Meet the Most Dangerous Bird Alive: the Cassowary

As a native species in some of the most formidable territories on Earth (New Guinea and Australia), the cassowary bird stands 5-6 feet tall, weighs up to 160 pounds, can swim, jump 7 feet high, and run 30 miles per hour.

Larger than a Canadian goose but smaller than an ostrich, the cassowary has sturdy, splayed out feet with 10-centimeter long talons that are capable of disemboweling a human. They are even known to kick humans with their legs. On top of the head protruding from the skull, cassowaries possess a dense, helmet-like horn (called a casque) which they use aggressively during fights (see video). The Cassowary is considered class 2 wildlife, alongside howler monkeys, bobcats, honey badgers, clouded leopards, and alligators. Cassowary2

“The inner or second of the three toes is fitted with a long, straight, murderous nail which can sever an arm or eviscerate an abdomen with ease. There are many records of natives being killed by this bird.” – Living Birds of the World by Ernest Thomas Gilliard

Recently, a Florida man was killed by one of these rare, flightless birds. According to sources, the man raised the animal and was certified to work with and breed them on his farm. He was clawed to death.

With a decreasing overall population, the cassowary is considered to have a vulnerable conservation status.

Most often, cassowary attacks on humans occur when plucking at food or being fed. A quick internet search down the rabbit holes of reddit or YouTube yields a few video clips of these menacing creatures in action.

 

Searching for the Perfect Burrito: El Toro Bravo

Its lunch time a picture of the sign in front of el toro bravoon a Sunday in a place where the weather doesn’t stray too far from perfect year round. Viewed from the sidewalk of a suburban side street, a sign with green and red letters reads El Toro Bravo Mexican Food. The building is unremarkable. Ten people line up to order. Ordering to-go is commonplace, so there are plenty of open tables.

A red awning covers the front of the dining area. On a silver steel appliance, a sticker reads ‘Don’t Trash Beaches’. A kid with dreadlocks and flip flops juggles his plate full of tacos with a skateboard in one hand. Five out of six large flat screens display a static menu, while a Spanish-commentated Juventus vs. img_4364Milano futbol match plays on the sixth. For such an efficiently organized assortment of food, the menu itself is misleadingly complex. They do the familiar dishes – tacos, burritos, quesadillas, nachos, tamales, empanadas. Rather than squinting at the menu screens, ingredients may be readily inspected by peeking through the sneeze guard. This is Mexican food for the type A personality – made to order with artisan like craftsmanship.

img_4366Carrying a huge tray from the back, a chef unloads tongfulls of steaming slow cooked meat into the food display. Anchored by familiar crowd pleasers like al pastor, pollo and carne asada, the restaurant’s real chef d’oeuvre is carnitas (which I’ve devoured on previous occasions). The nonchalant casualness and proximity my friend’s house assumes repeat visits, so I’m empowered to experience the asada.

After placing a few pieces on the counter and slamming a butcher knife 5-10 times, a small mountain of fluffy chopped meat remains. For those with a large appetite, portion size is a distinct selling point. el toro bravo burrito rolling

After spreading refried beans on the open faced tortilla and adding a few scoops of rice, the chef  piles on the slow roasted asada. Desiring a traditional combination, I dodge the guac and sour cream, selecting pico de gallo, parmesan, cilantro, onions, lettuce, and salsa picante. The tortilla maintains its elasticity as the chef rolls the splayed out contents. His technique embodies a practiced muscle memory that produces a well wrapped Nalgene bottle sized finished product – toasted and warmly nestled in a blanket of foil. Hungry and overly ambitious, we order nachos as well. nachos from el toro bravo

We take a seat at a high top table and I smile at the silver bullion atop the crumpled paper plate. I peel away the foil revealing a crisply toasted tortilla – flaky golden dough is malleable enough that it somehow maintains its strength as I dig in.

It isn’t until the second and third bites that my expectations are exceeded, el toro bravo burritoas either edge of a burrito tends to contain extra tortilla. The bulging burrito is wide enough to resemble a bowl. I sample a fork full of ingredients from the squishy cylinder. The flavor itself blends a charred smoke with saucy marinade. To avoid inhaling my food at a stomach condemning pace, I set it on the paper plate, standing upright, and sip a plastic cup of water.

Salsa splattering onto shirt fronts, we finish up as a young couple sheepishly walks in. She’s donning flannels el toro bravo burritoand vans, he’s in a flat brimmed five-panel hat and beige new balances. The woman at the register greets him like a close relative – maybe a nephew – and hands him a Pacifico beer. They walk to the back of the line and a chef walks around to greet them with a smile and Spanish exchanges. Clearly regulars, the couple knows what to expect at El Toro Bravo – nothing short of the finest burrito known to man.

There’s a million and one places to find great mexican food in this world. Somehow, El Toro Bravo has distinguished itself beyond the common taco shack; I’m still trying to pinpoint what exactly seduces me to return time and again.

