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18 February 2014

What You Probably Didn't Know About GM

Genetic Modification*. That is what GM stands for, and that fact alone is what many of you probably already did not know. Even if you did know that, chances are you don't know what it means. This article is not going to go into great detail, but instead will focus on one misunderstood detail that, outside of academia and a lab, seems to be either sadly absent, or grossly misrepresented, right from the start of any conversation on the topic: The correlation between Artificial Selection and Genetic Modification. Genetic Modification does not mean, "performed in a lab, à la Frankenstein's Monster". It simply means what it says. Genes are modified.

This can be done in any number of ways, one of which is Artificial Selection. What is Artificial Selection? Well, it too is just what it says. Most of you, hopefully, are familiar with the term "selective breeding" - at the very least, where it relates to dog breeds. In short, that is where humans have chosen specific phenotypes, physically observable traits (e.g., large ears), that appear in one kind of dog and other traits (e.g., short legs) that appear in another kind of dog, and have the two mate in order to introduce all of the desired traits into the next generation. If two dogs of a litter of six have both long ears and short legs, only those two are chosen to mate with other dogs that also have both long ears and short legs. What they are doing here is choosing the traits that are expressed from certain genes to manipulate, or modify, what genes carry on. These dog breeders have just performed genetic modification. Similarly, when this is done in a lab, on a microscopic level, scientists are selecting specific genes from one organism to be expressed in another. Natural Selection would simply be when this happens without human assistance. For a fun and commonly used example of one way this can occur, looking at Californian salamanders, you can click HERE.

Here, the dogs represent the phenotypes (traits/characteristics) and the letters (The Ls and Ss) represent the alleles. If the dogs physically mate as shown,  then they carry these alleles, and the result is dogs with long fur. If we look at these same genes in the lab, and physically move the alleles along the same path, and then use those genes to form puppy embryos, the result is dogs with long fur. In both cases, the genes were modified as alleles were moved from one set of genes to another set of genes. Also, in both cases, the same materials, the same genes, are being used. There are no Frankenstein Monsters here, only shaggy puppies that will require lots of brushing. Lint brush not included.

I do want to note that saying that all of the last group of dogs can "only" have long fur is not accurate; there can always be mutations, dormant recessive genes, and so on.

You may have seen this graphic, to the right, used as a meme on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, et cetera, in the context of being snarky towards people who count themselves as part of an anti-GM movement. In another context, however, it can ring true. In fact, it could easily have come from a professor's presentation for a BIO 101 class. On the left is an image of what is likely a teosinte, one of the forerunners (more details HERE) of what we now call corn. On the right, is an image of corn, or maize, as we know it today, descended from generations of crossbreeding (more details HERE). Now, the plant on the right could have just as easily been the result of generations of crossbreeding on a farm (Artificial Selection) or in the wild (Natural Selection) as it could have been the result of choosing and splicing the same exact genes in a lab (Artificial Selection). The difference between doing it in the lab, is that you can do it in far fewer generations because you can literally see the specific genes and grab them, so there is little guesswork on how to get them to where they are wanted. All we know for certain about the image on the right is that it is the result of some form of genetic modification.

Just as Natural Selection is merely one of several ways in which evolution can occur, modifying genotypes in a laboratory, for the purpose of expressing desired phenotypes for a plant, is just one of many kinds of Artificial Selection, with results being no different than working directly with the traits in a field. In other words, not all GM is done by selective breeding, but all selective breeding is GM.

An analogous image could be made using cake batter (stay with me here). On the left, would be an image of two eggs, a cup of water, and a box of cake mix (not yet modified). On the right, would be cake batter in a bowl (modified). The heading would be, "A visual guide to identifying cake mix that's ready to bake". Under the left image, you would see, "Not ready to bake". On the right, would be, "Ready to bake". What we do not know is if the batter was mixed with a fork, or an electric hand mixer, using the same ingredients, "ingredients" being analogous to genes. What we do know, regardless of what tool was used to mix those ingredients, is that I am about to eat cake.

*Note: This is also known as Genetic Engineering (GE).

Arboreal Bipedality

The Arboreal Bipedality of Oreopithecus bambolii

Much ado is made of the mosaic of features that is Australopithecus sediba. There is, however, another hominid with an equally intriguing suite of features that existed long before Au. sediba. That hominid is Oreopithecus bambolii, and may well have displayed the very beginnings of what was to become Hominini, or at least a good model for how it may have happened (Salvador et al. 1999; Wood and Harrison 2011). This distinctive creature could hold clues to the origins of human bipedality. The origins of human bipedality may reach back to a time before primates left the trees.

Oreopithecus bambolii had a short trunk, wide thorax, long digits, with a fairly wide range of motion for its joints, meaning it was well-adapted for suspensory arborealism. However, it also had features such as a lumbar curve, a sign of bipedality. It is possible that bipedality began as an arboreal adaptation.

