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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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    Why time slows down when approaching the Speed of Light.

    0375727205.01._AA240_SCLZZZZZZZ_.jpgOk, so you’ve heard that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. (That’s not quite true. The expansion of the universe allows for faster than light travel but that’s another post.) You’re also aware that time slows down the closer you get to the speed of light. You know, the ‘One twin goes off to Alpha Centauri at the speed of light and comes back after 80,000 years but he’s only aged 3 months’ story.

    Ever wonder why? Here’s the crib notes.

    Everything in the universe always travels exactly at Light Speed. Always.

    Time dilation: Special relativity declares a law for all motion: The combined speed of any object’s motion through space and it’s motion though time is always precisely equal to the speed of light.

    spacetime.gifThat’s right, everything. You, me, the computer screen you’re looking at, your grandma’s French toast, Santa Clause… everything.

    Everything is traveling through Spacetime: space (the three dimensions we experience and the nine others that m-theory predicts) and time.

    Adding the total movement through both space and time always equals light speed. Always. Always. Always.

    Space and Time do not exist seperately, the are parts of the same thing, Spacetime.

    Since you must travel constantly at exactly the speed of light, when you increase your speed through space, you decrease your speed through time.

    Your head (and the rest of you) is traveling through spacetime at the speed of light. But, when you’re at rest (not accelerating) all of your head’s movement is through time, none of it is traveling (accelerating) through space. Every time your head moves (accelerates) through space; in a car, in a plane, in a spaceship… even nodding up and down, some of it’s movement in time is lost since it is now moving through space.

    Cool huh.

    What about light?

    Since light waves use all of their motion to travel through space at Light Speed, they have absolutely no motion through Time. Every photon that has ever been produced exists in an ageless state. (To us, the light seems to move through time but to the photon, time is standing still. This is one of the seemingly odd realizations fo Ensteins Theory of Relativity.) That's why poton's from the early universe don't 'fade out' or do something else. They can't, since for them, time is at a standstill.

    The universe ages, light does not.

    Reading: The Fabric of the Cosmos: Brian Greene


    1066: William the Conqueror & Harold

    51K2y3ZvKCL._AA240_.jpgIn 1066 the French invaded England. No one really knows why because English food was terrible even then.

    We’ll it was kind of the French. It was actually the Normons (an abbreviation for North Men), former Vikings that the French had bought off by giving them some costal property so that they would stop running around France making unwanted blond babies. Better to keep them all in one place was the thinking.

    But soon the Normons wanted out. I guess living with the French sounded better than the actual experience. William, the leader of the Normons, thought he had just the place, a little island just 30 miles across the channel where there weren’t any Frenchmen to be found. The fact that there were other people there wasn’t of much concern since if there’s one thing that former Vikings knew, it was how to make room for yourself.

    So, in 1066, William gets his boys together and off they go across the channel to introduce the barbarians to French fashion.

    Now the king of the English (they weren’t called English yet but Anglos, Saxons, and such) was a heavy hitter named Harold who didn’t want a bunch of French buggers coming over and forcing everyone to wear berets. When he found out that William had just that thought he flew into a right tizzy-fit. He got all his other heavy hitters who were know as the House Carls and marched off to keep the French out. (The House Carls really were heavy hitters who’s favorite weapon was a two-handed Danish axe that could reportedly take off a horses head with a stroke.) 

    Fast forward to the Battle of Hastings where we’ve got William on one side with his cavalry and Harold up on a hill with his horse-head-hewers ready to square off and play Dodge Ball with each others heads.

    William’s smarter than he seems and he knows that the only way he can break Harold’s line is to get his men to charge down the hill where his guys on horses can really poke at them with their long spears.

    And William’s plan works like a charm. Up charge the calvary, taunting the English with cries of ‘Your mothers dress off the shelf’ and such. Then William feigns a retreat knowing that that Englishmen seeing running French bums in front of them won’t be able to restrain themselves. And so it went. The French turned tail and the English ran right down the hill where Williams knights could get at them. They spent all morning poking the English with sharp things until they all ran away.

    Harold didn’t see that of course because he took an arrow to the eyeball and died which was good for him since the Normans weren’t know for their hospitality at the time.

    The French won and William became ‘The Conqueror’ and the first real King of England. This is why about 40% of modern English is actually derived from French and you can kind of recognize ‘Sacre Bleu!’ as “Sacred Blue!’ or ‘Oh, my heavens’.