Costa Mesa, California

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Accounting for Pollution: Garbage lasts Forever

You won’t hear an accountant mention pollution & accounting in the same sentence, but we are going to do so here, since we aren’t accountants. Garbage is what’s known as an economic bad, as opposed to most physical items, which are considered economic goods. Since garbage costs time and energy to remove, the possession of more garbage decreases the value of the one who possesses it. The phrase “throw it away” is misleading, comparable to fake news. Forget about diamonds – garbage quite literally is forever. We have nowhere to put it, so we resort to housing garbage in designated areas of our home planet Earth. As we continue generating this economic bad, garbage accumulation must result in a decrease in the value of planet Earth.

If you take a class in environmental science or search online, you’ll learn of the two rough categories of pollution:

Point and non-point source pollution —

Point-Sources

Point-source originates from a definite, identifiable source. Think of it as original pollution. Examples of point-sources:

– factories
– sewage treatment plants
– electric power generation
– oil & gas extraction
– oil & gas refineries
– coal mining
– coal fired power generation
– air pollution
– mobile sources & transportation (planes, trains, automobiles)

This San Antonio de los buenos pipe dumps over 20 million gallons of sewage into the Pacific Ocean every single day. Although the origin has been identified, there is nothing that has been done. A solution may cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Humans, mammals, and creatures of every taxonomic rank experience pain. Illness affect us all, and each illness has the potential to reach a point of no return, at which point it becomes terminal for the organism. As of this moment, humans are inflicting a seemingly small amount of damage – analogous to an illness – on our earth via pollution. In an anthropomorphic sense, we are giving Earth a weakened immune system. It has the sniffles. As of now its not too late to get healthy. We can reduce the ill effects of pollution on our environment and atmosphere. And in doing so discover practices that promote a healthier Earth. Although not easy, we have to believe that it is possible. This is of utmost importance because if we aren’t careful, the small damages we are doing to earth may turn into something more serious. Its far easier to prevent lung cancer by refraining from smoking than it is to cure lung cancer after you get it. Likewise, it requires significantly more energy to clean up pollution than to prevent it. Prevention is better than clean up.

Non-point sources:

Non-point does not originate from a definite, identifiable source. It is a result of the diffusion of point-source pollution.

Run Off: Let’s look at an example. Think about the contribution of a cars in a city to non-point source pollution that accumulates on roads (let’s simplify by excluding air pollution from the equation).  in your city distribute substances (oil, gasoline, exaust, sludge, rubber, litter, debris, etc.) that accumulate on road surfaces. Individually, each car is a point-source. The aggregation of these chemicals being deposited by all 494,000 cars registered in San Francisco contributes to the category known as non-point source pollution.

Another example is runoff. The harmful chemicals that collect on any surface of earth, whether a road, parking lot, farm, originate at point-sources including cars, equipment, debris, agricultural materials, etc.

“When rain or melted snow moves over and through the ground, the water absorbs and assimilates any pollutants it comes into contact with.” (USEPA, 2004b)

Let us consider agricultural non-point sources, which are a result of the diffuse runoff that comes from the use of fertilizers, pesticides, or animal waste while growing crops and livestock.

Simple logic: to reduce the non-point source pollution that as a result of agriculture sources, we must stop it at the point of origin.

In this case, identifying each point source is too cumbersome and thus impractical… but we can paint a picture of what the point source associated with each non-point source generally looks like.

The pollution in the runoff example is the result of multiple locations over a period of days or weeks before rainfall, so you can’t pinpoint the exact source. Runoff is difficult to measure, identify, and control because it is the result of combined pollution sources that are received by the environment when water absorbs those chemicals which occurs over the entire surface of earth.

– land runoff
– precititation (acid rain)
– atmospheric deposition
– drainage
– leakage
– seepage (from underground storage tanks)
– hydrological modification (via rainfall and snowmelt)
– storm water runoff
– atmospheric deposition of contaminants, and
– storm water runoff from
– golf courses
– agricultural establishments
– forestry or construction sites

Acid Rain: Sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) enter the atmostphere when fossil fuels are burned at factories or by internal combustion engines. These chemicals can cause acid rain. Acid rain occurs when sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) reacting in the atmosphere with water; it then returns to earth as polluted rain, fog, or snow. Acid rain is considered non-point source. The originating source of acid rain are the multitude of point-sources sending smog into the atmosphere that combines with clouds.

After examining how we define point and non-point sources, logic will allow us to realize that by reducing all the point-sources, we will eliminate non-point sources of pollution from appearing. This of course does not include pollution that has already entered the atmosphere. What’s there is there unless we can do something to remove it. Reducing point sources of pollution will thus stop non-point sources of pollution from accumulating, but we will still have cleanup to do. However, for now, to make the largest impact, humans should focus efforts toward reducing point-sources.

Seems simple enough. But what happens when we try to track pollution to discover where it is coming from?

Can we track pollution?

It turns out that tracking pollution to a single source is difficult.

How can we determine the source of microplastics pollution, the material washing up on the far-stretching beaches of Zlatni Rat, Croatia? By first examining the materials themselves, maybe we discover that a large percentage of it is made up of specific types of materials – for instance, polystyrene (aka styrofoam).

