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Rethinking Race: The real genetics of complexion

On Monday, National Geographic announced its new era of racial lucidity with a cover photograph of the English eleven-year-olds Marcia and Millie Biggs, apparently symbols of our post-racial future. Their matching dresses and long, flowing hair emphasize what can be determined from their faces: that these girls are sisters—fraternal twins. “They both have my nose,” their father, Michael Biggs, says in the story. “Marcia had light brown hair and fair skin like her English-born mother,” the article states; “Millie had black hair and brown skin like her father, who’s of Jamaican descent.”

A statistical geneticist clarifies that it is not a rarity for one child to resemble one parent and vice versa; the issue’s abstract says that “race is a human invention,” and that skin color has misguidedly been used as a “proxy” for race. And yet the magazine cover undermines all of these correctives. “Black and White,” it reads, under the portrait of the twins. “These twin sisters make us rethink everything we know about race.” The online promotion is even more contradictory: “These Twins, One Black and One White, Will Make You Rethink Race.” The framing inspires the kind of coarse racial quantifying from which the issue is ostensibly trying to escape. Linking to the article on social media, several people observed that both sisters “look” black.


Windows 10 gives me a headache: But I learned the lesson now

Anywhere in the world it is possible to mark/copy/paste text.
This works in Alaska, in Timbuktu and on the Marshall islands, and it works on systems such as pre-Win7, Android, Linux, iOS, SunOS or Robotron's SCP.
Where it does not work is in the „help“ menues and „settings“ of Win10. Here it is impossible to copy a single word of their very cryptic, paranoid instructions into the dashboard. Such as if these were all copyright-protected verses of the highest poetic quality.

One is wondering if the whole confusion in Win10 does not result from the developer team failing to use a common language. One is reminded of a Babylonian chaos of inconsistent terminology. Why in the Win10 instructions for instance they sometimes refer to Data storage devices („Datenträger“), sometimes to disk-drives („Laufwerke“).

In the Settings („Einstellungen“) there is a similar chaos. If you go to „Back-up system“ and „Recover sytem“ they recommend doing a reinstallation and „...sometimes it is usefull to reinstall from a system recovery image („System-Abbild“)“. If you try to find out how to produce this „system recovery image“ by simply put the term in the search window, you are left with „this term was not found“.

How is it possible, for instance, that a new OS like Win10 passes all internal testings of MS developers while it consistently shows important pop-up windows always hidden between all other status windows ? This is like the Mafia, handing over the bribery money wrapped in a yesterdays newspaper.
Why in gods name has MS decided to remove the important „checking disk drive for errors“ from the system maintenance menues ? It is deeply hidden now, only to be found by multiple clicking through file manager, drive properties, tools. Maybe Win10 does not like the „checking disk drive for errors“ command, because after installing Win10 on a complete error-free, virgin drive, suddenly some default sectors appear. Funny, in the past the OS where so clever to repair defect sectors on the drive during or prior to the installation. But only Win10 is doing the masterpiece and causing new hard-drive errors during its installation.

There are hundreds more of such sever issues that got worse when you upgrade from Win 7 to Win 10. Instead making functionallity more stable and robust and more logic, the facial design of the system (the facade, I would call it) received so much attention from the developers, that I ask myself if they are mainly graduates from „Media design schools“ rather than real IT developers.

My patience with and my loyality to Microsoft more and more reaches its limits. In the past, with every upgrade I used to test in parallel an alternative OS. When I had to replace my first smart-phone (running Windows Mobile) I tried in parallel a (than still novel) Android phone. Meanwhile, I can not remember having switched on the WindowsPhone for ages any more, because its continous instability and freezing caused me too much headache.
And 5 years ago, while upgrading my desktop and laptop from XP to Win7, I already thought to give Linux a trial (as a dual boot OS in parallel with Win7). This was a wise decision, since everytime Win7 got stalled with no reasonable error message or alternatively hundreds of error messages accumulating in the „system event-log“ over month, without ever causing any day-to-day problem, I could quickly switch to Linux, by pulling the power-plug of the PC and opting for reboot to Linux-Debian OS. Useless to mention, of course, that Linux OS allows access to all the drives on the machine, including all the Windows drives. Can you imagine that from Microsofts XP/Win7/Win10 the file-manager would give you any hint that there are other drive volumes that belong to a non-Windows OS ?
Microsoft really became more and more aggressive against interfacing with non MS systems. If you dare to opt-out of the Microsoft Edge browser in Win10, at almost every webpage you open by using Firefox or Chrome you are reminded by little „info pop-ups“ that Edge would be the faster/better/sexier browser. And without having proper evidence, at least my gut-feeling tells me that Win10 artificially slows down data transfer as soon as it recognises that the user works with an non-MS browser.
Why does Microsoft thinks that by fixed installation of a XBox command in the Win10 start menue, or by re-installing kids computer games or shooter games, or by pre-instalation of their own Xing-network, they could get someone like me buying any of this crap ?
When Win10 asked me to set-up and log-in to a personal Microsoft online account („ help me getting the best safety and update information for my new PC....“ LoL !!!!) I quckly recognized I was simply redirected to a Microsoft supermarket. There was zero information about the PC on which I just had upgraded to Win10, let alone any possibility to get update drivers or security packs. Instead there were all sorts of the latest useless MS products: Windows phones, Microsofts arm bracelets, Surface lap-tops, Xboxes. All with quick-buy and easy-credit options.