How well-adapted may our tree-climbing ancestors have been for bipedality before becoming terrestrial, and should O. bambolii be considered among them? The purpose of this paper is not to ambitiously propose a direct lineage of any sort. Although it would hardly be the first time it has been suggested (Klages 2011) . Rather, keeping our shared ancestry in mind, the goal is to explore the possibilities of the process by which hominin bipedalism may have arisen, aiming to show that it is entirely possible that it is a primitive adaptation from a unique kind of arboreal locomotion.


Oreopithecus lived sometime between 6.7 and 9 Ma. (Crompton et al. 2008; McNulty 2010; Wood and Harrison 2011) (Azzaroli 1986 suggests as recent as 5 Ma., but I found no other support for such a date), roughly 5.5 Ma. before A. sediba. Due to the array of suggested dates, this paper will henceforth refer to about 7.5 Ma. and 7 – 9 Ma. when addressing its duration. This paper will use “hominid” to refer to Hominoidea, including extant apes and all of our ape ancestors. “Hominin” will be reserved for bipedal apes, also including humans, but excluding all other extant apes and our non-bipedal ancestors.

The Hand

Fig. 1 Hand of H. sapiens sapiens
The development of the dexterous human hand has often been thought of as a sign, or characteristic, of hominin bipedalism. This hypothesis is based on the understanding that standing on two feet frees the hands for such things as complex tool use (Darwin and Wilson 2006; Salvador et al. 1999). According to Charles Darwin, the human hand “would have been disadvantageous for climbing; as the most arboreal monkeys in the world...either have their thumbs much reduced in size and even rudimentary, or their fingers partially coherent, so that their hands are converted into mere grasping hooks” (Darwin & Wilson 2006, 856). The hand of O. bambolii is somewhat suited for both. While it is true that Oreopithecus had long digits that would have served well in the trees, as they do for Hylobotedea, the pollical phalanx, or thumb, of Oreopithecus is also enlarged. As is with genus Homo and Australopithecus sediba, the overall hand is shorter. Susman (2003) makes the claim, in response to Moyà-Solà (1999), that the thumb is much shorter for Oreopithecus, and thus unable to have grasped. However Moyà-Solà (2005) makes a convincing case that Susman (2003) was improperly replacing a manual proximal phalanx 3 with a pollical phalanx in specimen BA#140, as well as IGF 11778 (Fig. 2). This is made apparent by an illustration showing how the hand was recovered and “opened up” in situ (Fig. 2.d). The robusticity of the bone also indicates that it belongs to the thumb. Not only does Moyà-Solà (2005) show this in measurement, but merely looking at it shows how it (Fig. 1) Hand of H. sapiens sapiens would otherwise look oddly out of place.

One can also compare the Homo proximal pollical in Fig. 1 to that of the adult Oreopithecus in (Fig. 2) to see that they are nearly identical, where no others match.

An additional telling observation is that, as previously mentioned, the overall hand is comparatively short for its body size. Fig. 2 shows representations of the hands of an Oreopithecus and a Dryopithecus, which is accepted as representative of a true suspensory ape (McNulty 2010), of roughly equal body mass. The size difference is easy to see; the hand of Oreopithecus is overall much smaller.

Australopithecus afarensis (Fig. 3), a known hominin (Gebo 1996; Wheeler 1984), can also be compared for grasping complex similarities and contrasted to genus Pan. For example, the capitate is much larger in Homo and Au. afarensis than it is in the knuckle-walking Pan. This is also true in Oreopithecus. Evidence of stress, such as the wider fossa, looks similar to what would be expected from a grasping motion, as opposed to the resistance that would have made quadrupedal knuckle-walking difficult. Knuckle-walkers also have a crest that goes across their distal metatarsals that is lacking in non-knuckle-walkers, including Homo, Australopithecine, and Oreopithecus (Salvador et al. 1999). This is the mechanism that prevents the fingers from bending too far to the point that bearing much weight would break them. The flatness that is seen on the distal end of the proximal manual phalanges of Homo and Oreopithecus would disallow the necessary hypertension for knuckle-walking. Palmigrade knuckle-walking might have been easier, if it weren’t for the long arms (Fig. 6). It is evident that Oreopithecus was able grasp.

A grasping hand of Oreopithecus would be able to hold onto branches for an extended period of time, in a manner that would not be limited to swinging brachiation. Obligatory brachiation would also have been hampered by the greater hand-to-body ratio, meaning a comparatively smaller hand, coupled with the longer manual pollical. Although one might say An additional telling observation is that, as previously mentioned, the overall hand is that could be the tradeoff of a precision grip and handling, since brachiating ability would have suffered.

The Thorax

Since any form of long-term quadrupedalism would have been difficult, to say the least, for any great distance (see below), it would seem that the only other option for locomotion would have to incorporate an orthograde posture. The thorax of Oreopithecus shares many features, such as breadth and the scapula’s dorsal position, with extant apes, including Hylobatidae (Gebo 1996), which is separated from Homo on the family level, as opposed to the subfamily that divides Homo from Gorilla, Pan, and Pongo (Redmond and Goodall 2011). This means that it is entirely reasonable to say that these features are primitive in all of genus Homo. Along with brachiation, Hylobatidae also partake in suspensory locomotion (Gebo 1996; Fig. 4). They are not, however, known to make frequent use of vertical climbing (Gebo 1996). While extant humans are also not known to climb very often, it is certainly true that they are better at that than they are at brachiation! Gorilla (Fig. 5) and Pan (Crompton et al. 2008) also engage in vertical climbing. These forms of locomotion, including brachiation, compliment an orthograde posture.

