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This is the blog of Jeff Barson. I'm currently running HireVue Labs, former Director at Sendside, founder of Surface Medical, Nimble, Medspa MD, Freelance MD, Frontdesk, Uncommon, and Wild Blue... angel investor and startup advisor. Oh, and I'm a artist. More >>


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    hairraisingEveryone seems to know the basics, hair is made of dead cells. Beyond that we only know to shampoo it, comb it and try to prevent split ends. So how exactly is this hair formed when we have plenty of other dead cells falling off our skin all the time?

    The key is a substance called keratin. When the cells die it leaves a cylinder of keratin, an extremely strong protein. So strong in fact, that the only biological material stronger than keratin is chitin.  Now before you go bragging about how strong your keratin is to all those bald friends you need to know that their are types of keratin. It just happens to be that the keratin that makes up the hair on your head is not near as tough as that which makes up the claws and scales of reptiles. 

    So yes, their keratins could beat up your keratins.

    While completely lifeless, hair does contain minerals, fats, and water (10%). So, if you are ever on a deserted island you could survive just a little longer on a nice fistful of hair. However, growing on average 1 cm a month means this food supply isn’t very replenishable. Eat wisely.


    Puppy Love

    puppylovePuppy Love isn’t just just the glassy-eyed look that teen girls get when watching Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean. Nope, it’s an actual condition in which teens show a number of manic and risky behaviors.

    It seems that there is some scientific evidence to show that adolescents who feel ‘madly in love’ may be right. They actually are ‘mad’.

    Lovestruck teens show many of the symptoms of a condition called ‘hypomania’ (a less pronounced form of regular mania) in which they sleep about an hour less that teens who aren’t smitten. They also act more compulsively, spend more money, drive faster, and pass more notes in class. (The note’s also have 500% more hearts and balloon writing on them than normal class notes.)

    One study demonstrated that youngins in early-stage intense romantic love acted exactly as psychiatric patients during a hypomanic stage, concluding that intense romantic love in teenagers is a “psychopathologically prominent stage”.

    Oddly enough, the symptoms of hypomania overlap with those of regular mania. These symptoms are visible in teens as periods of depression, endless texting to friends, ‘Do not enter’ signs appearing on their bedroom doors, an inability to be ‘understood by anyone, and a pronounced decrease in how cool they think their parents are. Don’t worry, there’s nothing you can do about this. (You may still want to hide the car keys and affix a geo-locator to your teen.)

    Ah, the wonder of those teenage years. Hair sprouting everywhere and mania to boot.



    dirtWhere would we be without dirt?

    Honestly, the economy depends on dirt. If we didn’t have dirt it would put the entire cleaning industry out of business, the economy would collapse, and you’ll be out on the street waiting for a street-sweeper that would never need to come. Count your lucky stars that dirt’s got a long-term contract and isn’t cleaning up it’s act anytime soon. 

    Dirt (soil) forms the pedospherem, which is a nice Latin name for the grubby interface between the lithosphere (rocky part of the planet) and the biosphere, atmosphere, and hydrosphere.

    Dirt is a three phase system comprised of all kinds of little bits, from rocks and minerals, organic matter (including all sorts of living organisms), ice, weathered rock and precipitates, liquid water solutions, and gases (worm farts).

    The ‘liquid phase’ is primarily water, and is also known as the ‘soil solution’ where plants get their nutrients. The ‘gaseous phase’ is important for supplying oxygen to plant roots for respiration. Fortunately, there is no ‘teenager phase’.

    Soil formation, or pedogenesis, (use that in a sentence some time this week) is the combined effect of physical, chemical, biological, and anthropogenic processes on big things turning them into progressively littler things which you want to keep out of the corners of your bathroom.

    Oh yeah, we’re all going to become dirt in the end so show some respect. 


    The Butterfly Effect

    blue_morpho_butterfly_large.jpgCan a butterfly flapping it’s wings can cause a hurricane?

