2008 - %3, November

Obesity Linked To Grandparent's Diet

| Fri Nov. 21, 2008 9:12 PM EST

600px-Lab_mouse_mg_3135.jpg At least in mice. So far. Nature reports on research presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience. Mice fed on a high-fat diet during pregnancy and lactation had larger-than-normal offspring. Those offspring also went on to have larger-than-normal offspring.

The 1st-generation offspring also tended to overeat, whether they were fed a high-fat or normal diet. Plus they were insulin-insensitive, a feature of diabetes that often leads to obesity. The 2nd-generation offspring did not overeat, but were large and insulin-insensitive too. Male pups born to mothers on a high-fat diet also transmitted the traits to their own offspring.

The U of Pennsylvania team wants to know which genes were involved in passing on these traits. So far they've found epigenetic changes in the hypothalamus, which controls feeding behaviour. Epigenetic changes are biochemical modifications that affect how DNA functions without actually altering its nucleotide sequence. Epigenetic changes can be induced by environmental and/or genetic factors.

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Battery Woes 2....The Empire Strikes Back

| Fri Nov. 21, 2008 7:26 PM EST

BATTERY WOES 2....THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK....I know you're all waiting on pins and needles to get the skinny on my trip to the Apple Genius Bar, so here's how it went. My appointment was scheduled for 3:20. At 3:20 they called my name. I told the tech my story, he nodded, plugged a doodad into my USB port and booted my MacBook. After a few seconds it came up with a special screen that said:

BATTERY STATUS: BAD

There was a bunch of other detail on the screen, but basically, it just confirmed that my battery was bad. And for what it's worth, the tech says we were all wrong: there's no harm in letting the battery discharge completely, and no harm in letting it sit around for a couple of months. It is a good idea to let it discharge to zero and then charge completely once a month or so, but that's just to keep the battery calibrated. And it's also a good idea to discharge it to 50% and turn the machine off if you think you're not going to use it for five or six months. But that wasn't my problem. I just had a bad battery. So he replaced it, and at about 3:30 I was on my way.

So: all whining about the battery aside, I have to say that this was just about the most painless tech support experience I've ever had. Kudos to Apple.

Brodner's Cartoon du Jour: Red, NY and Blue

Fri Nov. 21, 2008 7:17 PM EST

Here's an Election Day comic about a political junkie who leaves his apartment to vote only to find he can't see straight anymore. This was a project brought to me by Bob Mankoff with very smart art direction by Bob, Chris Curry, and Caroline Mailhot, who suggested I draw this while looking in the mirror. Oy. Hope tomorrow's a lot easier than this.

First "Best of 2008" Album List Very Wrong, Very White

| Fri Nov. 21, 2008 5:38 PM EST

paste_logo2.gifKids, this right here is more proof that sometimes it's better to take it slow than rush to be first. Stereogum points out that Paste Magazine is the first major publication to drop their "Best Albums of 2008" list, and while there are some good and interesting albums all up and down it, the order (and the omissions) are kind of head-slapping. Here's their Top 10:

Obama's Cabinet

| Fri Nov. 21, 2008 5:10 PM EST

OBAMA'S CABINET....The New York Times says Hillary Clinton has decided to become Barack Obama's Secretary of State. New York Fed chief Tim Geithner will head up the Treasury. So far, then, Obama's cabinet looks like this:

State: Hillary Clinton
Treasury: Tim Geithner
Defense: Robert Gates (maybe)
Attorney General: Eric Holder
Health & Human Services: Tom Daschle
Homeland Security: Janet Napolitano

Whatever else you can say about this crew, there's not much question that Obama is assembling an extremely experienced and competent set of advisors. This is a team that can definitely hit the ground running.

On a related topic, I guess this means I have to eat my hat. After my trip to the Genius Bar this afternoon I shall search the local bakeries for a chocolate cake shaped like a hat and report back to you on how I fare.

Stream Entire New Kanye West Album At, You Guessed It, MySpace

| Fri Nov. 21, 2008 4:55 PM EST

mojo-photo-808sandheartbreak.jpgIt's been a big week for the horrifically-designed friend-accumulation and lo-fi mp3 streaming web site MySpace. They grabbed the new G N' R just yesterday (the song "Chinese Democracy" is up to almost a million plays), and now they've got the new Kanye West album, 808s and Heartbreak, which isn't out until Tuesday. Of course, they can't help but screw things up, as Rolling Stone points out, their "fancy artwork" called the album "808s and Heartbreaks." In fact, they're kind of accurate: the album takes stock of all sorts of troubles in Kanye's life, from the death of his mother to failed relationships, from materialistic tendencies to a sudden regret he never had children. One heartbreak flows into another on this strange, lonely album.

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Obama's No-Drama Pick for Treasury: Tim Geithner

| Fri Nov. 21, 2008 4:11 PM EST

Various news outlets are reporting that on Monday, Barack Obama will announce his pick for Treasury secretary: Tim Geithner.

Compared to the other leading contender, Larry Summers, a former Clinton Treasury secretary, Geithner, the president of the New York Federal Reserve, is relatively unknown. Geithner is a career economist (with no Ph.D.)--no Wall Street master of the universe--who has worked in three administrations for presidents of both parties. He's been described as not an imposing figure, but a rather competent and steady person. Which may be why the Dow Jones shot up after word of his appointment leaked. (Take that, Hank Paulson!)