    While the French were the aristocracy up in the castle, the English were the peasants down in the dirt. So, you modern English ends up with an old Anglo word for the animal (cow and pig) that the peasants were working with and French words for the dish (beef and pork) that the French were stuffing their faces with up in the castle.

    See, we really do owe it all to the French.



    bloodOk, here’s the deal on your blood. As an average adult, you have about five liters of blood flowing through your veins. The entire volume is made up of four components; red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, and plasma.

    Red blood cells are red. They’re the little guys that do the heavy lifting by carrying oxygen around your body. They’re kind of like college students who are moonlinght as movers. Normally, these little guys are shaped kind of like a doughnut without the hole in the middle going all the way through. (More like a depression than a hole really.) However, these guys can change their shape in order to move through tiny capillaries. In addition delivering oxygen, red blood cells pick up carbon dioxide, a waste product of cellular respiration and the stuff you don’t want anymore. This is handy as it would be a waste of a trip if you had to have someone else come get this carbon dioxide and the red cells are right there anyway. When red cells are carrying oxygen they are bright red but deoxygenated blood (not carrying oxygen) is a really dark maroon color giving veins their ‘blue’ coloring.

    Half your body’s red blood cells are replaced every seven days which is easy to understand when you realize that iIf all the blood vessels in your body were laid end to end, they would reach about 60,000 miles.

    White blood cells are the gunslingers of the blood posse. They go around nuking, spraying, and slurping up all the little critters that you don’t want around like bacteria and viruses. The most common white blood cells are neutrophils and lymphocytes. Neutrophils are kind of like ‘the Blob’ and literally swallow their enemies alive through a process called phagocytosis (cell eating) which is really unpleasant if you’re the one getting absorbed. Lymphocytes are a lot smarter. They adapt their shape to destroy new viruses and bacteria that enter the body. While this time for previously unknown pathogens, your lymphocytes remember all their past encounters which prevents you from getting sick from the same illness in the future. (It’s good to know that every flu you catch is a different one. Vive le difference.)

    Platelets are not very smart. They don’t have to be since their job is simply to find a breech in a vessel wall and throw themselves into it. They’re the ones who begin to form a clot when you cut your finger, kind of the Kamikaze of the blood system.

    Red cells, white cells, and platelets are all formed in your bone marrow from the same stem cells.

    Plasma is the fluid that carries all these cells around. It’s 90% water with a 10% smattering of proteins, electrolytes, glucose, vitamins, hormones, and cholesterol. (As far as I know there’s no salt and pepper.)

    Addition Facts:
    • On average, men have 5.2 million red blood cells per cubic millimeter while women have 4.6 million.
    • Jewish dietary laws do not allow blood to be consumed in any way. Traditionally, salting and pickling purges blood from meat.
    • According to Chinese folklore, nosebleeds are a sign of sexual arousal in men

    Why was Gigi abandoned? A not so simple explanation.

    Adoption is curious. My daughter Madison and I met when she was five. I very clearly remember the first time I saw her. She’s fourteen now. Although she’s not really adopted, (her other family is in Salt Lake), there is really no difference.  :… when you hold your precious jewel for the first time, no one cares if none of those chromosomes came from you.”

    The following is from my brother in laws blog, Meet Gigi, the story of a little girl from China who now lives in San Francisco and is very loved by all who know her. And even though I know the players, it’s one of the sweetest and most touching things I’ve ever read.

    Why was Gigi abandoned?

    This is a post drafted long ago, and worked over a few times, in an effort to get the tone and details right. Here’s our best effort with the delicate subject.

    gigi.firstpic.jpgSo, why was Gigi abandoned? It’s a complicated mix of cultural and political factors that caused Gigi’s birth family to “abandon” or, as we’ve taken to saying, “anonymously place” her with authorities. Gigi was likely given up by parents who loved her, who wanted a child throughout the pregnancy, but who desired—or were pressured to want—a boy. As in other patriarchal cultures, in Chinese tradition boys are favored over girls. In addition to contributing to a family’s livelihood during their parents’ working years, particularly for the farming families that fill China’s inland, they also play the role of caring for their parents when retired.

