The Genetic Case for Dog Ownership

The Genetic Case for Dog Ownership

Here at the DFC ranch, we don’t have to come up with excuses that dogs make office and home life better: we have reasons  a pair of them. The dogs get us away from our desks when our eyes and backs need a break, and inject much-needed levity into our workdays. (The fact that Jill can open doors, and is vocal enough to interrupt any conversation she dang well pleases — her foundation stock includes malamute, god help us — is hilarious.)
Beyond these immediate, quality-of-life-improvement reasons, we haven’t given much thought to the underlying impulse toward dog ownership. But the people at Uppsala University have: and by using data from the famed Swedish Twin Registry, they’ve uncovered the startling results that being a “dog person” can be predetermined by your genes.
The team focused on 85,542 individuals in monozygotic and dizygotic (that is, identical and fraternal) twin pairs, who were born between 1926 and 1996, and who were both still alive. They compared the collected data on the twins with stats on dog ownership between 2001 and 2016, as registered with the Swedish Board of Agriculture and the Swedish Kennel Club.
“Studying twins is a well-known method for disentangling the influences of environment and genes on our biology and behaviour. Because identical twins share their entire genome, and non-identical twins on average share only half of the genetic variation, comparisons of the within-pair concordance of dog ownership between groups can reveal whether genetics play a role in owning a dog. The researchers found concordance rates of dog ownership to be much larger in identical twins than in non-identical ones — supporting the view that genetics indeed plays a major role in the choice of owning a dog.”
The complicated modeling the team undertook is all in their study, published in full here. But, all in all, it shows that heritability of dog ownership runs at 57% for females and 51% in males (in Sweden). This tendency could also help explain why dogs were domesticated so early in our history — and how their own genomes morphed to make living with us more viable. I knew Jill and Samson’s hold on us was stronger than they were letting on!

A Rare Chalk in the World of Math: How Tools Change How We Work

Working with computers can be pretty esoteric — after all, the reason why DFC exists as a professional team is because folks who prefer to focus on other things need our network-wrangling, cloud-tapping expertise (link: http://dfc.com/solutions/). That is the very same reason I have an accountant, and my accountant, in turn, has a dentist: everyone has a speciality; one that is often a mystery to the other professions!
Despite their differences, one commonality that I think ties together professionals of all stripes is a love of craft. I see this in the care David takes over the creation of our line of sauces. I see it in artist friends who put so much effort into the selection of a brush or photo negative. And, I saw it in a charming video from the Great Big Story people, about one of the most esoteric professions, mathematics, and how practitioners of the abstract science are OBSESSED with, of all tools, chalk.
Specifically, a Japanese brand of chalk, called Hagoromo Fulltouch, so prized for its smoothness, density, and line that one user dubs it “the Rolls Royce of chalk.” Mathematician David Eisenbud describes the almost cult-like initiation he had into the knowledge of Hagoromo chalk fondly:
“I discovered it when I went to visit the University of Tokyo and one of the professors there said to me, you know, we have better chalk than you do in the States and I said, oh go on, chalk is chalk. And so I tried it out, and I was surprised to find that he was right.”
Hagoromo chalk became something of MacGuffin for high-level mathematicians, and with its popularity being driven almost as much by scarcity as its near-metaphysical writing properties. Users across the world relied on business trips to Japan or sympathetic Japanese colleagues to maintain their supply — until the company went out of business in 2015. Says Professor Brian Conrad:
“I sort of jokingly referred to it as a chalk apocalypse. So I immediately started hoarding up as much as I could. […]

I was probably selling it regularly to maybe eight to 10 colleagues. I would reach into my cupboard in my office and pull out another box and we’d do the deal in my office. Yeah, we all had a chalk fix. And we still do.”
A Korean company bought up Hagaromo’s manufacturing machinery and formula, so the critical moment of the chalk’s extinction has been delayed. But the hoarding described by Prof. Conrad firmly underscores the close relationship between the practice of a profession — or an art — and even the most mundane of tools. The simplest solution can dissolve the barrier between a creator and the Zone; a piece of chalk can unlock a complicated theorem. What simple tool in your everyday arsenal is your Hagaromo chalk?

