Synthetic Biology’s Hunt for the Genetic Transistor | IEEE Spectrum

Replied to Synthetic Biology's Hunt for the Genetic Transistor (
How genetic circuits will unlock the true potential of bioengineering
This is a great short article on bioengineering and synthetic biology written for the layperson. It’s also one of the best crash courses I’ve read on genetics in a while.


Reply to Mythbusters | The Sheridan Libraries Blog

Replied to Mythbusters by Margaret Burri (The Sheridan Libraries Blog)

Ever walk past a campus tour and wonder how much of it is true? While most of it is, and we love the plug for “your own librarian,” there are a couple of long-standing inaccuracies that we’d like to put to rest:

“No building on campus can be taller than Gilman Hall because that’s what’s in Gilman’s will.” Wrong. Decisions about buildings’ heights, including that of the library, have been made based on the scale of the campus and the architecture of Homewood House. Stand at the middle of the lower part of the beach, and look through the glass windows of MSEL. Notice anything? That’s right–Gilman Hall is beautifully framed in the center.

Gilman died in 1908, and mentioned nothing in his will about buildings. In 1912, the Trustees began to plan a new “Academic Building.” This was completed in 1915, and formally named after Gilman in 1917.

“The library sank three inches when they put the 2.5 million books in it in 1964.” Wrong again. I often wonder how many parents, when they hear this, would like to end the tour right there. First, there weren’t 2.5 million books in 1964; we didn’t reach that milestone until the 1990s. When the new library opened on November 15, 1964, there were just over 1.1 million books on the shelves.

Second, no sinking occurred. The weight of the thousands of shelves and books had been calculated into the plan, and the foundation was, and remains, more than adequate to hold the weight.

One thing that is true about the library is that when the hole was dug, an underground stream was discovered, and had to be rerouted before work on the building could continue. John Berthel, the library director at the time, poses in the recently dug hole with some of the books that would later grace the shelves.

Did Winston go down into the new hole for the BLC while they were digging and take a similar photo with a pile of books? The two photos would make great “book ends!”

The Decline Effect and the Scientific Method | The New Yorker

Replied to The Truth Wears Off: Is there something wrong with the scientific method? (The New Yorker)
Jonah Lehrer’s New Yorker article “The Truth Wears Off: Is there something wrong with the scientific method?” is an interesting must-read article. In it he discusses the “Decline Effect” and outlier statistical effects within scientific research.

Among other interesting observations in it, he calls attention to the fact that, “according to the journal Nature, a third of all studies never even get cited, let alone repeated.”

For scholars of Fisher, Popper, and Kuhn, some of this discussion won’t be quite so novel, but for anyone designing scientific experiments, the effects discussed here are certainly worthy of notice and further study and scrutiny.

Nicholas Bourbaki and Serge Lang

Replied to Scientific Fiction – The Bourbaki Mystery by Sue Vazakas (The Sheridan Libraries Blog)

In the 1930s, a French mathematician began writing journal articles and books. His name was Nicolas Bourbaki. He didn’t exist.

Bourbaki was and is actually a group of brilliant and influential mathematicians, mostly French but not all, whose membership changes but whose collective purpose remains the same: to write about mathematical topics they deem important. Between 1939 and 1967 “he” wrote a series of influential books about these selected topics, collectively called Elements of Mathematics.

A mysterious, mostly anonymous group of writers publishing momentous things under a single name is just really cool. But don’t try to read any of his stuff unless you are an expert mathematician.

Instead, read a wonderful story by novelist and award-winning chemist Carl Djerassi, called The Bourbaki Gambit. What do you think happens when a group of scientists, being discriminated against for various reasons, team up and use the “Bourbaki” approach to try to get their latest discovery taken seriously?

There’s an old mathematicians’ joke that goes like this:

Q: When did Nicholas Bourbaki quit writing books about mathematics?

A: When (t)he(y) realized that Serge Lang was only one person!

Twitter Changes Rules on Users. No Auto-Follow. | Kyle Lacy

Replied to Twitter Changes Rules on Users. No Auto-Follow. by Kyle Lacy (
(hat tip to ZDNEt and Chris McEvoy for the lead) From ZDNet: “With no notice, Twitter yesterday “pulled the rug out from under its developers” one developer says, by discouraging auto-following and imposing 1,000 person-per-day following limits.” Now… this is not news to me because of the “pulling the rug out from under its developers” thing or the 1,000 person-per-day following limit… The news to me as a Twitter user… I don’t really remember getting a message or alert that the new limits were going to be enacted. I use Twitter on a daily basis. It seems fairly odd that I would not know about the change.
I’m personally glad they’d be implementing something like this and wish they had done it about a month ago. Eventually without any controls the site would have become a waste land. In the spirit of using it as the tool it has become, they needed to implement changes like this as the site scaled up to more and more people. It’s very similar to the changes they instituted in the fall of 2008 when they created a cap of being able to follow more than 2000 people when your own number of followers wasn’t commensurate with that number. As a game theorist, I’m sure that people will somehow find some other way to artificially game the system.

As a separate note, who really wants to waste the time building thousands and thousands of followers when none of them are really going to ever pay attention to you? Yes, it’s great to have a high number, but really what is your ultimate reach? How many people are you engaging?