Going with this example, after disposal, a piece of styrofoam will break up into 999,999 pieces pretty quickly. These tiny polystyrene particles may have come from a piece of packaging, part of a cooler, a styrofoam cup, you name it. We can consider existing ocean currents  in the Mediterranean and near Croatia to consider what may have sent it there. Because the Mediterranean is a semi-closed body of water, attaching to the Atlantic only through the strait of Gibraltar on the west and to the Red Sea via the Suez Canal on the southeastern side, we can hypothesize that microplastic particles existing there also originated there. The Mediterranean is more or less a closed system.

It is much more likely that the point-source origin is located somewhere along the coast of the Mediterranean sea. By narrowing it down, we can then try to estimate travel time to determine how long it may have taken to get from one place to another. We can think about ocean currents that may have sent it there. We can try multiple things to try to get a sense for where exactly all of the rubbish is coming from.

But ultimately, it is absolutely impossible to know where exactly plastics on the beaches of Croatia originated.

Scientists have categorized this as “non-point source” pollution because its origin is unknown. In a disorganized universe that follows the second law of thermodynamics, microplastics get lost in the clutter of the environment and atmosphere. Nobody can identify the source.

But these microplastics came from somewhere. So by convention, these pieces of microscopic polystyrene are considered non-point and separate from point-sources of pollution.

Non-point source pollution results from the disorganization and diffusion of all the point-sources of pollution combined through the environment. Non-point source pollution is “redundant source pollution”. Current technology is too incompetent to identify the point-source tied to every non-point source.

Accounting for pollution

In 1769, when James Watt patented the first steam engine. Voila, air pollution was amplified. With the growth of transportation technology as well as the human population since that date, pollution has progressively gotten worse as we’ve continued polluting the earth for at least 250 years.

Imagine for a second that we want to calculate how much pollution has ever occurred in the history of the world between now and forever-ago. To measure and account for quantity of those harmful substances in our environment, it would be helpful to differentiate between point and non-point because to avoid redundancy. Although an impossible feat in practice, to do so in theory, we would simply need to account for pollution arising from every single point-source in human history. By summing up pollution from each and every the point source ever, we would get an exact amount of total historical pollution (THP). We don’t need to factor in non-point source, because it would be counted twice.

(Point Source) + (Non Point source) > THP

THP is equal to the sum of all point sources of pollution from time = year 1700, to time = year 2018.

THP = ∑ (all point-sources of pollution) = Total Point-Source Pollution

Conclusion

Two broad types of pollution have been discussed briefly. When we consider which efforts will most greatly impact the future of humanity and help us create a clean, healthy environment, it can be hard to say which efforts are most effective.

The intention is not to say one category of pollution is worse or more benign than the other. The purpose is to identify the difference between pollution that has already entered the ecosystem, and pollution that is currently entering the ecosystem.

Before taking efforts to eliminate it, let’s realize there are different strategic purposes to reduction of each.

  1. The value in eliminating non-point source pollution: stop pollution from diffusing and spreading to new areas, and remove old, existing pollution from our environment. Pollution that is already there.
  2. Value in eliminating point-source pollution: prevent future pollution from entering out atmosphere and environment in the first place! Pollution that is entering the environment right now and into the future.

It is far easier to prevent a problem than it is to fix a problem.

In order to minimize human contribution to the pollution problem, humans must stop putting it into the ecosystem in the first place.

When calculating amounts of pollution, non-point source pollution has already been accounted for via the summation of all point sources. Point source pollution that has diffused throughout the environment can no longer be traced, so we duplicate it if we add them together. In theory, non-point source pollution is redundant and already accounted for, so we can essentially ignore it when accounting for how much pollution we create.

With enough thought and research, a point source can be broken down into its component point-sources. If you think you have a non-point source, ask yourself: What do I need to do to identify the original source?

Who has the power? The decision makers in the agriculture industry control what pesticides and fertilizers are used, as well as what happens to animal waste. In addition, every automobile manufacturer . on the business side of a a farm or agricultural facility. But as comsumers, we have the power to choose where our dollars go. Each dollar spent is like casting a vote for which business practices we will incentivize. If we purchase products that contribute to jit, we are playing our small but incremental role in the continuation of

For the future of our species, we must be focus on identifying point-sources in order to reduce the amount of pollution at its origin, rather than after-the-fact removal. If you are interested in discussing this further, please contact us.

Understanding UV Rays and Skin Damage

The sun emits radiation along the entire visible as well as ultraviolet spectrum range. In addition, the sun also emits infrared radiation, and even radio waves!

Thankfully, we only need to protect ourselves from ultraviolet radiation. As you probably know, ultraviolet (UV) rays reach your skin causing sunburn and even DNA damage. This results in cellular mutations that can lead to skin cancer. The most deadly form of skin cancer is melanoma.

This post will dive deeper and examine which specific types of UV rays actually harm your skin. After reading this, you will be better educated when selecting sun protection.

First, let’s view the entire electromagnetic spectrum below.

electromagneticspectrum.jpg
Source: Stanford Solar Center

You’ll notice that the UV spectrum is located just to the left of the “visible” spectrum. Humans can see the visible spectrum, whose various wavelengths account for the different colors, but the UV spectrum, composed of wavelengths between 10 and 400 nm, cannot be seen by the naked eye.