That is not to say that a palmigrade creature is completely and absolutely incapable of suspensory locomotion. I have anecdotal evidence of having seen a prosimian at Woodland Park Zoo, in Seattle, participate in such movement. The lemur (Varecia rubra) inched its way across 2 branches to grab a piece of fruit that was hanging on another, thin, branch that another lemur was “crawling” on, but this kind of suspensory locomotion is uncommon amongst most lemurs (Hamrick 1996).

Compared to the pronograde posture of primates such as Proconsul, the transverse processes of the lumbar are distally shorter (Crompton et al. 2008). The anterior apexes of the transverse process, at the rib joints, are dorsally placed on the vertebrae. With the curved shape of the clavicle, this may “imply that the spine was ventrally placed in the ribcage, as in modern great apes” (Crompton et al. 2008, 515). The clavicle is also similarly long and robust (Harrison 1991). Oreopithecus also has a curved spine with 5 vertebrae, a reduction from earlier hominids with 6, shared with genus Homo (Harrison 1991; Kohler and Moya-Sola 1997; Williams 2011), and 5 sacral vertebrae (Harrison 1991). I am not certain as to whether the sacral vertebrae are fused or not, nor am I certain that it would have any postural relevance if they were not. There are other signs of orthogrady in Oreopithecus, such as its relatively broad illium, the lack of tail, and the breadth and shallowness of the thorax as a whole (Fig. 6.). Crompton (2008) even goes as far as to suggest that Oreopithecus may have been a terrestrial biped. Cockcroft (1994) writes that they were certainly terrestrial.

The Pelvis

The ilium is short and broad (Fig. 6). The iliac blades are aligned along the frontal plane and flare laterally, while the anterior-inferior iliac spine is convex and tumid. This means that hip joints would have been able to maintain stability whilst in an orthograde posture (Fig. 7). There is also a triangular depression just above the superior edge of the acetabulum, which would allow sites of attachment for femoral muscles and iliofemoral ligaments (Harrison 1991). The roughness particularly shows that they would have been well developed. The femoral shafts are also robust and surprisingly straight, with very little lateral tilting (Fig. 6). In contrast to most hominins, such as H. sapiens and H. erectus, the legs were quite short, although the femur was comparatively robust (Fig. 6). The patella groove, as can be seen on the left knee of Figure 6, is shallow and wide. Its foot appears to have been mobile and prehensile, which would have been, “ideally adapted for grasping and for providing powerful propulsive thrust during vertical climbing on large caliber supports.” (Harrison 1991, 240).

The Environment

During the late Miocene, Oreopithecus lived in the swampy island forests of Sardina and along the coast of Baccinello, during a time of inconsistent phases of alternating arid and moist environments (Delfino and Rook 2008; Russon and Begun 2004). In general, the area was largely forested with broad leaves, as well as lots of bushes, small trees, and ferns. There would have been pools of freshwater available on the island (Cameron 2004; Harrison and Rook 1997; Harrison and Harrison 1989). On the island, Oreopithecus persisted for more than 2 million years, isolated from predators (Cameron and Groves 2004). This isolation from predators would have allotted tree primates the freedom to come down from the trees to access the plethora of nutritious foods below. Moreover, being surrounded by salty water, they would have been able to, and needed to, travel from their isolated forests to the spots of freshwater. They survived through, and emerged from, what is known as the Vallesian Crisis (Koufos 2006), a time of rapid environmental change to more seasonal conditions. The warmer seasons lasted longer and were much more arid. This climatic event resulted with the extinction of many hominid species (Agusti et al. 1998). The survival of Oreopithecus was remarkable and the perseverance of the species was rewarded with ample opportunities. Because of the isolation that formed, there would have been little competition. This would have been most advantageous for terrestrial travels during arid times to make use of a variety of resources, including both food and water. This, above all else, would have been the catalyst necessary to begin exploring a new environment and try new things.


The change in climate set the stage for Oreopithecus to take advantage of new possibilities. There were new foods to reach for down below the trees. There was need to travel to reach freshwater resources. There was a drive for change. New skills needed to be adapted. We can see that Oreopithecus had the morphological capabilities for suspensory locomotion. Features such as a smaller hand were more than made up for by having an extended thumb that could grasp things, reaching out with long arms. Oreopithecus was a unique creature with a seemingly à la carte of features, that left them with evolutionary baggage with potential. That potential may well have been obligatory, terrestrial, bipedalism. After all, what is suspensory locomotion if not bipedalism, with a helping hand (or two)?


Agusti J, Andrews P, Fortelius M, and Rook L. 1998. Hominoid evolution and environmental change in the Neogene of Europe: a European Science Foundation network. Journal of Human Evolution 34(1):103-107.

