Epigenetics 101

You’ve heard the word but what exactly does it mean.

Let’s break the word down.

Epi means on or above . Genetics is the study of heritable information passed on by a binary data system of genes encoded in DNA. Epigenetics is any heritable information that is created through any other means over what is in our DNA. It’s like a second layer of information on addition to the info contained within the DNA.

The end.

I hope that cleared everything up for you.

Ok. Time to get serious. Genetics is a field of biology that deals with traits that are passed down from one generation to the next. It became a rigorous area of study through the work of Gregor Mendel in 1866. There was a slow but steady progression into our knowledge of genetics until the next major breakthrough into the nature of genes. This came in the form of the discovery of the helical nature of DNA by a few scientists. Rosalind Franklin and Maurice WIlkins were able to take a picture of DNA using X-rays in the 1950’s while James Watson and Francis Crick were able to determine the 3-d structure of it thanks to the earlier work.

It was long thought that all of the heritable information of living organisms was contained within the genes of DNA. That turned out not to be the case. There were holes in that story and phenomena that could not be explained with this model.

Enter Epigentics

One such hole are the drastically different physical appearances of humans and our closest relatives the chimpanzee. We share over 99% of DNA with chimps and yet we look and behave so vastly different.

Because of natural variation within the human species it isn’t unreasonable to imagine a chimpanzee that is more closely related to us and share more DNA then another Human.

If all the information about who we are and what we look like, behave and so on is contained in the DNA then there should only be a 4% difference between everything a human is and looks like and everything a chimpanzee is and looks like.

Thank Odin that isn’t so.

While chimps can be cute I kinda like looking human.

The reason for this is epigentic in nature. Through certain mechanisms such as DNA methylation the same gene can be expressed differently in a different organism or different individual.

Epigenetic forces can turn genes on, turn them off, or determine how fully the genes are expressed.

Certain epigenetic elements can even be passed on for generations just as traditional traits.

Epigenetic changes stored in sperm and eggs are supposed to be erased in a process called reprogramming. The reprogramming process isn’t always complete however.

Conditioned fear responses in rodents were observed to be passed on to at least 3 generations.

They play almost as on important role as DNA and we are just beginning to explore this field.

There is a gene editing tool called CRISPR which can cheaply and effectively modify both the genome and epigenome. This is truly an exciting time to be alive. Hopefully not the “make a grave error that results in the extinction of our species type of exciting.

3.14 Tips to Introduce Math to Your Children

I’m no math super genius but I know a thing or two about a thing or two.  I also know that I had hangups about  it when I was younger.  My mother was an academic and did very well but she always groaned about math.  That made me groan about math.  And I will continue to groan and make my kids groan.  JK.  The buck stops here.

I ended up liking math a lot in college.  Working hard and doing well helped but I had a few great teachers that helped.  They made it fun and interesting.  I’m making it my mission to make sure not only that my children do well at math but enjoy it. Below are a few techniques I have picked up.

Make Math Part of Life

Get a broom and strike them with it every day and have them count each time they are hit.  Not really. I don’t hit my children.

So anyway I would tell my kids the story of the big bang as a bed time story and all about anatomy and physiology till the day is long but struggled to figure out how to incorporate math into the upbringing of my toddlers.  I tried to teach them simple arithmetic but it didn’t work.  My friend Brian who teaches children suggested I start with grouping things together and asking which group had more objects and which had less.  I would take whatever toys we were playing with and make groups.  This was easy enough of a concept for the kids and they caught on quick.

Another great way to integrate math into life are card games.  War was one of my favorite games growing up. This is a game that has variants for your children as they get older. Addition war is played by each person drawing two cards each round which are added together. Multiplication war would be the same except the winner of the round would have the highest product. and then exponent war and then….you get the idea. One of the beautiful things about this is you’ll teach children to do the math quickly in their heads which is almost seen as a superpower in the present day.

Get Them Used to Symbols

I started with pi. I’m not sure how much they grasped the concept of pi but I got them used to seeing symbols.  I told them the value of pi – 3.14 but I also told them that pi is a relationship of parts of a circle. It is the circumference divided by the diameter.  I used string to measure both.  I would also make them sandwiches and cut out circles or the pi symbol.  I used the the lid of a jar to cut out the circle and the symbol pi was a bit trickier but it was worth it.  It also helped them get excited about eating.  Because eating interrupts playtime apparently.  And they’ll have none of that.