Its a wonder that such a small sliver of the entire electromagnetic spectrum causes such massive damage to our cells.

Different types of UV radiation

Spanning from 10nm – 400nm, UV radiation imposes various types of damage to our skin based on the wavelength, frequency, and energy.

In general, shorter wavelength UV rays cause the most damage. This is because shorter wavelengths have higher frequency and a higher amount of energy. Higher energy radiation elicits more harm because it penetrates deeper into skin, tissues, and cells.

Scientists categorize UV radiation into three bands corresponding to the different wavelengths: UV-A, UV-B, and UV-C:

UVC (10-290nm) – completely absorbed by Earth’s atmosphere
UVB (290-320 nm) – 90% absorbed by Earth’s atmosphere
UVA (320-400 nm) – not absorbed by Earth’s atmosphere

Each of the UV bands present different types of risks for humans

As radiation is emitted by the sun towards Earth, the atmosphere (composed of nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, argon, etc) helps to absorb a large amount of the UV radiation.

Remember how we said the shorter wavelengths of light are more harmful? The good news is that most these shorter wavelengths of radiation (UVB and UVC) are blocked ozone, water vapor, oxygen, and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Specifically, all UVC radiation, and 90% of UVB radiation is absorbed. These rays are largely blocked by our atmosphere because of the unique way that they interact with those chemicals in our atmosphere. Much like sunscreen contains chemicals to absorb certain bands of UV rays, our atmosphere is our best friend for UV protection.

Unfortunately, our atmosphere can only protect so much.

Longer wavelength UVA radiation, for example, is less affected by the atmosphere, so a large amount of the UVA band makes it through. Even though only about 10% of UVB radiation makes it through to pose a risk to humans, a large amount of UVA makes up the dangerous solar radiation that we are exposed to when we go outside on a sunny day.

Once the rays get to our skin, UVA radiation (which lower energy than UVB radiation) tends to penetrate about two layers of skin, causing sunburn and wrinkles long term. The good news, however, is that UVA radiation’s longer wavelength and thus lower energy means it cannot penetrate through our cells, so it does minimal to no DNA damage.

UVB rays, on the other hand, have a slightly shorter wavelength as well as a higher frequency and energy than UVA rays. UVB rays do penetrate our cells and damage DNA causing mutations and skin cancer.

How about UVC rays?

Well – UVC rays have previously been found in tanning beds, and because of the shorter wavelength, higher frequency, and thus greater energy, these rays are extremely damaging, if you are by chance exposed to them. Thankfully, you don’t have to worry about sunlight containing UVC since the atmosphere blocks them completely.

Conclusion:

To protect yourself from wrinkles, block UVA rays.

To protect yourself from DNA damage / cancer, block UVB rays.

UVC rays are largely used in some types of artificial light used for disinfection, such as those made by the company Klaren. Aside from that, there is little risk that UVC rays from the sun will be of any worry.

Sources:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20806994

https://www.who.int/uv/uv_and_health/en/

https://www.skincancer.org/prevention/uva-and-uvb

https://share.upmc.com/2014/07/infographic-abcs-uv-difference-uva-uvb-uvc/

Chemistry of Sunscreen

Stop by a Wallgreens or CVS and you’ll notice a large sunscreen selection, but each product has advantages and flaws. The differences, it turns out, depend on the chemistry of each active ingredient. If you’re in the United States, glancing at the list on the back of each bottle, you’ll see that products tend to have some combination of 8 common active ingredients.

But did you know that of the 8 most common active ingredients, there are actually only two different UV protection mechanisms? Categorized below, you’ll notice that UV filter compounds are much more common, while the mineral blocker type only include two of the main compounds.

Sunscreen lotion contains active ingredients that contribute to the sunscreen’s SPF, protecting you from sunburn by keeping UV rays from reaching your skin and damaging cells. Active ingredients protect you from UV rays in two unique ways:

Filtering:

This method filters or absorbs UV light, turning the radiation into heat energy, rather than allowing it to cause cell damage.

UV filters chemical ingredients: Avobenzone, Homosalate, Octisalate, Octocrylene, Oxybenzone

  • Hazards of UV filters:
    • UV filters can and have been measured in blood of people who use sunscreen frequently. The main concern with these chemicals is endocrine disruption.
    • Oxybenzone is by far the most dangerous chemical found in sunscreen. It penetrates the skin easily and enters the blood stream. It has the ability to penetrate the blood-brain barrier, causing hormone disruption. It is estrogenically active and has potent anti-androgenic effects.

Blocking:

Blocks UV light from penetrating through the mineral ingredients in the sunscreen so that it never comes into contact with your skin. (ex. Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide)

Pick up your tube of sunscreen and look at the back. You’ll see a number of active ingredients. Typically, you’ll see 4 or 5 Filtering type ingredients listed. The compounds that protect by Filtering will tend to absorb only certain wavelengths of light, so sunscreen companies include a combination of different ones to block a broader spectrum of UV rays.