Cameron DW. 2004. Hominid adaptations and extinctions: UNSW Press.

Cameron DW, and Groves CP. 2004. Bones, stones, and molecules: "out of Africa" and human origins: Elsevier Academic Press.

Cockcroft TR. 1994. Development of Hand and Foot in Hominoidea. Totem: The University of Western Ontario Journal of Anthropology 1(1):87-94.

Crompton RH, Vereecke EE, and Thorpe SKS. 2008. Locomotion and posture from the common hominoid ancestor to fully modern hominins, with special reference to the last common panin/hominin ancestor. Journal of Anatomy 212(4):501-543.

Darwin C, and Wilson EO. 2006. From So Simple A Beginning: The Four Great Books Of Charles Darwin. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Delfino M, and Rook L. 2008. African Crocodylians in the Late Neogene of Europe: A Revision of Crocodylus Bambolii Ristori, 1890. Journal of Paleontology 82(2):336-343.

Gebo DL. 1996. Climbing, brachiation, and terrestrial quadrupedalism: historical precursors of hominid bipedalism. American journal of physical anthropology 101(1):55-92.

Hamrick MW. 1996. Functional morphology of the lemuriform wrist joints and the relationship between wrist morphology and positional behavior in arboreal primates. American journal of physical anthropology 99(2):319-344.

Harrison T. 1991. The Implications of Oreopithecus bambolii for the Origins of Bipedalism. In: Coppens Y, and Senut B, editors. Origine(s) de la Bipédie Chez Les Hominidés: Editions du CNRS. p 235-244.

Harrison T, and Rook L. 1997. Enigmatic anthropoid or misunderstood ape? The phylogenetic status of Oreopithecus bambolii reconsidered. In: In, and Rose MD, editors. Function, Phylogeny and Fossils: {Miocene} Hominoid Evolution and Adaptation: Plenum. p 291-316.

Harrison TS, and Harrison T. 1989. Palynology of the late Miocene Oreopithecus-bearing lignite from Baccinello, Italy. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 76(1–2):45-65.

Klages A. 2011. A Critical Analysis of Hominin Morphology: The Partial Skeleton of Ardipithecus ramidus. Totem: The University of Western Ontario Journal of Anthropology 19(1):137-157.

Kohler M, and Moya-Sola S. 1997. Ape-Like or Hominid-Like? The Positional Behavior of Oreopithecus bambolii Reconsidered. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 94(21):11747-11750.

Koufos GD. 2006. Palaeoecology and chronology of the Vallesian (late Miocene) in the Eastern Mediterranean region. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 234(2–4):127-145.

McNulty K. 2010. Apes and Tricksters: The Evolution and Diversification of Humans’ Closest Relatives. Evolution: Education and Outreach 3(3):322-332.

Redmond I, and Goodall JFRW. 2011. The Primate Family Tree: The Amazing Diversity of Our Closest Relatives: Firefly Books.

Russon AE, and Begun DR. 2004. The Evolution of Thought: Evolutionary Origins of Great Ape Intelligence: Cambridge University Press.

Salvador M-S, Köhler M, and Rook L. 1999. Evidence of hominid-like precision grip capability in the hand of the Miocene ape Oreopithecus. Anthropology 96:313-317.

Wheeler PE. 1984. The evolution of bipedality and loss of functional body hair in hominids. Journal of Human Evolution 13(1):91-98.

Williams SA. 2011. Variation in anthropoid vertebral formulae: implications for homology and homoplasy in hominoid evolution. Journal of experimental zoology Part B, Molecular and developmental evolution.

Wood B, and Harrison T. 2011. The evolutionary context of the first hominins. Nature 470:347-352.

23 July 2013

Why the "Royal Baby" Matters

...and You Don't, but That's Okay.

I have not been paying attention to the alleged media swarm around Kate Middleton and Prince William's baby. I do not really know much about it, and I will admit that I had to look up who the baby is, in order to type that sentence. What I do know is that everybody else seems to be sick and tired of hearing so much about it, or so they claim. That baby is, after all, no more important than yours or your neighbour's, correct? Well, not so fast. That baby is much more important. It is more important because you, so tired of hearing about it, keep talking about it. You keep commenting, tweeting, posting, blogging, and reading, sharing, and "liking" the articles about that very child. That baby is more important than yours, and you are the evidence that proves that fact. Here is the kicker: That is okay.

"Stop being so obnoxious!", says obnoxious sea lion. 

For every person who is a comic geek, a football fan, a stamp collector, a film aficionado, or a royalty enthusiast, there are probably a thousand or more who simply could not care less and wish everybody else would just shut up about it. Why should they? You yammer about your favourite topics. What makes you so special? When you openly proclaim that some topic is less important than your topic of choice, what you are saying is that you are more important than your friends. When you share several articles about how much Whitney Houston will be missed, how she was misunderstood, and all the good she has done, and then tell people to "get a life" when they do the same about Michael Jackson or the "Royal Baby", you are passive aggressively implying, "I know what is important, and you do not".

If you shared this, congratulations, you were a jerk.

