Left-Handed Leftovers

August 13th is the 22nd Annual Left Handers Day, and as a proud lefty I thought I would share a collection of lefty related links.

First up, an article on the Origins of Handedness, which informs us that only 15% of humans are left handed, oddly enough two-thirds of lefties are born to right handed couples. The proportion of lefties is even lower in China, where less than 1% of students are lefties, and even lower behind home plate.

Obligatory Leftorium photo in any post about left-handedness.

Obligatory Leftorium photo in any post about left-handedness.

So why are there so few lefties? One study suggests that the reason lefties are in the minority is that humans cooperate more than we compete. But the question still stands, Why Does Handedness Even Exist? The most common answer is that handedness is determined by the structure of our brains, specifically brain lateralization, referring to the fact that the two halves of our brain are not exactly alike, each with its own functional specialization. Joe Hanson of It’s OK to Be Smart made a great video explaining why some people are left handed.

Handedness is a bit more straightforward in marsupials, if you are male, you are right-handed, and if you are a girl, you are left-handed. Most of the time in humans, left handedness is a naturally occurring, normal genetic variant, and only slightly sex dependent (with men more likely to be left-handed). However, left handedness is disadvantageous and may reflect a genetic defect or early developmental disturbance, and may be considered a form of cognitive impairment (but probably not). Indeed left handedness appears to occur more frequently in groups of neurologically disordered individuals, such as those with epilepsy, Down’s Syndrome, autism, and dyslexia.

Being left-handed has its drawbacks, and there are no shortage listicles espousing those drawbacks for example, 5 Reasons Being Left-Handed Screws You for Life, 7 Downsides to Being Left-Handed, 14 Reasons School is Basically Torture for Left-Handed People, The 18 Worst Things for left-Handed People, 21 Surprising Facts About Lefties, 23 Soul-Crushing Problems Only Left-Handed People Understand, and a Reddit thread devoted to the worst products for lefties. Some of the keys points, Lefties

  • Are more likely to die sooner
  • More likely to go insane
  • More easily scared
  • Are left (pun intended) out of studies
  • May get paid less
  • Get angrier faster
  • They drink more
  • More likely to die in an accident
  • More likely to stutter
  • Are less confident
  • Have better hearing
  • Are better at competitive sports

Despite all of the numerous drawbacks, I am happy to be a lefty, just like these powerful lefties, and if you are lucky enough to have a partner who is a lefty, you might be pretty happy too.


Round Up Ready: Gluten Edition

Gluten, or rather gluten intolerance, has been making a lot of headlines the past couple of years, and thanks to a recent article there is the suggestion that non-celiac gluten intolerance in bunk. So here is a round-up of some of the information about this recent gluten controversy (not to be confused with “articles” which blame Roundup® for all the ails of the human body, including celiac disease and gluten intolerance, note: reading these articles are a great opportunity to test your critical reading skills).

First up some background information, mainly, what is gluten? Jimmy Kimmel recently asked a bunch of fitness enthusiasts, many of whom practice gluten free diets, that very question.

ASAPScience took a bit more of a scientific approach in answering that question.

Both of these videos rightfully note that there is a significant portion of the population (~ 2 million, or 1 in every 141 Americans) that has celiac disease, for which eating gluten has very serious and unpleasant effects. The latter video also notes that there is a portion of the population that has non-celiac gluten intolerance. This discovery stemmed from a 2011 paper which, based on a double-blind randomized placebo-controlled trial (pretty much a gold standard), concluded that a non-celiac gluten intolerance may exist, but they weren’t able to determine a mechanism by which to support this conclusion. This paper helped usher in an era of awareness about gluten intolerance as well as a boom in the availability of gluten-free products.