Blocking type ingredients work in a different way, so they are present either by themselves or with a few filter ingredients. For example, you might have sunscreen that lists zinc oxide as the only active ingredient.

To avoid sunburn and more importantly skin damage from UV rays, elect for a broad-spectrum sunscreen with as high an SPF as possible, and ideally use a sunscreen that also contains Zinc Oxide or Titanium Dioxide.

UV blocking minerals: Zinc Oxide, Titanium dioxide

  • Hazards of mineral blockers:
    • Zinc Oxide and Titanium dioxide particles are photoactive, meaning they can create free radicals when exposed to UV radiation that damage surrounding cells. To mitigate this risk, manufacturers apply surface coatings to these particles.
    • Both of these mineral blockers are electrically charged molecules. Over time and due to heat exposure, these mineral blockers can settle or clump, leaving gaps in skin coverage. To be effective, mineral sunscreens contain ingredients that hold zinc oxide or titanium dioxide in a suspension to provide an even coating on the skin.
    • Titanium Dioxide creates more free radicals that do oxidative damage to your body and skin cells, and increases aging processes. Zinc oxide tends to have a broader-spectrum range of coverage than titanium dioxide, although the combination of both Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide provide the broadest range of protection.
    • Zinc and titanium oxide may potentially harm environment.

Some products, such as “SheerZinc Face” by Neutrogena, will contain zinc oxide. Finding a product that contains both zinc oxide AND titanium dioxide is much less common due to the highly charged particles tendency to coagulate and cause clumping.

Conclusion:

As discussed, there are two different types of sunscreen. If you are going for a product that contains Mineral Blockers, Zinc Oxide is preferred over Titanium Dioxide. Check products that contain mineral blockers to ensure lotion consistency is homogenous and not de-coagulated because the clumps will cause gaps in skin coverage, thus causing you to get burnt.

Your ideal sunscreen might have the following active ingredients:

  • Homosalate (8–10%)
  • Ocinoxate (variable percentage)
  • Octocrylene (2–6%)
  • Zinc Oxide (5–15% +)

 

Artificial Intelligence: Threats and Risks

artificial_intelligence_quote_2

We’ve seen science fiction movies like Terminator where robots go nutz and are exponentially more powerful than humans. These are cool to watch. They’re just science fiction though. It may seem somewhat silly to consider technologies like artificial intelligence or machine learning becoming as powerful or more powerful than human cognitive abilities. Researchers have been thinking about AI for years:

Many of the smartest people in the world are cautiously fearful of the power that artificial intelligence may bring as it becomes more and more developed. Below I’ve included some important resources for someone interested in impacting the future of AI in a positive way.

But first…

If you haven’t yet read the “Parable of Caution” where we included the Unfinished Fable of the Sparrows, that post is a necessary first read to understand the implications of artificial intelligence presented in analogical format.

And, this:

“Many experts believe that there is a significant chance that humanity will develop machines more intelligent than ourselves during the 21st century. This could lead to large, rapid improvements in human welfare, but there are good reasons to think that it could also lead to disastrous outcomes. The problem of how one might design a highly intelligent machine to pursue realistic human goals safely is very poorly understood. If AI research continues to advance without enough work going into the research problem of controlling such machines, catastrophic accidents are much more likely to occur. Despite growing recognition of this challenge, fewer than 100 people worldwide are directly working on the problem.” – 80000hours.org

  • Tim Urban posted an important article on Wait But Why about the Road to Superintelligence.
  • The Great AI Awakening, an article published by the New York Times.
  • Deepmind, a company acquired by Google in 2014, is a world leader in artificial intelligence research and its application for positive impact.
    • The founders of Deepmind believe that AI will serve as a multiplier for human ingenuity, increasing our capacity to understand the mysteries of the universe and to tackle some of our most pressing real-world challenges
  • OpenAI is a non-profit AI research company founded by Elon Musk that seeks to discovering and enact the path to safe Artificial General Intelligence by influencing the conditions under which it is created.

    “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” – Alan Kay

  • The Machine Intelligence Research Institute at Berkeley is working on using mathematics to ensure smarter-than-human artificial intelligence has a positive impact.
  • The Center for Human-Compatible AI concisely brings up the problem of control with AI: “given that the solutions developed by such systems are intrinsically unpredictable by humans, it may occur that some such solutions result in negative and perhaps irreversible outcomes for humans.”
  • The Partnership on AI is an organization founded by partners from Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, IBM, Deepmind, and others. The partnership was established to study and formulate best practices on AI technologies, to advance the public’s understanding of AI, and to serve as an open platform for discussion and engagement about AI and its influences on people and society.

Additionally, there’s a short video depicting the Unfinished Fable of the Sparrows:

or you can read the story below if you prefer:

The Unfinished Fable of the Sparrows

It was the nest building season, but after days of long hard work, the sparrows sat in the evening glow, relaxing and chirping away.

“We are all so small and weak. Imagine how easy life would be if we had an owl who could help us build our nests!”

“Yes! said another. “And we could use it to look after our elderly and our young”.

“It could give us the advice and keep an eye out for the neighborhood cat,” added a third.

