hurdle of beginning a task; flow does the rest.
  11. The Curse of Knowledge: The more familiar you become with an idea the worse you become at explaining it to others, because you forget what it’s like to not know it, and therefore what needs to be explained to understand it. Makes it hard to write threads like this!
  12. Status Quo Bias: Those who were unfazed by Covid because it had a ~1% fatality rate were suddenly concerned about vaccines when they yielded a 1 in a ~million fatality rate. People see the risks of doing something but not the risks of doing nothing.
  13. Semmelweis Reflex: People tend to reject evidence that doesn’t fit the established worldview. Named for Ignaz Semmelweis, a surgeon who, before the discovery of germs, claimed washing hands could help prevent patient infections. He was ridiculed and locked away in a mental asylum
  14. Planck’s Principle: “Science progresses one funeral at a time. “Scientists, being human, don’t easily change their views, so science advances not when scientists win or lose arguments, but when they die so that younger scientists with more refined views can take their place.
  15. Bias Against Null Results: Studies that find something surprising are more interesting than studies that don’t, so they’re more likely to be published. This creates the impression the world is more surprising than it actually is. Also applies to news, Twitter.
  16. p-hacking: “If you torture the data for long enough, it’ll confess to anything. “Academics get around the Bias Against Null Results by performing many statistical tests on data until a significant result is found then recording only this. p-hacking is largely why we have a…
  17. Replication Crisis: A large proportion of scientific findings have been found to be impossible to replicate, with successive tests often yielding wildly different results. Too many studies are bunk to take any of them at face value.
  18. Luxury Beliefs: Cultural elites often adopt views that signal status for them but hurt the less fortunate. E.g. Those who claim that concern about Islamism is Islamophobic appear open-minded but in fact dismiss the (usually Muslim) victims of such extremism. h/t: @robkhenderson
  19. Bulverism: Instead of assessing what a debate opponent has said on its own merits, we assume they’re wrong and then try to retroactively justify our assumption, usually by appealing to the person’s character or motives. Explains 99% of Twitter debates.
  20. Scout Mindset: We tend to approach discourse with a “soldier mindset”; an intention to defend our own beliefs and defeat opponents’. A more useful approach is to adopt a “scout mindset”; an intention to explore and gather information. h/t: @JuliaGalef
  21. Operation Mindfuck: A conspiracy theory that can protect you from conspiracy theories. The Operation is being conducted by persons unknown, and is a plot to make you believe lies. Whenever you receive information, ask yourself, is this part of Operation Mindfuck?
  22. Hitchens’ Razor: What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. If you make a claim, it’s up to you to prove it, not to me to disprove it.
  23. Decision Fatigue: The more decisions you make in a day, the worse your decisions get, so rid your life of trivial choices. Steve Jobs, Barack Obama & Mark Zuckerberg have been known to wear only 1 or 2 outfits to work so they don’t have to choose each day.
  24. Cumulative Culture: Humanity’s success is due not to our individual IQs but to our culture, which stockpiles our best ideas for posterity so they compound across generations. The ideas we adopt from society are often far older than us, and far wiser. h/t: @SteveStewartWilliams
  25. Chesterton’s Fence: If an old law or tradition seems so irrational that you want to scrap it, then you shouldn’t scrap it. The fact it’s survived the ages despite seeming irrational means it must have a purpose. Before acting, understand that purpose. An argument for conservatism
  26. The Veil of Ignorance : Create a constitution for a country as though you could wake up tomorrow in the body of any citizen, of any race, religion, or gender, and be forced to live as them in the society you’ve created. A central idea behind liberalism.
  27. Tragedy of the Commons: The Rapa Nui people of Easter Island felled trees for wood until there were not enough trees to provide food, causing mass starvation. Everyone acting in their own interests can create outcomes against everyone’s interests. Common argument for regulation.
  28. Purposeful Stupidity: Common argument against regulation. In 1944, the OSS (now known as the CIA) published a field manual laying out strategies to subtly sabotage a society from within. The tactics described are eerily similar to what passes for normality today.
  29. Mediocracy: Democracy works not because it picks the best leaders, but because it picks the most average leaders. The purpose of democracy is not so much progress as preservation. h/t: @Mmay3r
  30. The Messiah Effect (my term): most people don’t believe in ideals, but in people who believe in ideals. Hence why successful religions tend to have human prophets or messiahs, and why when a demagogue changes his beliefs, the beliefs of his followers often change accordingly.
  31. Futarchy: What if people voted not for political parties, but for metrics that society should seek to maximize (e.g. median household income, average life expectancy) and then betting markets determined the policy that would maximize the metric best? h/t: @robinhanson
  32. Network States: Due to the web, place of birth no longer determines your community. Future nations may consist not of people who were born near each other, but of online subcultures using collective bargaining to crowdsource micronations of like-minded people. h/t: @balajis
  33. The Immortality Project: Civilization is an elaborate attempt to distract ourselves from the fact that we’re all going to die. We do this by trying to become symbolic beings rather than physical ones. Hence, the endless search for meaning.
  34. Mimetic Desire: We learn much of our behavior by copying others. In societies, we often don’t know what to desire, so we begin to desire what others desire. This leads to simulated pursuits and simulated conflicts over simulated desiderata.
  35. Hedonic Treadmill: Once we’ve obtained what we desire, our happiness quickly returns to its baseline level, and we begin to desire something else. Whatever happens, good or bad, we get used to it. As such, the most fortunate of us are seldom much happier than the least.
  36. Boltzmann Brain: Your brain is far simpler than the rest of the universe (which includes every other brain), so, rather than the universe emerging from the void, it’s more feasible that your brain emerged from the void, and everything else is just in your head.
  37. Simulation Hypothesis: Assuming computing power reaches the point that consciousness can be simulated en masse, the scenarios in which you are such a simulation vastly outnumber the scenarios in which you are real. Ergo, you are likely a simulation.
  38. The Great Temptation: What if we haven’t found aliens because civilizations create mesmerizing amusements (like simulations) before they learn interstellar travel? What if all advanced civilizations eventually lose themselves in virtual worlds, and we’re next? h/t: @primalpoly
  39. Hypernovelty: Technology builds on technology, so it’s advancing at an exponential rate. Progress is accelerating. The world is now changing faster than we can adapt to it, leaving us permanently maladjusted. Life is becoming a blur. h/t: @bretweinstein & @HeatherEHeying
  40. The Hinge of History: We may be living at the most influential point in human history. The decisions we face – regarding AI, internet, climate change, gene editing, space travel – will likely affect humanity far into the future. What we do now could echo across the aeons.