However, the authors weren’t quite satisfied with their results and wanted to explore the issue further. They designed a more rigorous study, aiming to control some of the factors they weren’t able to in their 2011 study, involving 37 non-celiac subjects who self reported as feeling better on a gluten-free diet. In this new study (published in August 2013 to little fanfare until Real Clear Science brought it to light on May 14th), subjects were provided with all of their meals which allowed the researchers to removed any other dietary triggers which might confound their results, such as lactose, benzoates, propionate, sulfites, nitrites, and what would turn out to be most import, fermentable, poorly absorbed short-chain carbohydrates or FODMAPs (the short hand coming from fermentable, oligo-, di-, mono–saccharides and polyols). In the study the subjects were fed a diet low in FODMAPs for two weeks to establish a baseline, then they were randomly and blindly assigned to one of three diets (low gluten, high gluten, or placebo, which was whey protein) for a week. Over the course of the study each subject was exposed to each diet, allowing them to act as their own control. The results are a bit confusing, but in each treatment, whether it included gluten or not, subjects reported a worsening of gastrointestinal symptoms. A secondary experiment, where the placebo was the exact same as the baseline diet, still saw subjects reporting a worsening of symptoms! The short of it was, that subjects were reporting gastrointestinal distress without any apparent physical cause, this is not a placebo, but rather a nocebo effect, which New York Magazine writes about quite nicely. This suggests that gluten’s horrible image, which is perpetuated by some best selling books and questionable TV personalities, is enough to set off a very real negative physical response (e.g., bloating, general gastro discomfort) in some people after they have eaten it.

In addition to somewhat exonerating gluten in its role in gastro distress, this paper casts light onto a new food villain, FODMAPs. The results demonstrate that a reduction of FODMAPs in the subjects diets uniformly reduced gastrointestinal symptoms and fatigue. Some of the largest dietary sources of FODMAPs are bread products, so by going gluten-free, you also reduce your FODMAPs intake (and possibly even increase your calorie and fat content as many gluten-free foods, such as gluten-free pizza crust, need to add extra calories and fat to make a crust that tastes good and holds itself together, but that is another issue). While this study does have some very interesting conclusions, it is just one study, with a very small and unique population, and as always, more research is needed.

So for the millions of people who have felt better after going gluten free, consider that it might not have been the gluten that was the culprit, but FODMAPs, or a nocebo. Eating food should be fun, and should only ever be complicated or restrictive when there are valid scientific and medical reasons, and not because of a fad or TV personality claims.

A local Guelph barbershop. I think I will hold out for the FODMAPs free cuts.

A local Guelph barbershop was quick to jump on the gluten free bandwagon. I think I will hold out for the FODMAPs free cuts.


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Wolf Up

Wolves are awesome animals. They can been seen on our clothes, our money, and throughout our popular culture.They can come in many colors like red, white, grey, and maybe green. Red wolves (Canis rufus) are critically endangered with about 100 currently living in the wild, the wild being the Albemarle Peninsula of North Carolina, which is the only place where Red wolves exist, and sadly their future doesn’t look that great. White wolves (Canis lupus arctos) are a actually a subspecies of the grey wolf (Canis lupus), and are remarkable creatures. To celebrate the coolness of the wolf, here are a sampling of wolf related links and goodness.

Wolf Conservation and Ecology

Many species of wolves are threatened, but in some areas they are making a comeback, and they are thriving in some unexpected areas, like Chernobyl.

One of the most famous places for wolves is Yellowstone National Park, and one wolf, named 832F, was very famous, unfortunately she was shot and killed by a hunter in 2012.

832F was one of many wolves that had been outfitted with a GPS tracking collar that allowed scientists and the public to track wolf packs, which is pretty cool.

The wolves of Yellowstone were re-introduced in 1995, and the amazing impact that their re-introduction had on the ecosystem is wonderfully described in this video.

Part of the reason wolves get hunted is for conservation and intensive management efforts, and this article does a great job of describing the role wolves play in ecology, and why we sometimes hate and fear the wolf.

