March 30, 2017

You can now have beer brewed to your taste (as encoded in your genome)

Filed under: Business, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 12:07

For those with a taste for custom-brewed beer (and a very big budget), you can now have a batch of beer created to match your taste preferences, scientifically:

London-based Meantime Brewing Company, acquired a year ago by Belgian beverage multinational Anheuser-Busch InBev, wants to sell you beer tuned to your taste.

To do so, the company plans to direct willing customers to genetic testing service 23andMe – the Silicon Valley personal genomics biz that’s slowly emerging from its near death experience at the hands of US health regulators – to evaluate their genetic taste proclivities.

For a mere £25,000 (~$31,200), beer lovers who prefer entrusting purchasing decisions to science rather than self-knowledge can buy 12 hectolitres (about 2,100 Imperial pints or 2,500 US pints) of ale tailored to taste preferences encoded in their genome.

Customers supply their saliva, 23andMe sorts the genes, and Meantime crafts a beer to fit inborn affinities.

“Pioneering personal genetics company 23andMe will assess hereditary variations in your oral taste receptors (the TAS2R38 gene) to reveal the genetic variants that could explain personal preferences towards specific flavour profiles within beer, such as sweetness and bitterness,” the company explains on its website.

And if the genetically dictated balance of flavors doesn’t align with actual taste preferences, Meantime has left itself an out – customers get a consultation with Brewmaster Ciaran Giblin to adjust the flavors if necessary.

That’s almost certainly for the best since, as 23andMe points out, the role of genetics in taste preferences is uncertain. “Scientists aren’t yet sure how much of our taste preferences are genetic, but estimates are generally around 50 per cent,” the company says in the Taste report it offers subscribers.

Words & Numbers: The Arts Will Survive Without Your Taxes

Filed under: Economics, Government, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 29 Mar 2017

This week, James & Antony experiment with a slightly longer format, and get into the issue of government funding for the arts.

Another Japanese “destroyer” joins the fleet

Filed under: China, History, Japan, Military — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Due to a long-standing aversion to calling certain kinds of vessels by their most appropriate name, the Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force (because Japan’s constitution prohibits the country having a “navy”, post-1945) commissioned their latest “destroyer” last week:

JS Izumo DDH-183, sister-ship of the just-commisioned JS Kaga DDH-184, both helicopter-equipped destroyers, officially.

I know what you’re thinking … “That doesn’t look like a destroyer to me” … but that’s what Japan officially designates ships like this to be, so that’s what they’re called. Strategy Page has more:

On March 22nd Japan put into service a second 27,000 ton “destroyer” (the Kaga, DDH 184) that looks exactly like an aircraft carrier. Actually it looks like an LPH (Landing Platform Helicopter) an amphibious ship type that first appeared in the 1950s. This was noted when Izumo, the first Japanese LPH was launched in 2012 (it entered service in 2015). The Izumos can carry up to 28 aircraft and are armed only with two 20mm Phalanx anti-missile cannon and launcher with sixteen ESSM missiles for anti-missile defense.

LPHs had no (or relatively few) landing craft but did carry a thousand or more troops who were moved ashore using the dozen or more helicopters carried. The first American LPH (the USS Iwo Jima) was an 18,400 ton ship that entered service in 1961, and carried 2,000 troops and twenty-five helicopters. Until Izumo showed up, several nations operated LPHs, and Britain and South Korea still do. The U.S. retired its last LPHs in the 1990s, but still have a dozen similar ships that include landing craft (and a well deck in the rear to float them out of) as well as helicopters. A few other nations have small carriers that mostly operate helicopters but carry few, if any troops.

The Izumos are the largest LPHs to ever to enter service. It differs from previous LPHs in not having accommodations for lots of troops and having more powerful engines (capable of destroyer-like speeds of over fifty-four kilometers an hour). Izumo does have considerable cargo capacity, which is intended for moving disaster relief supplies quickly to where they are needed. Apparently some of these cargo spaces can be converted to berthing spaces for troops, disaster relief personnel, or people rescued from disasters. There are also more medical facilities than one would expect for a ship of this size. More worrisome (to the Chinese) is the fact that the Izumo could carry and operate the vertical take-off F-35B stealth fighter, although Japan has made no mention of buying that aircraft or modifying the LPH flight decks to handle the very high temperatures generated by the F-35B when taking off or landing vertically. The Chinese are also upset with the name of this new destroyer. Izumo was the name of a Japanese cruiser that was a third the size of the new “destroyer” and led the naval portion of a 1937 operation against Shanghai that left over two-hundred-thousand Chinese dead. The Chinese remember all this, especially the war with Japan that began unofficially in 1931 and officially in 1937.

IJNS Izumo at anchor 1932 (Colourized), via Wikimedia

How Germany’s Victories weakened the Japanese in World War 2

Filed under: China, Europe, Germany, History, Japan, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 24 Mar 2017

This video gives you a short glimpse on how the war in Europe had a detrimental effect on the Japanese Economy.

Military History Visualized provides a series of short narrative and visual presentations like documentaries based on academic literature or sometimes primary sources. Videos are intended as introduction to military history, but also contain a lot of details for history buffs. Since the aim is to keep the episodes short and comprehensive some details are often cut.

QotD: “Scientific” forestry

Filed under: Environment, Europe, History, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Seeing Like A State is the book G.K. Chesterton would have written if he had gone into economic history instead of literature. Since he didn’t, James Scott had to write it a century later. The wait was worth it.

Scott starts with the story of “scientific forestry” in 18th century Prussia. Enlightenment rationalists noticed that peasants were just cutting down whatever trees happened to grow in the forests, like a chump. They came up with a better idea: clear all the forests and replace them by planting identical copies of Norway spruce (the highest-lumber-yield-per-unit-time tree) in an evenly-spaced rectangular grid. Then you could just walk in with an axe one day and chop down like a zillion trees an hour and have more timber than you could possibly ever want.

This went poorly. The impoverished ecosystem couldn’t support the game animals and medicinal herbs that sustained the surrounding peasant villages, and they suffered an economic collapse. The endless rows of identical trees were a perfect breeding ground for plant diseases and forest fires. And the complex ecological processes that sustained the soil stopped working, so after a generation the Norway spruces grew stunted and malnourished. Yet for some reason, everyone involved got promoted, and “scientific forestry” spread across Europe and the world.

And this pattern repeats with suspicious regularity across history, not just in biological systems but also in social ones.

Scott Alexander, “Book Review: Seeing Like a State”, Slate Star Codex, 2017-03-16.

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