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A Biological Treasure

In France, in an area carefully chosen for its sandy soil, is a very special vineyard. There scientists have gathered samples of 8200 varieties of grape from 52 different countries.

This "archive of grape varieties" was created in response to the "Great French Grape Blight" of the mid-nineteenth century. British botanists had imported a variety of American grape species to study, and with them, a small aphid-like insect known as phylloxera. The American grape species had resistance to this parasite, but the European wine grape was totally vulnerable, and for a while it appeared that the entire industry might be wiped out. When it was discovered the parasite could not thrive in sandy soil, the institution was founded as a sort of "Noah's Ark" for grapes, preserving at least some of the great wine grape varieties until some cure could be found for phylloxera.

Over the decades that followed, its mission has expanded to be a repository of genetic resources for viticulture. Most recently, its researchers are looking at ways to genetically engineer new grape varieties that produce wines as delicious as the traditional ones, but without needing so many pesticides or so much fertilizer in their cultivation.
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Fizzle

This weekend's winter storm was forecast to be like last week, except with extreme cold temperatures and high winds in addition to the snowfall. As a result, both of our morning activities today were canceled.

Instead, the precipitation stayed rain in the morning, and only started turning into freezing rain around noon. The breakfast probably could've gone on as planned, although the lunch could've been iffy.

It was only around suppertime that we actually started getting snow. However, what we did get is blowing enough that it's hard to tell how much we really got -- in some places it's piled way up, and in others we can see the grass.

It just goes to show that, no matter how much weather forecasting improves, the weather can still surprise us.
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The Puzzle of Human Fatherhood

Humans are relatively rare among primates, and among mammals, in having the male remain invested in his offspring through so much of their development. The reasons lie in the complex evolutionary compromises that were necessary to create our large, complex and energy-hungry brains.
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Writing Through Brain Fog

Whatever has me feeling so tired and achy has also put a damper on my creativity. I've been trying to keep up with my writing, but everything I do feels lifeless and dull as dishwater.

I've only got another ten days until I see the doctor, and hopefully get this sorted out. So I'm thinking that it's better not to try to produce actual prose right now. Write notes and not worry if its boring or isn't going anywhere. It can at least be grist for the mill when I'm feeling better, and keep me in the writing habit.
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On Preparedness and Panic

Today some errands took me to a local grocery store. I was quite astonished at just how busy the place was -- I could hardly find a parking spot.

And then I considered that we have a winter storm forecast for tomorrow, and another this weekend. So it makes sense that people would be stocking up in preparation.

Yet a lot of the activity I saw had a certain frantic air that felt more like panic than preparation. The actions of people who are scared and know they should be doing something, but have no clear idea of what. They have no established stockpile of food in their homes, no sense of what resources they have available. So they run into the store and grab what looks like something they might need. And like as not, they'll find that they missed something vital after they're snowed in.
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meow, cat, Siamese, catty

New Wrinkle in Gene Therapy

Gene therapies are showing more and more promise for treating intractable genetic diseases -- but not everybody who needs them may be able to benefit from them. A number of people who could potentially benefit are instead barred from receiving them because of immune reactions to the modified viruses used to deliver the DNA to their cells.

Worse, it may be impossible to treat the same patient a second time, for instance if their original treatment's effectiveness begins to fade over time.
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Shining Light onto the Ultimate Darkness

There's something terribly fascinating about black holes, both to laypeople and to astrophysicists. To the ordinary person, the idea of a place even light cannot escape is scary. To the astrophysicist, the way in which the equations of physics break down in the extreme environment is a possibility to tease out fundamental truths of the universe.

Recently, there have been two papers examining black holes more closely than ever possible. Although it is impossible to peer beyond the event horizon because light cannot escape it, with careful scientific work, one can do the equivalent of peering right at the very edge of it.
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Breaking the Chains of Clock Time

An interesting experiment in creating a city in which people are invited to listen to their own internal clocks instead of marching in lockstep according to a beat set by official clock time. It seems to support other evidence that our bodies respond far more strongly to environmental cues than to the clock on the wall, and that forcing them to conform to expectations of timekeeping causes stress that damages health.

I sure know that, as a natural nightowl, I have always had to struggle to get up early in the morning. I can do it briefly at a convention, but when I was trying to do a 9 to 5 job, life started feeling like a sentence.
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