Big Bricks, Ancient Answers

This Passover I indulged in one of my favourite holiday-themed activities, next to cathartically cleaning house: watching the classic 1956 movie epic The Ten Commandments. Between bouts of arguing the relative acting abilities of Yul Brynner vs Chuck Heston (Brynner for the win!), we got to talking about all the theories about the building of the pyramids. When I went to school, the leading theory involved thousands of slaves — much like the Israelites — using a series of dirt ramps to elevate the giant stone blocks required. (My daughter-in-law, on the other hand, is firmly in camp Ancient Aliens)
Though the Israelites in The Ten Commandments (and in the original source) weren’t on pyramid duty, slave labour was definitely a part of Ancient Egyptian society. But scholars have shown that specifically the Great Pyramids were more likely constructed by well-compensated artisans rather than slaves.
How they did it is another mystery to be unraveled; but I wonder if there was some engineering magic at foot, like that recently wrought by researchers at MIT and sculptors at Matter Design. These innovators have created a fascinating set of 3900 lb concrete bricks, which are so precisely calibrated that they can easily be moved by one or two people. This project, called Walking Assembly, was undertaken to explore how ancient peoples might have made their monolithic structures well before the invention of the crane. From the project description:
“Walking Assembly re-introduces the potentials of that ancient knowledge to better inform the transportation and assembly of future architectures. If a brick is designed for a single hand, and a concrete masonry unit (CMU) is designed for two, these massive masonry units (MMU) unshackle the dependency between size and the human body. Intelligence of transportation and assembly is designed into the elements themselves, liberating humans to guide these colossal concrete elements into place.”
The giant bricks are made out of variable-density concrete, which makes for an exact centre of gravity. Builders then tilt and roll the bricks into assemblages like walls and staircases. Check out the video of Walking Assembly in action here!
The designers also cite play as a key aspect of their creation — and the manipulation of the bricks looks fun, in a jungle gym kind of way! It’s possible ancient builders, enslaved or artisans found ways of engineering their materials for maximum efficiency in the way these modern creators do. Whether they had fun is anyone’s guess.

The DIY Nexus between Cars and Computers

It is a truth universally acknowledged that there are some things you can DIY, and some things you can’t. I myself grew up in a very handy household, but even my father handed down the sage advice of always hiring a professional for at least two aspects of maintenance: electricity and plumbing. Pallet planter? Go ahead. Roman blind? Have at it. But anything involving serious risk to life and limb was out.
Which is why I am full of admiration for the inventiveness of a certain homebrew community I read about this week. In the Soviet Union, car ownership was sporadic and limited to the basic, quasi-nationalized brands of cars that were less than reliable and even less than affordable. So, what was an Eastern Bloc car enthusiast to do? According to Jalopnik, build their own — from harvested parts, chunks of other machines entirely, and raw materials like fiberglass and glue. Misha Lanin writes:
“Resources aside, each homemade car is an incarnation of the creator’s automotive dreams, whatever they may have been — air scoops and spoilers and three-figure top speeds, morning commutes not on the dinky trolleybus, family mushroom picking trips deep into the woods.

Like the $19 million Bugatti La Voiture Noir, these cars are one-offs. But the La Voiture Noir is almost destined to endure a solemn existence, probably hidden for most of its life in a Swiss cave, languishing alongside various other supercars, some valuable art, and the Large Hadron Collider. The homemade cars of the Soviet Era were built to be driven, and driven often. (That’s primarily because those who built them had nothing else to drive.)”
Lanin further tells the story of a collector of these extremely limited-edition DIY vehicles, referred to only as Yura. Yura once displayed his own ingenuity when called upon to transport a new acquisition — a meticulously designed, but long mothballed, racing-style car its builder dubbed the Virus — from Volgograd to his home in St. Petersburg, a nearly 1700 km trip. Yura hitched the Virus to the back of another of his collector’s items, a sleek yellow car he called the LamborZhiga. With a minor jackknife on the way, Yura got his cars home — and remains one of the few deep appreciators of this lost art of automotive magic out there.
While I’d probably be terrified of driving one of these cars, I can recognize that they filled a need — and also scratched a creative itch. We at DFC are no strangers to building things from the ground up. Even in computing, if there hadn’t been someone to DIY the first iteration of some of our key concepts and products, where would we be now?