In summary I have got the feeling that Win10 is the helpless, but all-to-obvious attempt of Microsoft to hedge its former dominance in the software industry from the worldwide switch to alternative platforms. Apart from the Apple community (which is limitted to professional iOS users in design and research and to the large number iPhone-users in the West), Android becomes a more and more robust competitor, not only on mobile devices, but on linking all entertainment and household applications and data integration.
And Linux and the whole GNU software world becomes more and more accessible also for computer users without a strong IT background. At work we feel a better and growing support from the IT department and from the financial department to switch to open office, to free- or shareware graphics solutions (GIMP) or mail- and teamware products (Zimbra), a massive shift away from the former Microsoft dominance with programs such as Office, Outlook, or Publisher.

It is hard to believe that in a field that is so competitive as IT, where young, flexible and innovative developers come up with creative solutions every day in the software engineering offices of Google and Apple or in the freelance Linux communities, a dinosaur ier such as Microsoft can regain ground simply by cosmetic operations on its outer face, or by rediculous attempts to blind its customers from seeing or testing alternatives.


Little Green Man

With the 2015 occupation of the Crimean Peninsula they earned world wide fame:  The little green man, than armed with AK47 and dressed in green camouflage forms. When asked by foreign reporters from where they are and where they are going, they insisted (with a waggish smile on their face) that they are from a nearby village and now on their way on a fishing trip.

Today, fortunately, Google made us aware of a much elder tradition of little green (and also red) men. Also from the Eastern part of Europe, they are on a totally peaceful mission as the little cartoon figures on the red and the green traffic lights in Germany.

Today they celebrate their 56th birthday, and - as originally a pure East-German breed - would have to wait for another 9 years (till 2026) to switch from RED stop modus to the GREEN go modus. In 2026 they will celebrate their 65th birthday and would have benefitted from the than unique and generous law that with achieving retirement age, people became eligable to legally cross the iron courtain and explore the wide world.
But since the iron courtain came down in 1989 - the little green and red traffic light figures were in their late 20s only - they quickly took the opportunity and went West. A peaceful wave of immigration took place, and the green and the red fellows (the red is a girl, of course) not only gave an amazing example of successful cultural integration, but they had children and grand-children and thousands of great-children, who populated the traffic lights all over Germany.

Google hired graphic artist Laura Edelbacher to design a Google Doodle cartoon to commemorate this event.

You can also learn about the historical background of the little traffic figures on a youtube video

Please note the white peace dove that Laura Edelbacher has placed in her cartoon next to the traffic light. It is a clear sign that the little green and red figures are indeed on a pure peaceful mission.
The proportion of the little guys, however, seems to be a little bit distorted in this YouTube video. In reality, the two resemble gnomes (like on the photo on top), and are almost as wide as they are tall.


A correction on T. Pynchons "Against the Day"

Dear Thomas Pynchon,
Don't worry, I am not here to say a single critical word about any of your novels. They are like my bible, they give me constant comfort in a world where noise illiterates find million readers of their daily 140 letter diencephalic excretions. I am sure that you might be the most prominent person living in an inner emigration in the US, but your are not the only one.
But despite all my respect for you and your oevre, a respect that started with a deep confusion when I as a physics student in the closed East Germany got hold of "The crying of lot 49", I have to complain about one sentence that I just read in "Against the Day" (in its German translation, Rowolt 2008). On page 123, line 9/10 you describe photography and alchemy (which perhaps includes the science of explosives) as "...being two methods to achieve the same: to release light of the inertia of precious metals". I know what you want to say here, in particular regarding silver that acts as silver-nitrat in photographic emulsions to be converted by single photons into metallic silver, or to act in the form of Silver acetylide as an initial explosive.
My point in your line of reasoning is just the following: These two methods (photography and alchemy don't release light of the inertia of precious metals, but it is the other way around:  Light and alchemy can both release precious metals of their chemical inertia.