Then Pastus, the elder-bird, spoke: “Let us send out scouts in all directions and try to find an abandoned owlet somewhere, or maybe an egg. A crow chick might also do, or a baby weasel. This could be the best thing that ever happened to us, at least since the opening of the Pavilion of Unlimited Grain in yonder backyard.”

The flock was exhilarated, and sparrows everywhere started chirping at the top of their lungs.

Only Scronkfinkle, a one-eyed sparrow with a fretful temperament, was unconvinced of the wisdom of the endeavor. Quoth he: “This will surely be our undoing. Should we not give some thought to the art of owl-domestication and owl-taming first, before we bring such a creature into our midst?”

Replied Pastus: “Taming an owl sounds like an exceedingly difficult thing to do. It will be difficult enough to find an owl egg. So let us start there. After we have succeeded in raising an owl, then we can think about taking on this other challenge.”

“There is a flaw in that plan!” squeaked Scronkfinkle; but his protests were in vain as the flock had already lifted off to start implementing directives set out by Pastus.

Just two or three sparrows remained behind. Together they began to try to work out how owls might be tamed or domesticated. They soon realized that Pastus had been right: this was an exceedingly difficult challenge, especially in the absence of an actual owl to practice on. Nevertheless they pressed on as best they could, constantly fearing that the flock might return with an owl egg before a solution to the control problem had been found.

It is not known how the story ends, but the author dedicates this book to Scronkfinkle and his followers.

— Nick Bostrom in “Superintelligence

Well, what do you think? Should more effort be placed on helping Scronkfinkle figure out how to master the art of owl-taming and owl-domestication before trying to raise an owl on their own? Or, should more effort be placed on trying to find an owl egg and raise an owl? What are the dangers of raising an owl for the sparrows?

The Simplest App Ever

We’re overwhelmed by information. How do we track all of this information?

In our Jobs, at School, in the News, on Facebook, on LinkedIn, when talking to friends. More and more I find myself receiving cool tidbits of info that I want to save & remember, or save and lookup later.

Which is the best app for keeping notes?

Its called Simplenote!

But seriously – have you ever used the Notepad on your phone? The yellow icon, kind of boring, doesn’t seem to do much at first.

iPhone notepad looks something like this:

Related image

It starts with list making, and quickly expands to ideas, thoughts, quotes, lists, to-do items, goals, plans, etc. You keep track of artists you’d like to hear, and one full of your favorite quotes. Before you know it you have to scroll two or three times to reach the bottom of each note in your app – and that’s a lot of data… data that is personal to you, and that you wouldn’t be thrilled to lose.

Need a great alternative to that but aren’t quite ready for Evernote? My recommendation is to download Simplenote, which can be found on the app store or online at https://app.simplenote.com/signin.

Image result for simplenote iphone

Created by Matt Mullenweg, the founder of WordPress, Simplenote, in the name itself, is an advertisement of truth. It actually is so simple, making for ease of use and speed when writing or creating.

Possessing a resemblance to like the yellow notepad app that comes standard on the iPhone, additional features of Simplenote include syncing across all of your devices. Stored in the cloud, and you can access your work from any browser on any computer or device.

I commonly check the notes I take on my phone, on my computer. Its great. When I’m on the go, I have a place to write down great information so that I don’t forget it. Once I’m at work or at my computer, I can easily view and edit those notes at my keyboard – whether that means turning them into a blog post, or checking off items on my to do list.

I’m excited to see if the app ever incorporates plug-ins.

Citibank’s Exemplary Customer Service

Towards the end of a flight from Kansas City to New Orleans, an attendant handed me a flyer with information about a credit card program. signing up for this, I would get 50,000 frequent flyer miles? So, I signed up for the AAdvantage American Airlines Citi Card. I just finished college and had started my first job, and as naive as I was with this being my first credit card, I knew enough to know never to miss a credit card payment.

I glanced at the fine-print terms; In addition to 50,000 frequent flyer miles, they gave 1% cash back, and had no annual fee for the first year, etc. The catch was a $95 yearly fee, after the first year. I figured I would cancel my account before the year was up, and by then would have already used my 50,000 free Frequent Flyer miles.

About a year later,

I figured I would go ahead and cancel my card to avoid the yearly fee, during the second year term. I got online, paid the monthly statement as usual, and ended up on the customer service website to cancel the card. There was a feature to chat with somebody, so I clicked to chat and was immediately connected with service rep named Malcolm. As we started the online chat, I started off by saying “I’d like to close my account” – he then kindly asked me why, and I wrote back “yearly fee”.

I’m sure Malcolm was trained to respond with the various other options that Citi had… he told me about them, but I just wanted to make sure I could cancel at this point. I simply repeated my question, “what is the process like to cancel?”

Malcolm gave me instructions to cancel, and then mentioned again that Citi valued me as a customer and had options that might better suit my needs. He told me a bit about the cards that offer cash back, with no fees. I was appreciative of the instructions, and intrigued with the other options that Citi has available.