This article discuses wolf ecology on Isle Royale, where things are a bit more tricky because of the dynamics of island life. The three conservation options discussed are to conserve Isle Royale’s wolf population by taking new wolves to the island to mitigate inbreeding, an action known as genetic rescue; to reintroduce wolves to the island, if and when they go extinct; or to do nothing, essentially the conservation equivalent of Star Trek’s Prime Directive. The debate is ongoing, but things are not looking good for these wolves.

Preserving wolves takes on a whole new meaning in a series of wolf videos over at The Brain Scoop, made by the Chief Curiosity Correspondent at The Field Museum in Chicago, Emily Graslie. The videos, which are not for the faint of heart or squeamish, show Emily Getting a Wolf, Skinning a Wolf, Gutting a Wolf, Wolf Head CSI Fun Time, and examining the stomach contents of the wolf. Below is the skinning the wolf episode, it is pretty amazing, educational, and little bit gross.

Wolves and Dogs

An interesting evolutionary question, is what separates wolves from dogs? There is a lot of literature looking into this, but here are just a couple of neat articles that look at behavioural differences (Why Wolves are Forever Wild, but Dogs Can be Tamed, and The Difference Between Pet Dogs and Tame Wolves) and the role diet played in the evolution of wolves and dogs (Dogs Adapted to Agriculture, and Research Looks at Starchy Diet’s Role in Dog’s Evolution).

Wolf Howl

Wolves learning to howl. Photo by Debbie DiCarlo

Wolves learning to howl. Photo by Debbie DiCarlo

The howl of the wolf is unmistakable and can be equal parts terrifying and awe-inspiring. Interestingly, wolves use their howl for more than just terrifying us, but also to communicate to friends.

The howl of a wolf is so unique that technology is now allowing experts to identify individual wolves just by their call. You can become one of those experts by taking part in Algonquin Parks Public Wolf Howl, now in its 50th year.

Fun with Wolves

Wolves are all over television, between True Blood, Teen WolfBitten, Doctor Who, Being Human (UK and US), wolves, or rather werewolves, are very hot right now.

For a more education take of wolves, check out the documentary In the Valley of the Wolves.

Or for a more fictional take watch, The Grey, White Fang, or Save the Date*.

Close up of the wolf section of the Taxonomy of Band Names graphic from CBC Music

Close up of the wolf section of the Taxonomy of Band Names graphic from CBC Music

The reason I list Save the Date as a wolf movie, is because the band featured in the movie is called Wolf Bird, and one of the characters has a past time of following wolf-named bands, some of which are listed in this excellent graphic (section of which is seen on the left) by CBC music of the Taxonomy of a Band Name.

Speaking of music, here is a Wolf related playlist, and a playlist of bands that played the excellent Wolfe Island Music Festival in 2013.

If wolf reading is more your speed, Jack London’sWhite Fang is available as a free eBook.

And if the internet is more your thing, wolves are found all around the net, including the Courage Wolf and Insanity Wolf memes, and Buzzfeed has a list of the 17 Least Majestic Wolves (#1 is also used in this image, fully capitalizing on the YoungMe/NowMe trend).

Courage and Insanity Wolf

Courage and Insanity Wolf

Hopefully those links help to show just how cool wolves are, and if they didn’t I offer this picture without comment to convince you. 

Wolf Up

Wolf Up

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Round-Up Ready: San Francisco Edition

Catch of the day at New May Wah market

Catch of the day at New May Wah market

My recent “all quiet on the cyberfront” has been due to commitments to getting ready for a trip to San Francisco for a conference on flame retardants (more on that later). In the mean time, here is a quick summary of some of the highlights of my time in San Francisco, as experienced through a sensory overload and guided by my second cousin Mary, who is celebrating a birthday today, Happy Birthday Mary!

The Smells

Spilled beer and fish at the Hyde Street Pier, the exotic smells of New May Wah Market, and the distinctive odor of The 38 Geary Bus, there is no shortage of interesting aromas in the City by the Bay.