You don't have to argue with me, because every scientist will agree that my line of reasoning is precise.  I just would like you to send me the part of this chapter in the original English as you wrote it.  I'd like to check if maybe (and what I strongly assume) this incorrect phrase is due to the Germany translation or editorial work.

Sincerely, Michael (external member of the  The Chums of Chance)


Hardcover vs. E-Book

My sister works in a big public library in Berlin, and she gave me access to her E-book flat rate account. She herself is not using it at all, because of emotional reasons. It happend already several times that I call her to express my gratitude to her, when I enjoyed a new Gary Shteyngart novel, an old Philip Roth novel or another collection of short stories by Amoz Oz. But she interrupts me, and through the telefon I can almost feel her aversion for e-books. She is a romantic, for her reading is synonymous with feeling the weight of a hardcover book in your hands, changing pages by physically picking the paper between your fingertips, and using artisan bookmarks.
I fully understand this nostalgia, since without all this we would have perhaps never went beyond the stage of cuniform inscriptions on clay or hieroglyphs on Egyptian papyrus. And of course I will always advocate that books of high literary quality should be printed in equally high quality books. But for daily use, E-books have certain advantages, but also disadvantages. 

- smaller size and weight for a larger book collection
- adjustable font size, if you have problems reading small letters or forgot your glasses (important if you are not a teenager any more)
- Easily copy and past text, if you want to comment in a blog, or send passages to a friend or a critic
- Sand on the beach wont get stuck between the pages, but might leave scratches on the screen
- No danger that the wind will blow through your pages
- if the battery goes down, you are left alone
- at intense sun light, the screen contrast is extremely poor

Several times in our vacations on the Black Sea coast, I therefore switched back to an old-fashioned hard-cover book. It also has its advantages in certain situations:

- Excellent contrast even in the strongest sun light
- People around take you as a very intelligent person (in particular if you read a 1600 pages novel by Thomas Pynchon)
-  Sand wont cause permanent damage to it, but can temporarily get stucked between the pages
-  Operates with renewable energy (sun light)
- Reading in dark environment requires an extra light source
- Strong wind will turn over pages unwantedly or even tear pages
- with bad vision, one needs spectacles


Hidden Power

Well, other nations are involved in endless arguments about who deserves most credits for discovering the magic power of electricity. The ancient Greeks claim to have given it the name Electron, after they have noted that after rubbing amber with a piece of silk fabric the former will attracted tiny pieces of fiber (electrostatic force of differently charged bodies). Italians, however are convinced that Alessanro Volta and Galvani earn the greatest honors, since they firstly described electro-chemical potential and electro-conductivity by metals. Serbia, Croatia, Austria and Czech are still on a debate about which nationality the great magician Nicola Tesla, inventor of alternating current and of the principle of high voltage generation by electromagnetic transformers, belonged to. And of course the usual suspects England, Germany and the Netherlands earn the merits that great physicists from their countries, namely J.C. Maxwell, G. Kirchhoff and H.A.Lorentz, who formulated the electrodynamic and electromagnetic theories.
Bulgaria entered the row of great discoveries in the field only recently, when a poor tomato farmer found out that by the help of some scotch tape and iron wire from his goat fence he can make the electric power meter in his house runs slower or even stop altogether, while the entire household including his old fashioned Rakia distillery and a self designed electric red pepper roaster consumed almost unlimited kWh of energy. His patent application for this "custom designed electric perpetuum immobile" was not granted, but forwarded to the Bulgarian authorities for fraud prevention.
 But beside of such rather questionable contributions to the progress of finding cheaper and environmentally friendly forms of energy, Bulgarian artists with their great sense of style, humor and beauty started some years ago an initiative to give the electric switch boards along the streets of the capital Sofia a new, eye catching design with added value for the community. Every year I visit the city and I am amazed by their latest electric artworks.