There is a meme going around that says, "We fought for independence, so we wouldn't have to care about the Royal Baby". I have some disturbing news for you. You absolutely did not fight for that independence. The people who did fight for that independence did it precisely so we could care about any frivolous thing we so choose. The U.S. Declaration of Independence, as you may recall, calls this the "pursuit of Happiness" - with a capital "H", no less. I hope that most of you would agree that said happiness is not limited to particular interests that happen to align with your own.

Can't we all just get along without mauling each other?

You may not find any joy from little tidbits of information about the Royal Baby, but some of your friends do. Likewise, many of them have little to no concern about your hobbies. I sometimes like to express myself by sharing stories about what the next Avengers movie will be about and why I think some Spider-Man plots are silly compared to others. Obviously, that information is not more important than the economy or the lives lost because of a bombing, but it is something that makes me happy. It does not mean that I am indifferent to more important topics. I am able to pay attention to more than one item per day, as are you and your friends. Unless it causes another harm, let us all pursue our own happiness in as many ways as we can. Let us encourage others to do the same. If making a fuss over the Royal Baby makes you smile, good. If not, neither will I begrudge you whatever does. I look forward to seeing you excited the next time you shout "huzzah" for your favourite hockey team that I could not care less about.

13 March 2013

More Human Than Human:

A Case for Transhumanism
- or -
Why You Will Call Me Crazy

Are we ready for the next stage in human evolution? Most of what got Homo sapiens sapiens where it is today is the result of natural selection. It can easily be argued that more recent generations were, at least somewhat, effected by unintended artificial selection. For those who aren't familiar, think of natural selection as "survival of the fittest" and artificial selection as how we get different dog breads - selective breading. That is an oversimplification, but it is the general idea.

By unintentional artificial selection, I mean to say ideas like more nutritious foods that are made by artificial selection and manufacturing (vitamin-fortified foods, etc.) having made us a bit taller and hit puberty earlier and earlier. These are changes that are byproducts of simply trying to be healthier. Perhaps, it is time to start taking more advantage of this ability and make some serious changes, intentionally. I'm not talking about becoming a new species entirely, but possibly creating a new subspecies. Maybe we won't be growing blue fur or born shooting lasers out of our eyes, but H. sapiens superior just may become a legitimate classification.

This is, by far, not the first time this has been proposed. Given the previous examples, we could say it's already happening. To those who take it quite seriously, it is called transumanism, or H+. There is even a magazine called "h+ Magazine", that is completely dedicated to it and its relation to singularity. There is an entire movement, that I myself only recently became truly aware of. What I am talking about may be considered a bit different from the technological singularity - a point in time where machines are responsible for all, or most, innovation - you may have heard of. I am talking about a time where we are those machines.

That's just unrealistic. We'll be solar powered.

We already are machines. Your brain is a powerful computer and your nervous system wires information to nearly every part of you. We already use software in the form of medicine to keep us up-to-date, functionally stable, and virus free. We are already becoming cybernetic organisms. What is the Bluetooth earpiece you're wearing and the smartphone in your pocket, but external hardware that connects you to other devices and supply near-endless information? Products like Google's Glass are already giving us a feel for what this would feel like when installed. The University of Washington is already working on that, and pacemakers are as "installed" as something can get. Let us not forget the bionic hands that connect to the nervous system, or the fact that we are mapping the circuits of the human brain.

Not really as different as you might believe.

There are plenty of people fearful of this future, and I can understand and respect that. People such as activist and journalist, Bill McKibben (whom I have my own reasons to admire) argue that this future will widen the gap between rich and poor, saying that not everybody will be able to afford it. It is true that, in the earlier stages of advancement, only the wealthy will be partaking. This has also been true, however, for vaccines, electricity, vehicles, land line telephones, televisions, radios, computers, cell phones, plumbing, and on and on. There will certainly be those who wish to avoid most or all of this altogether, much in the same way Amish avoid modern technology. They still happily coexist with the rest of us and are, largely, still respected. They are also accepting more technology. Likewise, we can, and do, get used to new technologies, despite initial trepidation.

The Amish Will Laugh at the Luddites.

Technology isn't going to be the only player here. Genetics will have its roll as well. Current gene therapy gives us insight to the near-limitless potential for that. This will eventually work its way into genetics. Scientists are currently studying how the length of DNA strands affects longevity. In the same way humans have been altering animal genomes through artificial selection in plants and animals for thousands of years, we are now able to do the same thing, in heritable ways, much faster in the controlled setting of a laboratory, through genetic engineering such as mutagenesis.

Calm down, Leo - not that kind of mutant.

Transhumanism, or whatever you would like to call it, has great potential to improve our lives. There are certain to be failures, but there will also be successes. I cannot emphasize enough how much this concept is not unlike thousands of other ways we've improved the human condition over many, many, generations. We don't have to imagine a world where we have instant access to almost all knowledge; our phones (and soon, headgear) already do it. We can imagine a world where the ability is always with us, no matter where we are. We can imagine a world without pain, suffering, hunger, or any disability you can imagine. We can imagine everybody being healthy. We can imagine a world in which we live however long we wish to live. Hopefully, we find other places to live and/or convince people to stop breeding so much, to help with overpopulation. You have probably heard phrases like, "I, for one, welcome our machine overlords", usually in jest. I, too, look forward to that day, however, because I know we will be those "machines". We will truly be our own overlords. I can't wait until we...

