Monthly Archives: November 2012

On Microbiomes

Your body has about ten times the number of microbial cells as it does human cells. Collectively this bacteria weighs about three pounds, about the same as your brain. The evolution of our understanding of these bacteria has been evolving rapidly over the past twenty years, and I expect its findings to be the most impactful on our health and wellness in the coming decades.

The New Yorker has a fantastic article by Michael Specter that starts and ends with our changing perception of heliobacter pylori, linked to gastritis and peptic ulcers, but whose absence in children (it used to be universal, now fewer than 5% of children in the US carry it in their guts) is linked to asthma. It also has consequences for weight:

There is equally convincing evidence that destroying H. pylori could alter metabolism in ways that increase the risk of obesity. Several research groups, including Blaser’s, have found a strong relationship in humans between the bacterium and two stomach hormones, ghrelin and leptin, both of which play central roles in regulating our appetites [...] The more ghrelin you have in your bloodstream, the more likely you are to overeat. Leptin functions in the opposite way, suppressing appetite and increasing energy levels. For people whose stomachs are infected by H. pylori, ghrelin became far less detectable after a meal. For the others, levels of the hormone remained high, and the effects are evident. [...]

That finding was not a complete surprise. Roughly three-quarters of the antibiotics consumed in the United States are fed to poultry, cows, and pigs, not to treat illness but as dietary supplements to promote faster growth. [...] Until recently, the biochemical reasons for that weight gain, and its unsettling implications or humans, were murky. [...] “A lot of things are happening at once,” he said. “The rise in obesity, celiac disease, asthma, allergy syndromes, and Type 1 diabetes. Bad eating habits are not sufficient to explain the world-wide explosion in obesity.

The environment inside our body is as complex and varied as the one outside our body and responds just as unpredictably to wholesale changes to its ecosystem. I’d recommend reading the entire article, unfortunately it’s not available in its entirety on the New Yorker’s site, however here’s a PDF of the entire thing.

[...] the nostalgia cycles have become so short that we even try to inject the present moment with sentimentality, for example, by using certain digital filters to “pre-wash” photos with an aura of historicity. Nostalgia needs time. One cannot accelerate meaningful remembrance.

From Christy Wampole’s How to Live Without Irony.

WordPress.com now accepts payments via Bitcoin, possibly the largest internet service yet to adopt it. I find Bitcoin intrinsically interesting as a crypto-currency, but it also might open up our premium services to folks who couldn’t use them before. It’s been fun to watch the store engine of WP.com evolve behind the scenes. In other WordPress.com news, there are now verticals for municipalities and bands, and we compiled an incomplete list of best-selling authors on WordPress.

Rolling Jubilee is a non-profit that takes donations to buy distressed debt for pennies on the dollar, and then abolishes it. Donate $100 and they can take $2,000 off someone’s back. Seems like an amazing random act of kindness, you’ll never know who you helped.

US Technology Agenda

Wired writes on The 8 Missions That Should Dominate Obama’s Technology Agenda. I’m quoted there, but here are my full responses to the questions they asked:

1. First off, how did you monitor the election results – phone, TV, twitter laptop, twitter, bar stool?

I was at a friend’s house with about a dozen people watching mostly CNN, and reading Tweetbot on an iPad Mini.

2. As someone leading a tech company (or as an investor), what are you looking for the president to do over the next four years? Are there priorities you have that the White House could help you achieve? Either from a business perspective, or a technological/hiring/infrastructure point of view?

At a macro level I hope the President keeps the economy on a path to recovery, and stays on the right side of anti-internet efforts like SOPA. What we’re building with the web is too early to be marginalized by special interests so early in its growth.

On a personal level, I hope he keeps fighting for protections and privileges under the law for my non-straight colleagues.

But the most important things we need to do will likely not have a big effect before 2016. As a country America needs to invest in its infrastructure, particularly broadband, education, particularly STEM, and in streamlining immigration, so the best and brightest who come to our shores aren’t shown the door when they graduate from one of the leading universities in the world. Four years is too short of a timeframe for these investments to pay off but that’s okay because I’m in business for the long run and I want to see our country strengthen and prosper over generations, not just the next economic cycle.

3. Were there any other races, measures etc. that you were particularly interested in, and why? What was the outcome, and why did you care so much?

I followed a few of the senate and house races, mostly as they related to SOPA and PIPA, and the state marriage equality measures.

4. Or, does all this politics stuff have zero bearing on what you are doing?

Even though the political process often frustrates me, I’ve seen its ability to influence the lives of my friends, family, and colleagues too many times to ignore it any more.