The Tastes

A lemon tree grows on the grounds on Jacuzzi Winery

A lemon tree grows on the grounds on Jacuzzi Winery

The freshness of all the food really stands out, be it the backyard meyer lemons, the asparagus, caught that day sushi, Yuubi Japanese Restaurant, the amazing local beer Lagunitas Beer, and the wines of Sonoma valley, specifically the Jacuzzi Winery, with its knowledgeable and friendly staff.

The Feels

The photoscopes, or original moving picture show booths, with colorful content

The photoscopes, or original moving picture show booths, with colorful content at the Musee Mecanique

It is always good advice to be careful about what you touch, but at the Musée Mécanique touching and playing with all the coin operated fortune telling booths, games, and photoscopes is encouraged and awesome. The California Academy of Sciences has a stricter touching policy, but is still very cool and definitely worth a visit, particularly for the planetarium.

The Sounds

The sounds of the city, like the roar from The Giants Game, are quiet once you enter Grace Cathedral, although it is difficult appreciate the quietness when all you can hear in your head is The Decemberists Grace Cathedral Hill.

The Sights

There are so many great sights in San Francisco; Muir Woods, Lands End, Bay Bridge at night, Golden Gate Bridge at anytime. These iconic images have been featured in many movies and television.

The Golden Gate Bridge at night, with planes and stars overhead

The Golden Gate Bridge at night, with planes and stars overhead

Top 5 Movies/TV Shows Based in San Francisco

  1. Full House
  2. The Rock
  3. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
  4. Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco
  5. Star Trek (see next page for a nerdier breakdown of San Francisco in Star Trek) Continue reading

Round-Up Ready: March Madness Edition

It’s that time of the year again, March Madness! In case you aren’t sure what all the fuss is about, Rob Delaney offers a unique explainer of the madness, and this supercut from the characters of Mad Men effectively captures some of the madness.

A large part of the enjoyment of March Madness, comes from filling out a bracket, there is no shortage of advice for filling out a bracket (see here, here, here, here, and here), following the ups and downs, the Cinderellas (and all these other buzzwords), the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat (perfectly displayed in this 2006 UCLA vs. Gonzaga game) throughout the tournament. However, if for some reason the traditional bracket scheme doesn’t add enough excitement for you, Slate offers alternative ways to gamble on the tournament.

Who will be crowned the cutest animal. My money is on

Who will be crowned the cutest animal. I am going with Giraffes for the upset over Otters.

If college basketball is not your thing, there are alternative tournaments that are available that try and capitalize on the true March Madness. Be it MTV’s Musical March Madness, Vulture’s Best Sitcom of the Past 30 Years, Land Robots and Flying Drones, or Star Wars’ This is Madness Tournament, there is a bracket/tournament for everyone, especially for animal lovers. Buzzfeed is presenting Animal March Madness, which seeks to crown the next cutest animal (animals who have already been the big thing are excluded, i.e., cats, dogs, owls, pandas, dolphins, penguins, sloths, and hedgehogs). The Buzzfeed post inspired an Assistant Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, Katie Hinde, to create a bracket using *simulated* head to head combat and competition among mammals, as an access point for talking about mammals.The match-ups are previewed in the video below, and here is a link to a blank bracket.

Each round/battle features a discussion of the various traits and adaptations that might serve that mammal well in the battle, for example in the third round match up between the Lion and the Polar Bear she tweets “Lion: Claws, Jaws, & Leap; Polar Bear Claws, Jaws, & Reach… & Heavier #2013MMM”, ultimate winner, The Polar Bear (Without tall grass for Lion to stalk and surprise blitz Polar Bear, lion was at a major disadvantage). This tournament combines the joys of simulated animal battle and the thrill of betting on an underdog, or naked mole rat, as the case may be. And speaking of mammals, Radiolab is running a bracket to come up with a name for our hypothetical common placental mammal ancestor. So make your picks, enjoy the tournament, and don’t feel too bad if you don’t pick a perfect bracket, at 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 (based on random selection), the odds are not in your favour.

