Aug 022012

I know I’m supposed to be in hibernation, but something came up that was so good I just had to share it with you. You know by now that I am totally fascinated by the human microbiome, those trillions of microbes that make up most of the human organism. I’ve written here on Gydle about how microbes in our guts may implicated in a variety of ailments, from diabetes to Parkinson’s to obesity and irritable bowel disease. I also wrote recently that the massive NIH-finded Human Microbiome Project has had a number of publications like this one in Nature Magazine that outline thier discoveries about the makeup and function of a “healthy” human microbiome.  I have a feeling that what we find out about the microbiome may well revolutionize our approach to health and medicine. You might also remember from last year that I’m also fascinated by the concept of click here to read the whole dang post […]

Mar 112012
Weather bugs

I mentioned in an earlier post that I have a sneaking suspicion that we’re being crowdsourced by bacteria. Remember? The human body has 10 trillion cells in it. We also each harbor about 100 trillion microbes. There is more microbial DNA in the human body than human DNA. That post. We know relatively little about this huge population, but one thing we do know is that it’s not random. I claimed, back in May 2011, that perhaps humans are not so much organisms as we are ecosystems. We thought we were the top guns on this planet! We thought it was all about us! We thought our bodies were vehicles for our splendiferous brains! No, silly. We are being maintained. We exist simply as biomes for colonies of established bacteria. Our brains probably just evolved as the best way for our bacteria to ensure that they will continue to have click here to read the whole dang post […]

Dec 132011
Fold It!

As I stand in the Lausanne train station holding a sign saying “Marcel,” the volume of passengers from platform 8 dwindles from a steady flow to a trickle to a stop. He probably exited the other end of the platform. I stay put like you’re supposed to when you’re lost. He was the 20-something computer geek. I’d let him find me. Sure enough, a few minutes later, he does. This amiable, t-shirt-clad student has come all the way from Zurich after his 8:00 class at ETH to show me how to play a protein folding game called FoldIt. The IT dude in my novel is a player, so I have to learn it, too. In EPFL’s Rolex Learning Center a half hour later, we quickly download the game onto my Macbook, since his HP is bugging, and he logs into his account. A list of protein puzzles appears, with names click here to read the whole dang post […]

Sep 282011

More news on the microbiome. As I explained in my post about bacterial crowdsourcing, each and every one of us hosts about 100 trillion microbes in and on our bodies. This population is known as the “human microbiome.” They’re everywhere – armpits, butt cracks, skin, nostrils… and guts. Our guts alone harbor more than 1000 different kinds of bacteria. The microbiome is a very hot area of research right now, and rightly so, in my opinion. The US National Institutes of Health is pouring money into the Human Microbiome Project in much the same way they funded the Human Genome Project starting in 1990. Understanding our own cells isn’t enough, see, cuz guess what? All those critters probably aren’t just sitting there doing nothing. Recent research bears this out. A team from University College Cork recently reported on research in which they fed mice probiotic bacteria for six weeks and click here to read the whole dang post […]

Jun 292011

Looks like I spoke too soon with all my good news. That same day, right after I finished the post, I got two slamdunks. One, a massive forest fire is threatening my hometown of Los Alamos, New Mexico, and two, my brother (the one that’s not a geek, or rather, not quite as much of a geek. We’re all geeks because we were raised in Los Alamos) was in a car accident in Montana. Thankfully, he’s fine. But the fire is not. It has burned over 60,000 acres so far and as of last night, was zero percent contained. The town’s best kept secret, its awesome ski hill, is starting to burn. It’s horrible and dangerous and devastating. UPDATE: as of 5 hours ago, it’s now 3% contained. Current info is available here. This morning, I did the usual. Early morning chat with my newly-appointed CTO, aka my brother Dave. click here to read the whole dang post […]

May 042011
Crowdsourcing Babel

In my second post on crowdsourcing, my brother Dave made this comment (spelling mistakes corrected): “You could become wealthy if you could figure out how to use crowdsourcing for translation.” Well, it’s happening! I just found out today that a group led by CAPTCHA inventor and Carnegie Mellon prof Luis von Ahn is crowdsourcing people to translate stuff under the guise of an online language course called Duolingo. (After this I’ll stop posting on crowdsourcing. For a little while. I did say it was a big iceberg, didn’t I?) Here’s how it will work. Say there’s a website in English that they want to translate into Spanish. They take the text from the website, break it down into sentences, and use these sentences as exercises in a free online English course for Spanish speakers.  A person taking the English course would read the sentence, and then enter what she thinks click here to read the whole dang post […]

May 032011

Saturday I wrote a post about how I wasn’t aware of what was going on in my body, and how unsettling that felt. So unsettling, in fact, that I wasn’t able to write the post I had been planning for several days, and had to gaze intensely at my navel for a whole weekend instead. That was probably a good thing, because it gave me some new insight into this post. Navel gazing isn’t all bad. Turns out there’s some pretty interesting stuff in there. Last fall I translated an article by Daniel Saraga for Reflex Magazine about the gazillions of bacteria we have living on and in our bodies. The title (in English) was “Me, Myself and I – and a million other germs.” It should actually have been “Me, Myself and I  – and 100 trillion other germs.” That’s right. A human body has about 10 trillion cells in click here to read the whole dang post […]

Mar 302011
Crowdsourcing part II

A few days ago, I wrote a post about smartphones and traffic jams.  Pretty soon, thanks to billions of anonymous bits of data flying all over the place, you won’t have to get stuck on the freeway or wait in line at Disneyland ever again. I have since learned that the smartphone stuff was just the tip of the crowdsourcing iceberg. Down below the penguins and their migratory traffic jams, the iceberg is gargantuan. It boggles the mind. We’re like the Titanic, most of us. Blissfully unaware. Way back in 1999, UC Berkeley started tapping into the unused processing power of home computers all over the world to scan radio waves for evidence of extraterrestrial life. Currently, more than 3 million people are involved in the SETI@home project, doing their little bit to locate aliens. CERN also uses volunteer-based distributed computing to crunch its enormous particle physics data sets, a click here to read the whole dang post […]

Mar 232011

Humans are incredibly adaptable. We do all kinds of crazy stuff to ourselves, buy into all kinds of crazy ideas, and come out the other side just fine. I flew across nine time zones last Friday, and it only took me a day to adjust. I was up eating Jelly Bellies (thanks Dave) for breakfast at 5 am the first day, but after that I was on my normal schedule. After a couple of days, my brother lent me his car to drive into San Francisco. I surprised myself by feeling cramped driving in only three lanes of traffic. I started counting lanes after that, thinking about the difference between Oakland and Switzerland — between six lanes of madly weaving drivers on a mission to find the route of least resistance and two, maybe three lanes of drivers who wouldn’t dream of passing on the right (it’s breaking the law) click here to read the whole dang post […]