    Well, maybe. Really complex systems like the weather and ecosystems are pretty, well, complex. (How my wife drives is also a complex system but so far has resisted any scientific understanding.)

    The butterfly effect is simply this: Any change in the initial conditions of a complex non-linear system creates wildly different outcomes.

    A more technical description would be: sensitive dependence on initial conditions in chaos theory where small variations of the initial condition of a nonlinear dynamical system produce increasingly large variations in the long term behavior of the system. Whew.

    The phrase The Butterfly Effect refers to the idea that the single flap of a butterfly’s wings change the initial conditions of the system enough to cause large-scale phenomena (hurricanes and such) since any variation in the initial conditions is vastly magnified with each iteration. And every flap of every butterfly wing in the world continually changes those conditions. (Someone passing gas in France probably caused the Katrina hurricane.) Now you know why you don’t want to be a weatherman. It basically means that we’ll never be able to predict the weather for more than a few days.



    See that equation? Looks tricky doesn’t it? You can’t understand how my wife drives either.

    Comparing the butterfly effect to the domino effect is slightly misleading. In the domino effect there is dependence on the initial sensitivity, but whereas a simple linear row of dominoes would cause one event to initiate another similar one, the butterfly effect amplifies the condition upon each iteration. Also, dominos are a game played by old people in Miami.

    Animal populations can be subject to the same phenomena.

    Predator-prey systems have complex dynamics. A bio system with two variables such as rabbits and foxes can create a system that is much more complex than is readily apparent. Lack of foxes means that the rabbit population can increase, but increasing numbers of rabbits means foxes have more food and are likely to survive and reproduce, which in turn decreases the number of rabbits.

    So please, don’t pass gas. Forecasting the weather is hard enough.


    Why Evolution is a fact, but how it works is a theory.

    skulls.gif&usg=AFQjCNG9ivk0CfyPHiyh2c6RgiMW9EOTvAEvolution is a fact. How evolution works is a theory.

    “In the American vernacular, ‘theory’ often means ‘imperfect fact’—part of a hierarchy of confidence running downhill from fact to theory to hypothesis to guess. Thus the power of the argument: evolution is ‘only’ a theory and intense debate now rages about many aspects of the theory.

    If evolution is less than fact and scientists can’t even make up their minds about the theory, then what confidence can we have in it?

    Well evolution is a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world’s data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts don’t go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them. Einstein’s theory of gravitation replaced Newton’s in this century, but apples didn’t suspend themselves in midair, pending the outcome.”

    - Stephen J. Gould, ” Evolution as Fact and Theory”; Discover, May 1981

    Let’s consider evolution in light of another scientific fact - gravity. Gravity is also fact. How gravity works is a theory. Current theories about gravity might be disproved, but gravity itself remains a fact. 

    A number of terms have been attached to Darwin’s theory although they are commonly misunderstood.

    Survival of the fittest does not mean survival of the strongest, smartest, fastest or best camouflaged. Survival of the fittest means that an organism that is best adapted to its ecological niche is more likely to create more offspring than less fit individuals. Consider the garden slug as an great example of fitness for survival.

    Natural selection is Darwin’s theory of how the environment works on species. Individuals that are most successfully reproducing viable offspring form the core gene pool of a species. Environmental forces determine which individuals survive.

    The evidence for Darwin’s theory of evolution grows more unimpeachable as science discovers more about chemistry, geology, and biology.

    Take a look at your dog. He’s a perfect display of the mechanisms of evolution. If he’s anything other than a 30 pound dingo looking mutt, the gene’s he displays that make him a cock-a-poo, German Shepard, or Bouvier (my favorite) were selected from an existing gene pool by humans to make him what he is. While all dogs are the same species and a great dane can breed (theoretically) with a chiwawah, you get the idea. His genes have been modified over time to make him different than he was.

    So, The Theory of Evolution does not describe evolution as a supposition. It is the the current thinking about how the fact of evolution manifests itself.