The Secret of Our Success
I got through the rest of this book a couple of days ago. If the three and a half pages of notes I took are any indication, Professor Henrich gave me plenty to think about. I’m still having a hard time isolating the components of cultural evolution, which Henrich argues are the primary driving force of human genetic evolution for the past 1.5 million years or so, versus the social consequences of evolving primates that possess the biological “programming” for cooperation and reciprocity. Hopefully I’ll be able to sort it all out as I write up a review.

Digital Discrimination
Did you know that those automatic soap dispensers and faucets found in public bathrooms are racist? Okay, that is an exaggeration but it turns out that the infrared technology used in these devices will occasionally fail to activate when used by people with dark skin. This is just one example of how the increasingly automated and connected world is not equally accessible to all. Whether it is the overt racism of Airbnb landlords or the automated inappropriateness of Google Photos labelling two black people as “gorillas”, technology can be a novel avenue for discrimination that may be hidden from many of us.

Turning Pollution into Gold
One of the “holy grails” of chemistry involves turning small, simple organic molecules into larger, more functionalized compounds. Over the years, considerable attention focused on methane, a molecule with one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms, and its potential to be converted into more elaborate compounds. More recently, scientists have looked into turning carbon dioxide (one carbon and two oxygen atoms) into larger, more useful chemicals. Carbon dioxide presents a particular challenge here because it is a very stable molecule immune to much of the hacking chemists might try. This work caught my attention because, some 20 years ago as part of my PhD studies, I wrote a research proposal for turning carbon dioxide into more functionalized compounds using transition metal chemistry (the elements in the middle of the periodic table). My career headed into the teaching direction rather than into independent research so nothing ever came of my little proposal. Still, it is great to see folks infinitely more capable than I barking up the same tree.

The Ezra Klein Show – Trevor Noah, host of The Daily Show
Listener be warned – there is very little funny, ha-ha going on in this episode of Ezra Klein’s podcast. Instead, Klein talks to Trevor Noah about life as a mixed-race child growing up in apartheid South Africa as well as his views on American politics and culture more broadly. A great discussion.

 

This week’s thinking tools:  Doane Paper notepad. I love this unique combination of lined and graph paper.