    Whatever the cause, many Chinese girls end up unwanted—aborted (when a physician can be bribed into illegally disclosing the results of an ultrasound), abandoned, or worse. How many? If you view the Lost Girls documentary referenced below, you’ll learn about the troubling trends in Chinese demographics. The boy-to-girl gap is already noticeable in a typical elementary school classroom, where boys are in a clear majority. Demographers predict it may reach as many as 100 million unmarriageable men by 2040.

    Which brings us back to Gigi: Where does she fit in this complex socio-political situation? What led to her parents’ decision? Here’s what we know: She came from a rural part of southern China and is therefore likely to be among the girls displaced for economic reasons. That she is apparently healthy and had good nutrition readings upon arrival at the orphanage indicates that she was cared for prenatally.

    giginote.jpgBut here is the clincher: Days after being united with Gigi, we received a copy of the solitary trace she will ever have of her birth parents. When found, Gigi had this note attached, indicating her birth day, March 26, 2004, but also on the Chinese lunar calendar, February 6, 2004.

    While this is not uncommon with such children anonymously placed with authorities, it indicates that Gigi’s birth parents or mother wanted these two key elements of her otherwise blank identity to be known. In other words, she was loved. And it was hoped by people who surely carry a sense of loss and regret that she would benefit from the life they chose not to provide—or couldn’t. Abandoned? No. Anonymously placed.

    gigi.andcleo.jpgHappily for the girls yet unborn in China, and those at risk of suffering from the side effects of the one-child policy, things are changing. The government has awoken to the crisis of the gender gap and, among other measures, has launched a public education campaign to shift the perception of girls in Chinese society. Headlong into industrialization, social change in the developing part of China is also well underway, with the attendant realignment of lifestyles, gender roles, and family sizes. So, as much as we will cherish Gigi, we can hope that fewer of China’s girls like her will have to be taken so far from their birthplace to join a loving family to which they’re entitled.

    You can read the rest of Gigi’s story here.


    The Placebo Effect

    placebo.gifThe Placebo Effect is the influence of a treatment that has no medical value but seems to have a beneficial effect. (Kind of like apologizing to your wife for something you didn’t do.)

    Inject a close-to-celestial-discharge patient with salt water and give him a sugar pill, and for some reason, he’ s back up and running in no time. This is especially true for subjectively assessed disorders such as migranes, back pain, and depression, which are all just in your head anyway. The placebo effect may account for a large part of the therapeutic value we subscribe to medications which is good news for those medications that don’t really work that well, since at least you think they do.

    (There’s a sneaking suspicion that that erectile dysfunction ad that tells you to seek a doctor if you have an erection lasting more than four hours is an attempt at giving you a big setup.) 

    The placebo effect for pain medications has been at least partially explained by brain chemistry. When the brain experiences pain, it releases endorphins—chemicals that naturally act like morphine to relieve pain and make you really, really happy. Brain imaging studies have shown that when a person takes a placebo, it triggers the release of endorphins. Neurologically, it’s as if he had taken the illegal drug, but without the trouble of having to do shady deals through his car window.

    There is also the less understood but equally powerful nocebo effect. Often, people who are told that they are going to experience negative side effects from a drug do, even if there is no medical reason for it. In one study, people were given a sugar pill and told that it induced vomiting. Later, 80% of them started throwing up, which is why it’s such great fun to be a janitor at nocebo testing clinics.

    Similarly, in another study, women who believed they were going to die of a heart attack were found to be four times more likely to die of a hart attack than women with the exact same medical profile who did not think that they were at risk. Thinking sick may make actually make you sick which makes it quite possible that Richard Simmons will live forever.

    In some areas of medical treatment, the placebo effect actually seems to be getting bigger. In studies of aintidepressants, the response rate to placebos has been increasing by 7% every ten years. In 1980, 30% of depressed people given a placebo improved without any other treatment; in 2000, it was 44%. This may be due to widespread advertising and heightened expectations for drugs. In general, the public has more faith in psychiatric medications than it did twenty year ago, which give placebos more power.

    Additional Facts:
    • The color of the pills may also have an effect on some patients. In one Italian study, blue placebos made excellent sleeping pills for women and had the opposite effect on men. (Perhaps because it looked like Viagra and perhaps just because they were Italian.)
    • Painful injections may have more therapeutic value than ones that hurt less so remember to ask the physician for a really painful one.