...(Come on, you know the phrase) ;-)

* All images link to their sources.

24 January 2013

10 nauseatingly adorable ways couples flaunt their love

Couple's love to show the world just how much they love each other, and to remind everybody of that as much as possible. They even find ways to remind themselves of that, just in case they forget. Here are some way in which you, too, can amplify that announcement and maybe help the sales of over the counter anti-diarrhea medicines.

#1.) Love Gloves.

Hand-holding is perhaps the gold standard of PDA. It allows you to touch your special someone openly in just about any setting. It is both subtle and obvious in a way that lets you unobtrusively say, "Back off, bitch, this is mine", with a polite hint of, "Hell, no, I'm not interested". Studies have shown that it reduces stress and strengthens the bond between lovers. It's so effective that it evolved that way. What to do, however, when the weather is colder than Mel Gibson's heart? How do you keep that sexy derm-on-derm action and your hands warm at the same time? Enter, the Love Gloves (not to be confused with another kind of "love glove" you may have in your wallet).

Love Gloves
At least you'll never forget how they go on.

Seeing a couple holding hands will make you go, "d'awww". Seeing a couple stuck in the biggest damn Chinese finger trap you've ever seen will give you claustrophobia. Don't worry about how silly you may look, because you know how kinky it really is. The glove that binds you is called "the chamber". Rawr!

If that's not confining enough, you can also find this concept in size straight jacket.

Please, tell me you're wearing deodorant.

#2.) Matching.

Speaking of shirts, nothing says, "I love you", like a sappy version of  the "I'm with stupid" shirt. It's one thing to do this for Halloween or to piss off your lover's ex, but a line has to be drawn. For one thing, you look ridiculous when your little honey-bunny is off to the loo.

star wars couple shirts
Okay, this is acceptable. Geek cred is legit.

Of course, this isn't limited to just shirts. There's a couple in Nebraska who have been wearing matching outfits every single day for more than 35 years.

#3.) Everyday Household Items.

We're all familiar with the "His & Hers" bathrobes and towels. If that's not enough, you can constantly remind yourselves and guests that you're on the love express at every turn. I'm not just talking about photographs at Niagara Falls or your latest glamour shots. No, I mean everywhere from hooks and floor mats to pillow cases and toasters that scorch "I love you" instead of the usual voyeuristic face of Jesus. You can even spread your love all over that tongue tingling toast...

marmite valentine
...with marmite. Get your mind out of the gutter.

#4.) Photographs, photographs, photographs.

We're all used to a constant stream of date nights on Instagram and Facebook, everything from those damned ducky faces to what shoes they were wearing. Some take it a step or 20 further and photobomb their own homes. Wedding photos, vacations, honeymoon, walks in the park, and kissing ad nauseum. On the walls, the counters, bookcases - everywhere. Why shouldn't they be up for display? They're incredibly cute! All your friends think so, too. They do the first time they visit, anyway. After that, they're walking into a veritable hall of mirrors wearing somebody else's face, right out of what should be a bad episode of Goosebumps.

Aren't we adorable? TELL ME WE'RE ADORABLE!

#5.) Public Displays of Delivery.

People love getting deliveries, especially when they're unexpected. What better way to surprise your significant other with a package than having it delivered to their place of work? That wouldn't be awkward at all! Well, except that it would. Flowers and balloons are probably what come to mind first. Innocent enough. Unfortunately, once the delivery person is gone, that big ol' bouquet is still leaking water all over the desk and making coworkers run for their Sudafed. You can't get your job done because you're constantly being interrupted by people wanting to tell you how gosh darn cute they think that is and that annoying guy across the hall keeps bopping the damn thing in your face every time he passes. This is one of those things where it ends up being hell for everybody all around, but nobody dare pretend it's anything but utterly adorable. There is one way around this: have the deliverer be the delivery. When they leave, it's all over. No harm, no foul. For as little as a hundred bucks, you can have a good old fashioned singing telegram.

How you imagine it.

#6.) Undergarments.

That's right, gentlemen, you can secure your nut sack, while saluting your better half in more ways than one. Don't worry, ladies, they have the "Just Married" message in panties, too. This brings sexting to a whole new level, going from "Oh, yes, yes, yes", down to, "Aw, honey, that's simply adorable!", in five seconds flat, which is just enough time for another kind of deflation.

Just Married smiley face stickman couple Boxer Sho
You said you weren't married!

Men's Cartoon Bunny Couple Brown Underwear Boxer Briefs 017 - Click Image to Close
Not sure if this is cute, creepy, or just for furries.

#7.) Toilets.