By 2050…

There is something about the year 2050 that is appealing to futurists, policy makers, and scientists alike. The year shows up in the title of hundreds of books, countless press releases, and news articles, as the year that things hit the fan. The predictions and estimates for the future tend to be heavy on fear mongering and doomsday thinking, which will not help build a solid future, and light on practical solutions or hope. Below is just a small sampling of some of the predictions from around the web for the World in 2050

The World Population will be Larger, and the Demographics will be different

In 2050, the population of the USA is expected to top

In 2050, the population of the USA is expected to top 439 million citizens, mostly in 11 mega-regions

As the global population swells, resource depletion will be exacerbated which will have drastic effects on the climate and the earth.

Environmental Outlook Not so Good

The challenges of the growing population and changes to climate will be very evident in terms of the food supply.

Food Security Will Be an Issue

  1. Increase funding for scientific and technological research to boost agricultural production and efficiency
  2. Develop scientific policies and institutions to deal with environmental degradation caused by population growth

Unfortunately there is opposition to many agricultural innovations, and a lack of political will to deal with environmental degradation.

It isn’t all bad news for 2050

It looks like the world is going to be an interesting and different place by 2050

Round-Up Ready: A Year in Blogging Edition

Looking on tree rings to find where I started this blog, just one ring in.

Looking on tree rings to find when I started this blog, just one ring in.

I started this blog one year ago, and have been posting on and off throughout that time, so to mark the occasion, I wanted to pull back the curtain and breakdown the traffic to On a Quasi-Related Note this past year.




Where do visitors to this blog mainly come from:

  1. USA (41%)
  2. Canada (27%)
  3. United Kingdom (8%)
  4. India (3%)
  5. Australia (2%)

How are visitors finding the blog:

  1. Google Images (37%)
  2. Google (13%)
  3. Not Exactly Rocket Science (7%)
  4. Facebook (3%)
  5. Twitter (3%)

Why are they landing on this blog, from searching these terms:

  1. Phases of the Moon
  2. Types of Mustaches
  3. Naked Animals
  4. Uncanny Valley
  5. Fab 5 vs. Magnificent 7

What posts are getting the most traffic:

  1. Principal Component Analysis (Almost) Explained on Twitter
  2. Shady Geoengineering Executive Dupes First Nation into Shady Geoengineering Scheme
  3. Fab 5 vs. Magnificent 7
  4. Round-Up Ready – Uncanny Valley Edition
  5. Retarding Flame Retardants

Who are the main readers of this blog:

  • Gender: Female (51%), Male (49%)
  • Age: <18 (5%), 18-24 (18%), 25-34 (27%), 35-44 (22%), 45-54 (16%), 55-64 (16%), 65+ (4%)
  • Kids: No (57%), Yes (43%)
  • Education: No College (34%), College (43%), Grad School (23%)

My 10 personal favorite posts have been (in reverse chronological order)

  1. The Up Goer Five Challenge – Thesis Edition
  2. Round-Up Ready – Best of 2012 Edition
  3. On Superman, Body Image, and Underwear
  4. Science is no laughing matter…except when it is
  5. Frankenfoodie Friday
  6. Animal ABC’s in ET&C
  7. 9.63 Seconds vs. 7 Minutes of Terror
  8. Robot Scientists
  9. The Transit of Venus
  10. Birds on Film

When I started this blog I was in the process of writing up my PhD thesis, since then I have successfully defended, and been through convocation (jump to 41:46 to see me get hooded!). During this time I got a chance to write about subjects that interest me (e.g., Olympics, space, robots, birds, food, science, and toxicology), and as I am looking forward to getting on with the post-PhD life, I hope to keep blogging about interesting stories whenever I can. Cheers.