This is older news, but timeless (Week 218)

This is older news, but timeless (Week 218)


This weekend was my treat of the week — I got to visit my grandsons and help the eldest celebrate his third birthday. His younger brother is only five weeks old, so he’s pretty clueless about what’s going on around him other than the immediate needs that his still developing nervous system tells him about, which is mostly digestive in nature. However, as I’m not around my grandsons on a daily basis, I can really see the changes that take place between the times that I see them. And since today we are speaking about chins, I thought I’d make a collage of the two grandsons and their grandfather and compare their chins. I was tempted to add in the faces of my two dogs, but then where does a dog’s chin start…and end?!

The Evolution of the Human Chin
Have you ever thought — like really thought, hard — about why we have chins? Neither have I. But a lot of scientists out of there have. (Also, the friend who recently sent me a Smithsonian.com article on that exact subject, and who tried to engage me in a spirited debate about the origin of eyebrows too.) It turns out, the longer you think about chins, the cooler they become! And there are two leading theories as to why they even exist.

First, the mechanical: the chin may be the face’s way of protecting itself from the stresses of speech and chewing. A study out of the University of York in England compared the jaws of Neanderthals and modern humans and their different chewing-load capacities — the results suggested that the chin evolved as a sort of muscle fulcrum, to maintain resistance as our jaw components grew smaller.

Second is the sexual selection theory, which proposes that chins evolved as a way of attracting mates; with wider chins indicating good genes in males, and narrower ones testifying to the estrogen levels of females. From Smithsonian.com:

“Zaneta Thayer, a graduate student at Northwestern University, and Seth Dobson, a biological anthropologist at Dartmouth, examined the sexual selection hypothesis by measuring the chin shape of nearly 200 skulls in a museum collection, representing people from all over the world. The pair discovered that there is a small but distinct difference in chin shape between the sexes, with men having a taller, more pronounced chin. They argued in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology in 2010 that this difference is evidence against explanations that the chin evolved to resist mechanical stress. If chins evolved in response to eating or talking, then there should be no difference in chin shape between the sexes because, presumably, men and women eat and talk the same way.”

Though there may be no hard-and-fast answer, we certainly have a lot to chew on (!) when it comes to chins. The eyes may be the windows to the soul, but the chin is the windowsill. It’s extraordinary to think that our bodies are such highly tuned machines that even a humble part like the chin has a magnificent purpose!

News from DFC – Week 221

Uncovering Bias in Internet Memes

Like the “real” world,  there are definitely locales on the Internet where bias is rampant and obvious (hello, 4chan!) — but there are also places where it operates in a far more hidden fashion. Take the sphere of memes, for example: while there may not seem to be any overt bias in the line drawing of Neil deGrasse Tyson you printed up and taped to the staff fridge to passive-aggressively shame whoever keeps stealing your Greek yogurt, researchers are only just starting to study memes, to see what their use can show us about our hidden privilege and prejudice.

The Washington Post reports on an interesting study coming out of Tel Aviv University. Researcher Elad Segev and his team were not only interested in the meaning of the content of the memes, but also how they moved through Internet culture and evolved on the way.

“[They] analyze[d] what they call the 50 most popular English-language meme ‘families,’ which include the original meme (think: the very first illustration of David Silverman, captioned ‘are you serious?’) and its most widely circulated derivatives (all the ‘Seriously Guys’ that came after). […]

Once they’d analyzed some 1000+ memes that way, the researchers were able to calculate their most common features and map them according to similarities. […]
To wit: Of memes that show people, versus dinosaurs or cartoons or cats, men appear twice as often. And nearly 45 percent of all the people in memes are Caucasian; Hispanic subjects make up a fifth of one percent, by comparison.

‘These findings corroborate many of the observations made in [past] qualitative studies,’ the researchers sum up, ‘in which the memetic sphere was described as dominated by young, white men.’”

Lots of folks right now are receiving a wake-up call that the Internet is not the faceless, consequence-free place they thought it was. If the language of memes isn’t “safe” from bias, I hope we can all realize nothing is — and live better and more responsibly as a result.

News from DFC Week 220


I am just giddy. Here in Canada it’s the long weekend that marks the unofficial start of the summer season: gasoline prices jump, garden centers open up (in the midst of frost warnings), the trees now have fresh, Jillverdant green leaves (finally after the long winter), and local produce is starting to appear in our stores. And oh yes, the birds are up early with their pre-dawn songs and my girl dog Jill, acts the part of a rooster and literally crows about a half an hour before dawn. It is impossible to ignore her because she comes to my side of the bed puts her face as close as possible to mine and crows! Imagine this in your face, howling – there’s nothing to do, but get up. Can anyone think of a more effective alarm clock?!

Smartphone Lenses Make Mini-Microscopes Possible
Smartphones are rapidly becoming the tricorders of our modern age. We reported on one of the first indications of this last July, when news broke of low-cost, low-infrastructure stress hormone tests being made smartphone compatible. Now, researchers from the University of Houston have created a lens attachment for the average smartphone, that turns the dang thing into a microscope too! From ScienceDaily’s report:

“The lens is made of polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS), a polymer with the consistency of honey, dropped precisely on a preheated surface to cure. […] For the study, researchers captured images of a human skin-hair follicle histological slide with both the smartphone-PDMS system and an Olympus IX-70 microscope. At a magnification of 120, the smartphone lens was comparable to the Olympus microscope at a magnification of 100, they said, and software-based digital magnification could enhance it further.”

The news also represents a fascinating development in lens manufacturing technology: it starts as a liquid, allowing for precision; but since it is cured, it doesn’t require a protective housing. It sticks to and augments a smartphone’s camera lens, much like a contact lens does a human eye.

The cost of manufacturing these lenses in bulk? Three measly cents. Contrast that with the $10,000 microscope that the researchers have determined does materially the same thing, and that low cost will put a lot of science into the hands of a lot  of people — including students, and clinicians in isolated areas —which can’t be anything but awesome!

Digital Marketing: Okay time for updating!

Yesterday I attended a digital marketing workshop at IBM Canada and it was excellent! The most surprising thing about yesterday’s session was that the IBM speakers were great! Which, unfortunately is not often the case. There were a lot of interesting take aways that touched on the history of digital marketing: Did you know that these three things Y2K, Loyalty cards and South Korea were instrumental in creating the “monster” that digital marketing is today?

DFC Digital Marketing

The other take away from this workshop is that DFC has been digitally marketing along the best of them, but not connecting it with our website. We just sent out our 225th newsletter this week and you know what,  it is sent out to the Twitterverse, posted on Facebook and published in LinkedIn, but is it on our new website which is over a year old now? No!

That is changing as of today.