In March, Financial Times published a profile of Geithner. Some interesting bits:

Friday Cat Blogging - 21 November 2008

| Fri Nov. 21, 2008 3:14 PM EST

FRIDAY NETBLOGGING.... After my Macblogging this morning (or perhaps Macwhining is more like it) (and yes, I have a 3:20 appointment today at the local Genius Bar, thankyouverymuch) (and I can hardly wait to find out if the only option is to buy a new battery at whatever inflated price Apple charges) — anyway, after all that, I figured I should update you on the netbook I bought last week too.

So here it is, propped up next to Inkblot to give you a sense of scale. (And before you ask: yes, the recursive wallpaper idea turned out to be a huge pain in the ass.) (And it didn't even work all that well, since the white balance of the LCD screen is way different than the white balance of the great outdoors.)

Anyway. It's an MSI Wind U100 and so far it's worked pretty well. Very light and convenient. Good performance. Uses Windows XP, not Vista. Sleep mode and hibernation work nicely. Battery life is advertised at five hours, but my guess is that a little over four hours of continuous use is more realistic. The keyboard is quite usable and all the keys are in the right place. The trackpad doesn't have a scrollbar (why? why?!?), but tapping the upper and lower right corners scrolls up and down, and that works pretty well. The trackpad, as I mentioned earlier, is very sensitive, which is a problem until you figure that out, and still a bit of a problem even after you get used to it. The screen is small, of course (1024 x 600), but very sharp and readable. The card reader gave me some problems until I figured out that internally it's a USB device and I have to click the "remove device safely" icon before I pop it out. Bluetooth and wireless work fine. The speakers suck, of course, but the sound is OK with headphones. (In fact, it's a nice little movie player, and I used it last weekend to finally watch The 27th Day, which I had downloaded months ago but never watched on my desktop machine.)

But there's got to be something wrong with it, right? Yes. And I owe it to the Mac fans to air this on the blog. Here it is: the wireless seems to work fine on all networks except mine. On mine, it continually cycles on and off trying to acquire an address. This could be the router's fault, of course, but the router works fine with every notebook I've tried except the MSI. The only failure comes with the combination of this router and this notebook. If I reboot the router, everything works fine for a while, but the next day it's bollocksed up again. It's probably related to the router releasing and reacquiring an address overnight or something, but I haven't figured out anything more than that yet. I don't suppose the Genius Bar folks can help me with that, can they?

Big Bonuses

| Fri Nov. 21, 2008 2:36 PM EST

BIG BONUSES....Dan Ariely writes in the New York Times today about an experiment he did to find out if paying people big bonuses motivated them to produce better results:

We presented 87 participants with an array of tasks that demanded attention, memory, concentration and creativity....We promised them payment if they performed the tasks exceptionally well. About a third of the subjects were told they'd be given a small bonus, another third were promised a medium-level bonus, and the last third could earn a high bonus.

We did this study in India, where the cost of living is relatively low so that we could pay people amounts that were substantial to them but still within our research budget. The lowest bonus was 50 cents — equivalent to what participants could receive for a day's work in rural India. The middle-level bonus was $5, or about two weeks' pay, and the highest bonus was $50, five months' pay.

....The people offered medium bonuses performed no better, or worse, than those offered low bonuses. But what was most interesting was that the group offered the biggest bonus did worse than the other two groups across all the tasks.

The gibes pretty well with my understanding of how to get the best performance out of people. Money matters, but not that much. Being happy in your job matters, but not that much. What really matters is (a) having the skill set for the job and (b) having the support infrastructure (tools, budget, executive buy-in, whatever) needed to allow you to do your job.

Now, obviously, money is important to attract people who have the skill set for the job. If CEOs are all being paid 400x the median salary, the best ones aren't going to work for someone who offers them only 100x. Why would they? Still, the huge secular increase in CEO salaries (and Wall Street bonuses) over the past few decades has almost certainly produced absolutely nothing in the way of higher performance. All it's done is suck money away from blue collar workers, who do respond the way you'd expect to monetary incentives, away from support infrastructure, which genuinely improves the performance of high-skill workers, and away from shareholders.

Bottom line: in a variety of ways, our economy would almost certainly operate more efficiently if the super-rich were paid less. At best it does no good, at worst it motivates reckless behavior, and in the end it prevents the money from being put to its most beneficial use. Quite a mess we've gotten ourselves into since 1980.

Amateur Video Taken Inside Somalia's "Pirate Town" of Eyl

| Fri Nov. 21, 2008 2:20 PM EST

This footage, taken from CNN, is interesting purely for voyeuristic reasons. Where do these Somali pirates come from? To where do they return when their pirating is done? The town of Eyl in Somalia's Puntland region is believed to be a prime operating base of Somalia's pirate class, a place where virtually everyone is involved in some way in the plundering of commercial ships passing through the Gulf of Aden. Not much happens in this video (and by that I mean, like, nothing), but never has a lonely, windswept walk along a dirt road seemed so fascinating. Take a look.