Failures of the big promise: Matchmaking Algorithms

In our modern times, the biggest hope for people desperately looking for ideal partnerships are the notorious online dating and matchmaking sites. They promise to filter out Mr. or Mrs. Right from a dozen of million candidates, whom one would have otherwise never the chance to meet or to give them a trial. Even for the minimal version of real life check, the notorious One Night Stand, people on the search would had to spend decades of their life to test just a few thousands of potential partners, and already after the first few mornings-after would  probably ruined their emotional integrity completely. And this is where the online matchmakers (like Parship, GMatch, Tinder etc) discovered their market: to promise everyone desparately hunting for an ideal partner the power of computer algorithms, big data and anonymous candidate lists, which ulimately will do the job better, safer, easier and more efficient. A recent study by Samantha Joel and colleagues from three US universities, however, raises serious doubts on this promise. They show that mutial attraction between girls and boys (student volunteers) during a recorded random dating survey had next to nothing to do with a wishlist of personal characteristics that the participants had to fill in in advance. It appears that throwing dices to pick a candidate date partner is not less succesful than having powerful computer programs doing the job.

In two of their speed-dating studies, romantically unattached individuals completed more than 100 self-report measures about traits and preferences that past researchers have identified as being relevant to mate selection. Each participant met each opposite-sex participant attending a speed-dating event for a 4-min speed date. Random forests models predicted 4% to 18% of actor variance and 7% to 27% of partner variance; crucially, however, they were unable to predict relationship variance using any combination of traits and preferences reported before the dates. These results suggest that compatibility elements of human mating are challenging to predict before two people meet.

It also raises the question if we really know what is good for us, or if we simply repeat stereotypes which the public and social media always show us. Do we know, what we want ? Do we know, what we need ? Do we know, what we know ? And if have already doubts about what is really good for us, and who is really good for us, how than should a simple computer algorithm know ?

What could remaine a funny trial and error experience for young people, however, remains to often the last hope even for candidates in their second half of life. It is disappointing to see people who should be life-experienced enough putting all their hope of finding a good partner in the hand of online algorithms.


Crazy Project of the third kind

I had developed at least two more or less enthusiastic projects during the last 5 years or so, which had little to do with my job or my skills. But if one reads good autobiographies of gifted people, one is occasionally surprised what sudden new talents they discover and follow with great energy.

So it happened to me 6 years ago, when I had to work together with a PhD student from Iran, met her more often than nessesarry for the project, and after she left I suffered of bad heartache. So I tried to compensate this loss with developing more interest in the politics of current Iran, issues of human rights and the question why people from there leave the country to look for freedom abroad. I came across some morvellous books, like those from Amir H. Cheheltan, unfortunately still completely unknown in the West, who with describes the psychology of victims and traitors in the political system of Iran. Another one were Shahrnush Parsipur’s memories about her time in Evin prison (kissing the Sword). I developed the idea to collect letters from Iranian political prisoners, which they send to their friends or family, translate these letters into as many as possible foreign languages (in a sort of community afford) and publish them on a website. I came quite far with this project, and even had some response from foreign friends, colleagues or just internet buddies who contributed the translations. But my idea that the project could get viral did not worked out. Although I tried to promote it by inviting some famous political artists, social scientists and political activists in Germany, Europe, the US, there was not so much response. The website, however, is still active and its called Evin Rosetta.

The next funny project, with some political and some cultural and entertaining context was my plan to develop a Vineyard here in Munich, using one of the artificially made rubbish hills. It should have been a Vineyard of the Nations, because I invited people from quite different countries (Russia, US, Iran, Germany, Afghanistan, Israel) to participate. The flyer from our first meeting you can find here.

But again it appeared much harder to motivate the people to stay on board. Some simply said they had no time, others honestly expressed their doubts or their fear to do something with foreigners.

Maybe I should post an new announcement via Twitter. Although it is only for daily news, the range of readers and potential responders could be much larger.

What it takes to succesfully launch a really crazy project can be red here:

Voyagers Golden Record.

About the design of the golden data record with information about our earth, mankind and a couple of sounds and voices and music from different sources. The Golden Record was launched on board the Voyager probe to travel across the universe, and maybe being found and played by an extraterrestrial civilisation.


This is my favorite, but also my most painful gene : PYGM

Well, I think I can say that I am a pretty good geneticist, published at least 30 papers in internationally recognized journals that cover topics such as genetics of cancer, genetics of neurological diseases, genetics of stem cells and of embryonic development and a lot about the inherited susceptibility for diseases after environmental stress.