Malcolm gave me the number to the Citi Credit Card 24/7 line, and I was quickly able to connect with a service rep, Dee-Ann. I told her my situation. She mentioned that if I closed my account, I might lose some of the Frequent Flyer miles that I still had saved up. I preferred to not. But I didn’t want the yearly fee. “That’s fine”, I said. Dee-Ann went on to explain that, if I decided not to cancel, they would be able to offer me a $95 credit to my account, essentially making up for the $95 yearly fee. She then went on the say that, once my account hit the official 1-year mark since being opened, I’d be able to switch over to a Citi Card that did NOT have a yearly fee. I’d also get to keep my Frequent Flyer miles, and maintain the same credit limit.

Exactly what I was looking for, all in one solid offer.

After the polite exchanges with both Dee-Ann as well as Malcolm, I *figured I would continue to be a Citi Bank credit card customer. I also *figure I could use the extra line of credit anyways, in case of emergency.

Recap: How they kept a customer:

1. Understand Customers

Both Malcolm and Dee-Ann took the time to understand my needs. I needed to maintain a line of credit, with no yearly fee, and wanted save my small amount of FF miles remaining. The solution they presented me solved all of these issues.

2. Invest in Customers

Had they not offered me a $95 credit, I would have cancelled out of principle. I mean there are just so many other credit card providers to choose from – why would I pay someone to be their customer? When offering a small $95 credit to make up for the yearly fee I’d be paying them, they got to keep a longer term customer. The value that I’ll likely bring them over the next months and years will make up that small credit in no time.

3. Quick Response Time

I was connected virtually instantly with Malcolm via chat, and only had to input minimal information on the automated phone system prior to being connected with Dee-Ann when I called in. Had I been forced to wait a long time or be placed on HOLD, I likely would have been too frustrated to even consider another offer with Citi bank.

Great customer service might just help your customers figure they want to keep being your customer. Everyone makes many small decisions everyday. Some of those decisions involve choosing who we work with. When choosing something like who to use as a credit card provider, those decisions are often based out of necessity, convenience, and finally, what feels right. Give your customers a true positive experience that meshes with their apparent needs, as well as unspoken desires and they will love you forever.

Stanford is Helping Humans Age Well

Everyone wants to thrive during old age. What will it take to to increase the number of years of healthy, active life that we all have the opportunity to experience? Stanford University created a center to do just that.

The official mission…

…of the Stanford Center on Longevity is: “accelerate and implement scientific discoveries, technological advances, behavioral practices, and social norms so that century long lives are healthy and rewarding.” The center has three divisions: Mind, Mobility, and Financial Security.

From the mission above, let’s look at what, specifically, Stanford is doing to help us achieve healthy, rewarding, Century-Long Lives.

In an internet-connected world…

…more and more devices are starting to track human data. In addition to devices such as fitbit heart rate and step trackers, our iPhones also have the capability of collecting and recording large amounts of data from our everyday lives. Aggregating this data and analyzing it using Artificial Intelligence algorithms could provide insight into a person’s current state of health, which may allow for earlier prediction of disease, to recognize it in its early stages. For example, according to the New York Times, speech recognition software has been used by Arizona State University to analyze linguistic data of NFL players at press conferences over a multiple year period to determine changes in vocabulary and sentence structure, which provided insight into the onset of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). What if a similar speech analysis technology could be applied during phone calls of individuals with Parkinson’s disease so that their doctor can adjust the medication, as this article from Slate mentions? What if one could apply the same for Alzheimer’s? Complex algorithms would have to be written, but when considering the scope of technological capacity that we have today, this is certainly possible.

Financial Stability

The center is helping people with achieve and maintain financial stability. Some great first steps to becoming more financially stable include getting out of high-interest debt (such as credit card debt), paying off student loans/mortgage each month, living below your means by creating a budget, saving a regular percentage of your income, maintaining 6-12 months of living expenses in cash, and finally, investing. From a financial standpoint, center focuses on financial capability, new career lifecycles, and common financial pitfalls (such as fraud). In order to maintain your finances as you get older and well into your retirement, the center covers some best practices and other wisdom related to helping manage retirement income, and even ways to supplement that income. If we’re going to be healthier and energetic for longer, humans will have the opportunity to start a side gig, take up a craft, and maybe even build their own business.

Fellowship

Surrounding yourself with a supportive community is supremely important as well. William Chopik mentions that, whether it be friends or family, “having people you can rely on, for the good times as well as the bad” may be so crucial to keeping stress levels low and maintaining positivity, and overall happiness.

It’s great to see universities like Stanford leading our civilization on teaching and spreading the word about how we can implement some of the latest breakthroughs in longevity research. The center’s website will serve as a great resource to help people take small actions to maintain health.

From the Stanford Center on Longevity’s website, it was founded in 2007 by Thomas Rando MD, PhD, and Laura Carstensen PhD.

How To Get an A in Organic Chemistry

This post will describe the tool I used to review ALL of my organic chemistry notes in 1 hour. I will walk you through the steps and show you how I created and used the most fantastic study tools and aced o-chem.

My official college transcript displays Cs in general chemistry (101 and 102).  Below is a description of what I did to get A’s in organic chemistry. Unlike many liberal arts classes, orgo has no Achilles heel to give you an easy way out. No amount of last minute cramming will allow you to succeed.