I decided to show them pi for two reasons:

1. Pi is a magical number

2. People are intimidated by symbols in math

I think part of the reason people are intimidated by symbols in math due to unfamiliarity.  The earlier we are exposed to things the more comfortable we are with those things.  The next logical step is to show them unknowns in basic algebra.  Another trick I’ve used to make symbols in algebra less scary is to use a question mark instead of the infamous x and y.

Just Do It

Don’t be afraid about how well they understand things.  Kids are much more capable than many of us give them credit for.  Another thing I’ve realized is how well do I understand things?  The answer is better than 5 years ago, which was better than 10 years ago and ….  My understanding of math / science etc. has grown and continues to grow.  So just teach them the best you can and their understanding will grow too.

The Khan Academy is a great resource for kids of all ages.  It saved my skin in college but it has bite size chunks of information that are easy to understand and they have all levels of teaching – including those for kids.

Whatever route you take will be the right route.  Its all about exposing them to math and making them comfortable with it. Its important.  Children need a solid foundation so that they are set up for the most success when they are older.  They are the future.  The fate of humanity depends on it.  No pressure.

Nonhuman Personhood? Is there such an animal?

What is a person? 

The definition varies wildly depending on who is defining it.  Most persons would agree that all humans are persons. See what I did there? It is a very important definition for legal and moral reasons. Persons are granted certain rights. Nonpersons get the shit end of the stick.

In most instances we aren’t allowed to buy and sell persons. Or keep them locked up in cages without good reason as we would other animals. Here in the United States we have gone so far to state in our Declaration of Independence “that all men are created equal” and all people have certain inalienable rights such as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This is a fine example because the definition of men has changed over time in which the document was produced.

At the time the Declaration was written it literally meant only men had these rights.  And not just any men but male white land owners. Slowly over time more of us wanted to have certain rights and be considered men and so the definition was seen as a more general term of any human.  I realize in many cases that these rights exist only on paper but I still see that as a victory for everyone and another step in the right direction. Obviously I’m operating under the assumption that having the rights of a person and extending those rights to all humans is a good thing.

Change for the better

I would argue that just as the definition of men has changed the definition of person should also change.  The most obvious new members of the party would be other animals that are self aware, sentient and appear to have a conscious experience such as the other great apes, whales and dolphins.

Where would it end?

Would we include a self aware, conscious, sentient artificial intelligence? I would. In fact I would go so far as to include all living things. I might lose you here but that’s ok. Maybe I could win you back with another point.  I get that we need to eat and have a varied diet. Things need to die in order for us to eat.  I’m not a vegetarian. But I believe if and when possible we should try and reduce suffering in all things. One real possibility is that in the very near future we will be able to produce protein in a lab that will be indistinguishable in every way from meat obtained from animals. I feel when that happens and is openly available and monetarily feasible we have a moral obligation to stop eating animals.  The same argument could be made for plants when we could produce plant tissues in a lab.

Would you do the same?

The Power of the Ketogenic Diet Part One

Let me get this out of the way: I love the ketogenic diet.  I have since I first tried it a few years back. Some of the effects are immediate but many of them take some time to develop.
This is the first in a series of posts that will cover the 4th love of my life.

What exactly is a ketogenic diet? Its fucking magic. Not really. It kinda is. Its a diet that is high in fat, moderate in protein and low in carbohydrate. This forces the body to use fat as its primary fuel source instead of sugar. Its not very difficult to execute but it requires a lot of focus and attention because carbohydrates are everywhere. If care isn’t taken and enough sugars are consumed the body will end up storing the fat instead of burning it. The classic ratio of intake is 4(fats):1(protein&carbs). So if you’re considering this diet be careful, read labels, find out the nutritional value of everything you put in your body and also check with your doctor to make sure you’re healthy enough for it. Big bonus for this lifestyle: this is not a calorie restricted diet. I repeat…THIS IS NOT A CALORIE RESTRICTED DIET. This will take some getting used to because we have had the idea that in order to lose weight we have to restrict calories hammered into our very souls. That is not the case with a ketogenic diet.  I have literally and will continue to have a pound of bacon with dressing made of mayonnaise. As a snack. Yup. So good.