No, seriously. Shitting is now romantic, for as low as $1,400. Now, you may look at these at first glance and think how cute they look. Yeah, they look cute. Now, picture 'em in use. The sounds. The odours. Ick. Hey, at least there won't be that awkward, "It wasn't me. Was it you?" moment, because you know it's both of you. How sweet. Remember, you may want to clean up before this romantic moment leads to anything else.  Studies have shown that this act can cause "pleasurable relief". A chair of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has compared it to feeling just as good as the hanky-panky itself, saying that he enjoys the pleasure as being "longer-lasting and more frequent". Ooh, la-la!

toilet for two
Pardon me, could you please pass the TP?

Why stop there? You can make the whole bathroom a singles-free zone with toilet paper, seats, sinks, and tubs. Forget about having guests over for the weekend. We're already quite aware that there probably isn't a love-sullied free spot in the house, but that thing will remind them the entire time that water and soap aren't the only fluids that have shared that space.

Product Image
Wait...what's causing that clog?
#8.) Public Proposals.

Some people can't get over the top enough. A bent knee in Central Park just doesn't attract enough eyes these days. Where's the excitement? The adrenaline rush? Where can you get the most attention possible? Media! Televised sports stadiums and arenas. Flash mob-style and posted to YouTube. That's pure entertainment. You're guaranteed to surprise your love and be the envy of not only your friends and family, but hundreds, thousands, maybe even millions of strangers. Here's my favourite - and I will unabashedly admit to crying the first time I saw it:

I mean, wow. That guy must've got all their friends, family and every Cats reject they could find to put that together. Imagine the amount of love that went into it. The time, practice, props, coordination. Now, it's immortalized on YouTube for all to see. The really cool thing about über public proposals like this and crowd-filled arenas? You just know they're going to say yes. Nobody would pull such a crazy stunt without somehow knowing the answer beyond any doubt. They just have to says yes. Right? Well...not always. Take these poor suckers, for example:

Damn. One dude even got bitch-slapped. Why? Well, simply, the answer isn't always going to be "yes". Not every pitch is a strike. Now, you might feel really sorry for the guys. So did I, at first. What about the ladies? They obviously were not expecting that at all. They were left with two basic options. They could agree to marry somebody they don't want to spend the rest of their life with. Alternatively, they can reject the proposal and face extreme public ridicule to the max - for life. Even years later, some assclown like me can dig it up for some good old fashion schadenfreude. Not only that, but the people around them are also immortalized. Take a look at the switch between 00:15 and 00:16. The children behind and to the right seem to be doing their best impression of Nelson from the Simpsons and the two girls in the upper right are left with their jaws hanging in a way that says, "Oh, snap!". At least nobody happened to be picking their nose or adjusting their crotch. The butterfly affect can even have it's negative consequences from the successful public proposals. That high pressure may be off of the bride-to-be now, but not the best friend who's been dating their significant other for two years without so much as leaving an open space for a toothbrush in the bathroom. Talk about a lot to live up to. No pressure.

#9.) Social Media

Everybody shares everything these days, from the food on their plate to what it smells like coming out. Lovers are no different. It's so adorable how they leave little love notes for one another. Sometimes, however, it can be just downright creepy. They get so wrapped up in wanting to remind you that their hubby-wubby loves them more than yours does you, they act like they've lost all ability to e-mail, text, or private message. What they might not realize is that they end up having so many online conversations that people wonder if they ever even look at each other anymore. For some examples, if you have a Facebook account, go search for public posts with the "husband". As of this writing, I see, "I want to thank my wonderful husband for helping me out at work today,, that meant sooooo VERY much to me!!!! I love you [Name withheld]!!!", "My husband who is there for me always And I love with all my heart!", and "I have the best husband".

Sanity help you if you just search "love".

#10.) Bicycles Built for Two.

Also known as "tandem" and "twin" bicycles, these classic date-bikes made their debut in the late 19th Century. They're cute and charming, nostalgic, and you just want to go pinch the love birds' cheeks with a "Squee!" that can only be rivaled by the likes of Grumpy Cat and Loca the Pug. Cuteness, however, is not the only benefit to tandem bicycle riding. A 2003 study, published in European Journal of Applied Physiology, found that the muscular and cardiovascular exercise benefits are significantly higher for the casual rider. Maybe we need a whole new kind of workout bicycle in our gyms, and start getting all comfy-cozy with our sweaty neighbours.

Always adorable.
Tandem Bicycle
Well...maybe not always.

13 December 2012

Texting: Not Just Dangerous When Driving

A recent study conducted by researchers in Seattle by Harborview, which is a part of the University of Washington, found that texting is not only dangerous while driving, but walk walking. While crossing intersections, the study found, pedestrians who were occupied by personal electronics, such as cell phones, were more reckless and slower to cross. People listening to music devices crossed a bit faster, they were also, however, less attentive to their surroundings. Of these tech junkies, co-author, Beth Ebel, said that "people are simply not paying attention.

These are already out-dated. Feel old yet?

 As of 2010, more than 80% of adults alone owned cellphones, and that number has been growing exponentially. A 2011 study found that people who are distracted by listening to music and texting also missed more opportunities to get to the other side. They were also involved in more accidents that resulted in pedestrian vehicle impact. The authors of that paper suggest that, while it would probably be difficult to enforce, legal repercussions  at least in writing, could be put in place to decrease the problem. This could be effective in the same way jaywalking is illegal, but rarely enforced; people still do it, but perhaps a bit less - especially when police are within sight. Multiple studies have shown a surprisingly significant amount of data regarding improved jaywalking behaviour.

