What I Learned In February

What follows are a jumble of interesting things I’ve found out about recently:

New diffusion MRI technology provides unprecedented detail of the connections in the brain. The fibers are color-coded by direction: red = left-right, green = anterior-posterior, blue = ascending-descending. Source: The Human Connectome Project

Leo Sternbach – chemist who was the discoverer of benzodiazepines, including well known drugs such as Valium, Librium, and Klonopin. It’s funny that although he’s credited as a discoverer instead of inventor, these drugs are nonetheless patented and marketed commercial products.

Typhoid Mary – I always wondered who this was. Her name is better known than her story. This poor woman carried the disease but was immune, and unwittingly infected at least 51 people with Typhoid Fever. She was treated like a criminal and quarantened for life, a victim of science’s inability at the time to effectively treat contagious diseases. Today, “Typhoid Mary” is a colloquial term for anyone who, knowingly or not, spreads something undesirable.

From The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease, a fantastic popular science book about health and evolution that I’m currently reading: “Strange evolutionary events often happen on islands. Large animals on small, remote islands often confront energy crisis because there are typically fewer plants and less food than on larger landmasses. In these settings, very large animals struggle because they need more food than the island can provide. In contrast, small animals frequently do better than their mainland relatives because they have enough food, they face less competition from other small species, and because islands often lack predators, releasing them from the need to hide. On many islands small species become larger (gigantism) and large species become smaller (dwarfism). Islands such as Madagascar, Mauritius, or Sardinia were thus hosts to giant rats and lizards (Komodo dragons) along with miniature hippos, elephants, and goats (SEE: Homo floresiensisthe Hobbit of Flores).

The Guy Fawkes mask has a long history of being a symbol of popular dissent and protest. Ironically, the most familiar version is owned by Time Warner and is paid a licensing fee for every mask sold. You just can’t win.

The Radiolab Podcast, of particular interest are the episodes ‘Numbers‘ and ‘La Mancha Screw Job

Cui bono – when trying to make sense of a situation, ask “to whose benefit?”

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