The human body is an amazing thing. It is highly adaptable. One great adaptation is its ability to use different fuel sources. The more fat put in the body when carbs are kept to a minimum the better equipped the body becomes at handling fat. Over time our cells will begin to produce more mitochondria. The more mitochondria our cells have the more energy they can produce.  Most keto adapted people describe that they have more energy than before and that their energy levels are much more even – they no longer suffer from great highs and lows that are typically found in those that have a diet rich in carbohydrates. This is certainly true in me.

When I was eating a diet heavy in carbs I would wake up and be almost in pain. I had to eat something and eat something quick. And I would not be in a good mood until that happened. After switching to the ketogenic lifestyle I slowly needed to eat later and later in the day. I wake up at about 6 am. I sometimes have a snack around 11am which is typically a small handful of nuts. I’ll workout around 12pm-1pm and will eat my first meal around 2pm.  It won’t be uncommon for me to eat my first meal at 5pm or 6pm however.  This would never have happened before. The reason being I still have fat stores on my body and my cells will feed on them instead of needing me to eat.

One of the most immediate and gratifying effects of the ketogenic diet is weight loss. It is not uncommon to lose 10-20 lbs in the first few weeks of switching to diet high in fats. Some haters have the knee jerk reaction and say “Well that’s just water weight.” And they would be right.  But that doesn’t mean its not beneficial. Those haters may also dwell on that double negative I just used. When you’re body is used to a carb heavy diet one of the main ways it stores energy is in glycogen. Each gram of glycogen is bound to 3-4 grams of water.

What research has also shown is that the amount of sugar that is eaten in a typical American diet is quite toxic to the body. One of the effects of this toxicity is generalized inflammation. Where their is inflammation there is water. So this reduction in “just water weight” means your body is bringing itself to a much more healthy and less inflamed state.

There are many other benefits to a fat adapted diet but these are two very important ones.  The immediacy of them is great for the ego. We need victories like these to condition ourselves to make such a drastic change in our lives. I know I do.


I cheated. I’m not sorry and I don’t regret it.

I cheated on my wife.

3 weeks ago my wife asked me to join her on a Whole 30 Challenge. For 30 days we were to eat whole foods and no dairy, sugars, alcohol, grains, legumes, and soy products. I’ve been on a keto diet for the past year but was sabotaging myself with some artificial sweeteners like sucralose. I was still able to lose 40+ lbs but I couldn’t push past that and thought this was the perfect time to tighten up my diet.

It wasn’t that difficult. 3 weeks in I’ve lost 10 lbs and 2 inches on my waist. But the main reason I wanted to do this was for cardiovascular health. Grain fed meat and dairy products, artificial sweeteners, etc., that come from animals fed grain can still have a significant negative impact on one’s health. Everything was going great. I was being very mindful of what was going into my body.At lunch one day I ordered a grass fed burger with no cheese. The bartender put the order in with no cheese. Burger comes out….with cheese.  What’s a guy to do? I’ll tell you what this guy did…I ate it. And enjoyed it. Didn’t feel bad one bit. It was quite delicious. I was on a lunch break and didn’t have time for a remake. But I still would have eaten if I had the time.

But I wouldn’t do it again. Not for a few weeks. I’m not going to let one misstep ruin my motivation or all my previous effort. And neither should anyone else. People can be their own worst enemy. They are their own harshest critics and saboteurs. Many of us strive for perfection which is unattainable. And we pack up what we’re doing when we hit a road block.

I’m not perfect. I haven’t been since my late teens / early twenties when I also knew everything. I’ve begun to accept slowly over the years and have learned to look past adversity and finish things I’ve started – perfect or not.

What would you have done with the cheese?


Big Fat Lies: A case against sugar

For decades the USDA has recommended that sugars in various forms – bread, cereal, rice etc., are good sources of nutrition.  In 1992 they double downed and stated that not only are they good sources of nutrition but that these sugars should be the bulk of what Americans should be eating. This was done in spite of  mounting evidence that suggested sugars in most forms should only be eaten in moderation.