Screw it, I'm doing both.

Oh, and then there's this splash of hilarity.

If it is any consolation, drivers are about 40% more likely to pay attention to distracted pedestrians than non-distracted pedestrians. They are, however, according to that same study, also 15 times less likely than pedestrians to pay attention to the ongoings at intersections in general. Interpret that how you may.

Will any such study affect your walking habits  Most people, says Dr. Ebel, will say that they are already more aware of their surroundings and able to handle the distractions better than others - she even says so of herself. Perhaps we can learn, but it might not actually change anything. Mayhap laws could. What say you?

Geese would be exempt.
Her, too.

12 December 2012

Tipping is a City in China (Okay, it's Taiping, and it's in Malaysia)

"Tipping is not a city in China". If you have not seen a container by a cash register or on a bar with that phrase, you are probably at least familiar with the phrase. It is a not-so-subtle way of saying, "Hey, cheapskate, the money goes here".

How about, "Cheers, passive-aggressive cowboy jug!"?

Why do we tip? There are many reasons. We want to reward the person providing a service for a job well-done, especially when it's really, really expensive. After all, when you pay $15 for a cheeseburger and fries, you expect crap service with crap food, unless you leave a five-spot on the table. We tip because the workers are not treated and paid fairly by their employer. Nothing says, "Pay decent wages" like, "I'll do it for you, until you decide to take over, in your own good time". In the U.S., not only do most employers refrain from generosity, taking their employees receiving decent tips as a given supplemental income, we've allowed laws to encourage this behaviour. Employees who are tipped have a separate federal minimum wage. Employers are only obligated to pay them a whopping $2.13 per hour (Seriously, call your representatives). That's TWO dollars and THIRTEEN CENTS. Not all states, however, including Washington's minimum of $9.19, allow for this shite. We tip because we want to reward the worker who goes over and beyond the base duty of their job and really makes us feel special. Okay, that one makes sense, but that's not how it works. The real reason we tip, at least in the States, is because we feel we have to. We don't want to be perceived as asses and we don't want the hair stylist to scalp us, or the waiter to spit in our food the next time they see us. So, why do we tip? Fear and peer pressure.

The first one is guaranteed loogie free!

What do we actually get out of tipping? A 2000 study of  2,547 experiences at 20 restaurants found that there really is a positive correlation, however small, between the amount shelled out in gratuity and the quality of service received. They looked at how pleased consumers were with their service and compared that to the amount of money they tipped. The relationship was so weak in this 16 billion dollar industry in and of itself that it was found to be insignificant. The effectiveness varies between studies, ranging from "insignificant" to "not". How much the quality of the food, not the service, comes into play is hard to say. Another study found that what most affects how much we fork over is primarily how hot or ugly they are, how nice they are, whether or not we've had a craptastic day and, finally, because we don't want to look like an ass - that "How much is Sally tipping?" moment. One study also found that candy is a rather effective bribe.

Worked his ass off. No tip.
Brought wrong order and spilled it on my head. $10!

How do we decide who to tip and when to tip them, anyway? When we sit down to eat, we almost always tip. The same goes for getting a drink at the bar. Baristas are frequently tipped, too. People even tip the person at the register when they pick up carry-out, as long as it's from an otherwise sit-down place to eat. So, when is the last time you left your wallet open for the person handing you your burger and McNuggets, who also took your order, prepared the food, and cleaned up your sloppy mess, all with a smile and about as shit pay as shit pay gets? Probably never.

What of services outside of the food industry? We tip our hairdressers - especially, when the person at the check counter loudly asks, "WOULD YOU LIKE TO LEAVE A TIP?", followed by, "HOW MUCH?". We mentioned that hosts and restaurant cashiers receive gratuity. Yet, the person unloading and bagging all of your giant bags of pet food, groceries, and condoms that you know are just going to expire get a, "Thank you", at best, and more often a, "What's taking you so long?". The same goes for the underpaid Walmart greeters who also gather all the carts that we were too lazy to put away. This gets all the more confusing when travelling to other countries, where the rules of the game may be completely different.

Should we start tipping for every service that we're already paying for, to keep it even across the board? Maybe we should stop tipping altogether. Or maybe, just maybe, we should demand better laws to protect tipped workers being paid less than the rest of us, so we can go back to it being optional, rather than obligatory. Most of these jobs are rough, tiring, and socially, as well as financially, underappreciated. They shouldn't be paid "enough" only from the extra money provided as a tip. If that extra money was actually extra income, these could become more respected positions again. People shouldn't be oxymoroniccally expected to do more than expected to make the minimum. Most people do the job they're expected to do and expect to be paid for getting the job done. We should not be punishing people for doing their job; We should be rewarding them for doing more than they are required to do - for "going above and beyond". There is a big difference.

All images link to where they were found.