And that’s your lesson for today. As usual, don’t assume these concepts are all necessarily true; they were chosen not for their accuracy but because they provoke curiosity.

Thanks for reading, and may the things you learned here help you navigate the labyrinth of possibility.

Source: Forty Concepts to know

“Grabby” Aliens

Furthermore, we should believe that loud aliens exist, as that’s our most robust explanation for why humans have appeared so early in the history of the universe. While the current date is 13.8 billion years after the Big Bang, the average star will last over five trillion years. And the standard hard-steps model of the origin of advanced life says it is far more likely to appear at the end of the longest planet lifetimes. But if loud aliens will soon fill the universe, and prevent new advanced life from appearing, that early deadline explains human earliness.

Source: Grabby Aliens

Don’t Die in the Next Five Years

Welcome to Uncommon Sense, I’m Randy Cassingham.

Thanks for listening or reading, and yes, it’s been awhile! So the first thing is, I’ve definitely not abandoned the Uncommon Sense podcast. I’m just fitting it in where I can. But it is true I didn’t expect a four-month pause!

….

This Is True Podcast

But I did say I’m going to start right now, so let’s delve into specifics with something that’s already been announced, but as far as I could tell none of the other attendees at the conference had heard of yet, and it got several of them pretty darned excited.

That has to do with a breakthrough regarding cancer. What kind of cancer? All of them.