In 1972 a British professor by the name of John Yudkin wrote a book titled “Pure, White, Deadly.” In the book Yudkin explained that sugars are toxic to the body.  They are behind denta caries, diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease.  This was in stark contrast to the narrative being told by most medical doctors and government entities such as the USDA. Every so often similar research would surface but not much seemed to change. Why would clinicians and governmental departments ignore the data and tell us the opposite of what is true?

Recent documents were published showing that scientists and government officials have been paid off both in direct bribes and through lobbying money. Stanton Glantz who is a professor of medicine at U.C.S.F. found documents internal to the sugar industry which showed that they had paid off 3 Harvard scientists the modern equivalent to $50,000 to shift the blame of cardiovascular disease from sugar to animal fats.  This continued up until the present day with corporations funding their own research and getting the same results.  But its all junk science.

After decades of having lies shouted at us from every angle its difficult to accept that a diet high in fats, including a ketogenic diet which can be high in animal fats, is actually good for us. It just feels wrong.  I know because I’m doing it.  The other difficult part is being a strict adherent to the diet because SUGAR IS FUCKING EVERYWHERE.  and its fucking delicious.

The ketogenic diet does work.  And it makes sense once you dig into the physiology of it from research without ties to sugar companies. I feel much better and have lost over 50lbs thanks to it. It takes some discipline and work but it can be rewarding.  The biggest reward is living a longer healthier life and looking good while naked doesn’t hurt either.



Happy Spring Equinox!

Today marks the day first day of spring. The literal meaning of equinox means equal night and what is implied is equal day as well. The ancient significance was that the in the northern hemisphere cold weather would be ending and food would be more accessible.

Many Cultures Celebrated The Equinoxes

Irish Pagans it is believed that the Celtic Druid celebration of the Vernal Equinox was replaced with St. Patrick’s Day and or Easter.  Ironically enough St. Patrick’s story of ridding Ireland of snakes may have been symbolic of the Catholic church ridding the place of Druids.

Hindu Holi is the Hindu spring festival of colors. It signifies the defeat of darkness by light. This celebration has spread across other parts of Asia and other continents.

Maya The Mayans celebrated the spring equinox in The Return of the Sun Serpent – Kukulkan. On this day at the great pyramid of Chichen Itza a shadow can be seen slithering down the side of it.

I’ve always loved the spring.  Especially living in the Northeast of the United States for much of my life.  It was a warm welcome to the end of a long winter. I currently live in Florida so I feel the opposite now but old habits die hard – I’ll find other reasons to enjoy the coming of Spring!

How do you celebrate?

Don’t Listen to Her: Size Matters

Most women tell men that penis size doesn’t matter but psychological tests tell a different story.

That’s not the size I’m talking about.

When dieting many of us are mainly concerned with one number: weight. I’m guilty of it myself. I weigh myself neurotically just about everyday whether I’m trying to lose weight through diet and or exercise or during periods of my life when my health wasn’t a concern in the least. While minding our weight is important what is more important is body composition.

Body comp is a difficult thing to measure to a high degree of accuracy even with access to sophisticated equipment. Just about everyone has access to a tape measure to track inches lost however and measuring inches lost is accurate enough for our purposes.

Our weights can fluctuate for many reasons such as how much water we ingest and how much we retain due to certain foods. You can also lose fat and gain some muscle if you’re exercising.  Muscle is about 20% denser then fat so if you’re burning fat at the same rate you’re gaining muscle you will be significantly thinner and the tape will tell tale.

Measuring yourself is important for two main reasons:

  1. It can help give a better picture a diet / exercise plan is working.
  2. If you’re not losing weight but losing inches it can give you a needed ego boost.

Human’s are simple creatures and a reward circuitry is powerful.  If weight loss has stopped or you have gained a lb or two while trying hard to diet and exercise its nice to see the fruits of effort in the form of losing inches. The more rewards we see the more likely we are to keep up the behavior no matter what it is so we try and set up ourselves for success.

Common Body Parts to Measure:

Chest / Bust- Measuring just under your armpit around the largest part of your chest.  If you’re a man measure your chest.  If you’re a man with a significant other measure her bust. As a matter of fact have fun with it – everyone should measure any else’s chest / bust so long as its consensual =)

Waist – Measuring just above your bellybutton.

Thigh – Measuring around the thickest part of each thigh.

