Saturday Links 17-Mar-2018 Human tools 320k years old, Children and paychecks, Drake plays Fortnite, astronaut DNA

Commentary and links on what I found interesting to read this week.

1. Middle Stone Age Tools 320k years old. Homo erectus (our ancestors) used Ascheulean stone hand axes. These are big pear shaped rocks for cutting and pounding. Whereas Homo sapiens used more advanced stone tools, termed Middle Stone Age. These include spear tips, scrapers, awls, etc. So the news this week is a paper Long-distance stone transport and pigment use in the earliest Middle Stone Age, pushing back the date of Middle State Age tools to 320k years ago. That’s 30k years earlier than previously known. These tools were also associated with pigment use, and transport of obsidian 100 km away, which implies trade networks. The main point is this new paper adds more support for a major shift in how we think humans evolved. The old view: Homo sapiens evolved modern physical form first, then only became modern behaviorally roughly 100-200k years later. See the wikipedia page behavioral modernity. Newer rising view (not yet reflected in wikipedia): Homo sapiens evolved out of the box with modern behaviors, or they followed very closely.  Link to excellent Ed Yong piece.

2. Theranos fraud. If you’ll recall, Theranos claimed to have invented a new blood test which was faster and cheaper. They lied. So after raising $700 million and peaking at a $9 billion valuation, the whole thing collapsed in 2015. This week the SEC brought fraud charges against founder Elizabeth Holmes.  Matt Levine has the best write up I’ve read, hitting a key point:

But the fact that Theranos was a gigantic fraud doesn’t quite mean that it committed fraud. It isn’t exactly fraud to go around lying to journalists. People do it all the time! If you decide that you want to be a celebrity, and that the easiest path to fame is by convincing people that you’ve found a magical new blood test, you can lie about that to your heart’s content, and if you fool people then that’s their problem, not yours. Undeserved celebrity is a central fact of American life; if it was illegal to lie your way to fame then our politics, for one thing, would be very different.

It becomes fraud in the legal sense if you use those lies to get money.

Which of course is exactly what they did. Leverage press stories to lie to investors under non-disclosure. At which point it became illegal. Another good pair of sentences:

That is a pretty small fine for such a big fraud: Martin Shkreli had to forfeit $7.4 million for what a judge found to be a $10.4 million fraud, while Holmes will pay just $500,000 for a $700 million fraud.

Read Matt Levine’s piece here.

3. Impact of having children differs for men and woman. Via Arindrajit Dube, from a twitter thread asking what economics figures should be more widely known. I saw it and yes, the figure below should be more widely known! Having a child has a huge impact on women’s earnings, and almost none on men. Source paper Children and Gender Inequality: Evidence from Denmark.

4. Large Hadron Collider was a science PR disaster. An excellent no holds barred post by Sabine Hossenfelder on the hype surrounding the Large Hadron Collider. Quote: “Before the LHC’s launch in 2008, many theorists expressed themselves confident the collider would produce new particles besides the Higgs boson.” And:

The big proclamations came almost exclusively from theoretical physicists; CERN didn’t promise anything they didn’t deliver. That is an important distinction, but I am afraid in the public perception the subtler differences won’t matter. It’s “physicists said.” And what physicists said was wrong. Like hair, trust is hard to split. And like hair, trust is easier to lose than to grow. 

5. Power has shifted from those who give VC money to those take it. Fred Wilson has a short post on how Venture Capitalists in the 1980s had trouble getting capital, so they wined and dined their investors (Limited Partners). But now capital is easy to come by. And first rate startups are rare. So today VCs focus on serving who they invest in: startups. Scarcity is power.

6. The hey in “hey Siri” is horrible and should be dropped.  Alexa is just plain Alexa. No hey.  Apple should get with the program. And the Ok in “Ok Google” is ridiculous. M.G. Siegler is talking sense here.

7. Drake plays Fortnite on Twitch and 600k people watch. At a BBQ at a friend’s house last month, his son showed me Fortnite. So at least I know what the game is. And the shrinking map aspect is very cool. But that’s it. File this under: things I pay attention to because they are important signs for the future, with 600k(!) people watching, but I don’t personally participate in. link

8. Astronaut DNA. I’ll finish with a rather silly story and how it played out on twitter. What happened was NASA had a study of astronaut Scott Kelly, looking at how his gene expression changed after a year in space. Gene expression is which genes are turned on or off, making different proteins (via RNA). Gene expression shifts happen all the time. If you change your diet, start smoking, lose weight, whatever, different genes become active. It’s how all plants and animals continuously adapt to their environments. So the study showed 7% of genes expressed differently, even months after getting back to Earth. Interesting but no big deal. The study then got misunderstood as saying 7% of Scott Kelly’s DNA was mutated by space. Mutant astronauts! I suspect Scott Kelly’s tweet just below is written in a deliberately ambiguous way, as a minor troll. He’s a master of marketing with 39 million views on his space oddity video. In any case, it set things off.

And finally…..

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