If you’re like me, studying is more of a game than a task. The hard part about Orgo isn’t the actual material/concepts, but the large amount of information. Taking in all the information in orgo is like trying to drink water from a fire hydrant. Another challenge is siting down and actually studying when surrounded by friends in easier subjects who don’t need to study as much. If you’re the one carrying around that orgo textbook that’s a foot thick, use it as a reminder that you’re going to need to do something different than the kids taking poli sci.

Practice problems first. Choose to spend the majority of your study time on practice problems. Especially at the beginning of a new section/chapter. Work your professor’s assigned problems first. In my experience the most effective way to begin learning the material is by doing practice problems first rather than by making flash cards and trying to memorize reactions.

Getting Stuck. At times its going to feel like a new set of reactions can’t be distinguished from each other. You’re lost and you “don’t get it”. At this point, its time to switch from practice problems to a reading/memorization tactic. You may think of making flash cards but….

Make Flash Pages instead of flash cards. The point of a flash card is just that, a flash to spark your memory. Lets say you glance at 10 flash cards 1 time each. Each card takes between 5-10 seconds to look over. I believe that it is possible increase your glance surface area from the size of an index card to the size of an 8x11in sheet of paper. This will improve how much information you cover.
-In a glance of 5-10 seconds, your eyes view an entire page of condensed notes instead of a small index card.
-Your brain will be forced to recognize certain reactions and concepts right next to other reactions and concepts that are related.
To make them: copy the essential sections of a chapter section onto a blank page. Say you cover 6 chapters during a semester, with ~10 sections each. This means that if you make a flash page for every section, you will have made about 60 pages of notes. That’s less than a page per day.  When in the span of an entire semester, this is not much.

Look for the similarities. In many cases, the reactions are analogous to each other. For example: nucleophilic attack on a carbonyl carbon by a nucleophile is analogous to nucleophilic attach on a cyanide carbon by a nucleophile (you’ll know what this means later if you don’t now). Many of the mechanisms involve the same exact steps, which is great because it allows you to focus on a big picture. Understanding the general processes are key to then noticing the slight nuances between each specific mechanism, such as the differences between acidic vs. basic conditions.

Read Before Lecture. Just do it. Bite the bullet and spend some time (even 10 minutes) glancing at the material to be covered in the following lecture. If you are ambitious you can make your flash page on the section before class. This is useful for any class, but in reality is not normally actually done. If you want an A, do it for orgo. This will allow you to capitalize on the time you spend in lecture, and actually understand where your teacher is going during class.

You can try any memorization tricks you want, but as I said in another post, the goal with memorization is to maximize your Glances/Time ratio.

Do Not fall behind.

Supplemental material: I used “Organic Chemistry as a Second Language” by David Klein. There’s a version for both orgo 1 and 2. Utilize your textbook solutions manual. If your book doesn’t come with one, its definitely worth trying to find one on the internet – even purchasing used on amazon if you need to. Remember, work on practice problems first.

Check your syllabus and understand how the course will be graded. My professor’s policy was to drop each student’s lowest exam grade and not count it. So, I was able to accidentally blow one of the exams. Realize also that its easier to do well on homework assignments than it is on tests. So make sure you ace the homeworks and other general assignments so that you have a bit of a buffer when it comes to the exams.  If you have close to a B+ average on exams, this may average to an A/A- when combined with the high grades you receive on the general homework assignments. Play the game.

Lab Sections: Your class will probably have a required lab period. Lab was run by Teacher’s assistants. Go to T.A. office hours (one hour a week for me) and get help. Just ask a million questions and understand how they graded and you’ll be fine.

Get to know your professor. College professors can be phenomenal people. They’re incredibly specialized in their area, and you’ll learn more about the class speaking to them for an hour than spending two days studying alone.

Study Groups: Helpful for lab sections and writing lab reports, as well has comparing solutions to difficult practice problems and homework. Having a small network (maybe 2 to 5 people) that you can call on for help while studying will prove to be beneficial. I sincerely believe that I would not be graduating college this May with a chem major were it not for the group I studied with during some of my harder classes.

Go Out. Don’t spend every night studying, give your brain a break. Studies show that you can’t really focus on one thing for more than 45 minutes anyway. Spend part of every evening studying, sure. But keep in mind that those four years goes by fast, and there’s a chance you won’t ever use the information in organic chem again.

The next part is to Review, and maximize your Glances/Time ratio. The idea here is that its more effective to look over a page 5 times spending a 1 minute each time than it is to look over a page 1 time spending 5 minutes. Do this with the flash pages you make. Don’t worry if you have trouble reading so quickly. I’m one of the slowest readers you’ll meet. Force yourself to spend as little time as possible on each flash page when reviewing. You will improve your brains ability to interpret a large amount of material during a single glance. You will soon see how the sponge of your brain collects and retains more information by seeing it many times in short flashes.

This will shorten the time you spend studying for the class. Towards the end of the semester, the 60 flash pages that you made will become readable in 60 minutes or less if you use this technique. Isn’t that incredible? You now have a tool to get through an entire semester of organic chemistry in 1 hour.