Upper arm – Measuring around the largest part of your upper arm.

Neck – Measuring the largest part of your neck.

I’m going to continue to compulsively weigh myself once or twice a day.  But I will also continue to monitor how many inches lost until I hit my target weight.  I urge you to do the same. I also encourage you to keep up the diet and exercise routine even if you’re aren’t seeing the results you expect.  You just need to stick with until a breakthrough is reached or a few things need to tweaked.

How many of you out there are measuring inches lost when dieting / exercising?

Racism isn’t a problem in the United States.

It makes me sick to think that we as a population need to celebrate Black History Month. The only thing that hurts worse are those that ask if this is necessary.  Yes motherfucker…it is absolutely necessary. Its people like those who question its necessity that make it so. They are right about one thing though – Racism isn’t a problem in this country.  Racists are the problem.

In grammar school we weren’t taught much about black figures throughout the year.  We didn’t study much outside the cookie cutter mainstream curriculum. The school didn’t cover any foreign countries with a few exceptions and that was if they were directly involved in some war. We certainly didn’t go over the rich history of Africa or African Americans. If slavery was mentioned it wasn’t discussed in depth. I’m sure we learned about George Washington Carver during Black History month. That has an effect on children and how they view the world.

Overtly and purposefully positioning one race as superior over another is problematic but so is whitewashing history.  Its passive aggressive bullshit and its racism 2.0. Racism light.  My children are half black.  They aren’t exposed to any overt racism.  I’m certainly not racist and I don’t ever joke around about race let alone spout racism.  I have my doubts that my wife is a black white supremacist.  And yet I noticed a pattern developing that he didn’t like black cartoon characters or black people on TV.  He didn’t think they were smart or attractive. My wife and I pounced on that quickly and nipped it in the bud and counteract it with exposing our children to as much black culture as we can.  We let him watch racially ambiguous cartoons where they are animals, machines and so on but aside from that we stick to either predominantly black cartoons, movies, and shows. I even found real cultured classic and underground hip hop with the curses removed….and they fucking love it.  My kids love Immortal Technique and Public Enemy.

A single month’s worth of black history isn’t enough. My children are being immersed in it.

One thing I’ve noticed is that we humans like to distance ourselves from things.  We like to place labels on things.  One of those labels is racism.  As if its a thing in and of itself. People say “racism must be addressed” or “end racism.”  I mean sure. It should be addressed and it should end but it won’t end until racist people either change their mind or die. But its people that are the problem.  We all need to accept that and address it on a personal and local level.  If my friends or family talk some racist nonsense I ask them to stop and if applicable I address what they said.

What are your thoughts on how we could affect change?


Alternative Facts

On January 20th 2017 Sean Spicer held a press conference where he scolded the press for their coverage of the presidential inauguration.  The press reported and showed photographic evidence of a relatively small crowd. And the Trump team found it necessary to hold a press conference where Spicer yelled at the press without even taking any questions which is bizarre in and of itself. Doesn’t the president have bigger fish to fry than to address things such as the size of the crowd, his hands or his short sword? Spicer did what politicians do…he lied.  A lot. And blatantly.

Spicer’s lies were thinly veiled and easily refuted.  The internet exploded over this bullshit.  So much so that Kellyanne Conway, a Counselor for Trump felt the need to come to the defense of the Trump camp.  Her main argument was not with evidence to the contrary that would show Spicer didn’t lie but that he had presented “Alternative Facts.”

Are you fucking kidding me? What exactly in the fuck are you talking about Conway? Alternative facts?  I mean it is hilarious dont get me wrong.  I laughed long and hard with my friends and family until reality sunk in. They are taking lying to a completely new level.  Trump does have the nuclear launch codes. So I think this should make us at least a little wary. What else will be an alternative fact?  Some country having yellow cake? Putin launching nukes?

I tried not to be shit my pants when Trump was elected and just try to imagine another four years of the same shit.  This isn’t helping me keep it together and not joining the massive protest against the new president.  Trump’s presidential race to the first few days seem to have been torn from a poorly written surreal satire. I think in a best case scenario Trump will help facilitate the largest theft of public wealth this country has seen in a very long time.  I think I have a fantastic imagination but I lack the creative power to imagine what is the worst case…..