Now, in my early 50s, I have to anticipate that my own genome is also not free of any disease-predisposing abnormalities. I recognized some odd pain in my leg muscles about 10 years ago, when some really horribly pains struck me after walking down the stairway from our 5th floor apartment. 
After consulting various specialist doctors I ended up at the F.Miescher Clinic in Munich, which is specialize for neuro-muscular diseases. After taking a biopsy from my upper leg muscle they found that one enzyme, glycogene-phosphorylase V was completely absent. A subsequent genetic analysis that I did in our own lab confirmed that I am homozygous for a rare null-allele of the gene PYGM. McArdles disease, which is caused by this congenital condition, has a population frequency of 1 in 100.000. As in my case, both of my parents are heterozygous carriers (i.e. they carry one disease allele and one intact allele of PYGM, and due to the later they are both un-affected). I was the unlucky case of inheriting from both my mom and my dad their abnormal copy of PYGM. So I have the two bad copies in my germline, therefore I have the disease. 
O.k., I have to admit it is a disease one can live with quite easily.

There is
-  no life shortening associated
-  in my case, severe muscle pain only while climbing down (strange, I can climb up thousands of meters in the mountains, but not 10 meters downhill)
-  no problem riding the bicycle
-  no problem going dancing
-  no problem going skying (down-hill, long-distance, or touring)

When I walk down a long stairway, however, or if I climb down a hill, I got really bad muscle cramps which indicate severe destruction of muscle fibers (rhabdo-myelosis).
The only way to ease this pain in the past was to increase the glucose uptake before physical activity. But this was only partly efficient. No I got something new (and I have to admit that I found it through the internet at a patients forum:  It is a special kind of sugar (called D-Ribose, of which all our RNA molecules are made of), and it is prescribed against general muscles fatigue. The idea is, that D-Ribose can bridge the time between the depletion of glukose-generated ATP in the muscle cells and the production of new glucose from serum glycogen (which is impaired in McArdles patients) by quickly providing an energy source to the mitochondria.

I have to admit that I am not a very good biochemist, so I don't know exactly how and where D-Ribose can be used in  the mitochondrial cycle. Anyway, I believe that it works because it is based on scientific evidence.
From next week on, we will do our annual vacations in Bulgaria, and there are mountains of various levels of altitude, where I can do a controlled study with and without D-Ribose administration (because there is only a small market for D-Ribose, the stuff is about 50 x more expensive that ordinary sugar. So not really the stuff I will use to sweeten my tea with).

I will seriously report about it here. However will be the results:  These mountains are pretty impressive and beautiful anyway.  In the worst case, I will be caught on the very peak, and not being able to get home.  Than somebody has to come and catch me with a rescue helicopter.

Addenum: Maybe I should explain  why I nominated PYGM my most favorite gene: The germline mutation Arg50X (which causes expression of a truncated, inactive glycogen phosphorylase enzyme) not only predisposes strongly for McArdles disease with its sometimes painful muscles cramps, it has the beneficial side effect that the glukose level in blood serum is always quite low (because the muscle cells have to satisfy all their energy need from the free circulating glucose). This has the consequence that very little glucose is available to be converted in fatty acids and stored in the form of dad bod. So McArdle patients are usually pretty in shape, and even when they eat as much as they want, they have no problems keeping their body weight.


Astronomy in the Trump era

Here is what you get if a person that never in life red a book suddenly feels entitled to teach the public about what is right and what is wrong:

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Attacking the media for its “very unfair” coverage of Monday’s solar eclipse, Donald J. Trump said on Saturday that the sun was equally to blame for blocking the moon. “The fake news is covering the eclipse from the sun’s side instead of the moon’s side, but if you look at it from the moon’s side the sun is blocking the moon’s side,” he said. “There are so many sides you can’t count all the sides.” Additionally, Trump tore into the sun itself, calling it a “showboat” for its role in the solar eclipse. “The sun thinks the world revolves around it,” Trump said. “Sad.” Trump said the sun was a “big problem” that his predecessor, Barack Obama, did nothing to solve, but that that situation was about to change. “It will be handled—we handle everything,” Trump said, adding that a preëmptive military strike on the sun was “very much on the table.”

On Monday, Trump had still doubts of the real possibility that the sun could hide behind the moon, and therefore he took a quick look to the spectacle - with bare eyes (who cares, if you are already politically blind).
Maybe he has some unused preservatives in his bath-room drawer. In this case I could instruct him how to use them for building a pair of ad-hoc eclipse protection glasses.