The western allergy epidemic

In the US people have allergies to many things, the most common ones being pollen, dust mites, mold, wasps and bees, cats and dogs, industrial and household chemicals, and foods such as milk, nuts, and eggs. Growing up in Sri Lanka, I cannot remember anyone in my family or friends who had allergies, apart from a very few people who had asthma and thus had occasional breathing problems. No one seemed to have the need to avoid foods and plants, apart from varying degrees of lactose intolerance.
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What self-driving cars still cannot do

While I am enthusiastic about self-driving cars and its promise of increasing the mobility of those unable to drive as well as the possibility that such cars may be better drivers than humans, via Machines Like Us I came across this article by Lee Gomes says that we should not overestimate what they can currently do, because the road tests that they have done so far that produced 700,000 miles of accident-free driving have been under very limited conditions. There is still a long way to go and some major technological hurdles to overcome.
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Lead and violent crime

While police forces around the country have been massively increasing the numbers and size and scope of their weaponry, in the process becoming quasi-military forces without the training that the military receives, violent crime (and teen pregnancies) has been steadily and quite dramatically declining over the last four decades. It would be a mistake to think that this negative correlation has a causal basis in that stronger policing has led to the decline because the decline has been nationwide and benefited areas that changed their policing as well as those that did not.
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Why return trips seem shorter

We have all felt it. The return trip from some place seems to be quicker that the outward trip, especially if you were going to a new place. I used to think that this was due to the fact that on the return trip we were now familiar with the route, which meant that we did not have to pay close attention to where we were going and that this somehow translated into the journey seeming to be shorter
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Dr. Oz and dietary supplements

Whenever I go to the dentist, it seems like the Dr. Oz show is on their TV in the waiting room. It is an absolutely nauseating show where the host uses his impressive medical credentials to plug various products with wildly exaggerated claims. And yet apparently people take him seriously, making the dietary supplement industry highly profitable.
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Liability for self drive cars

Self-driving cars are already here and even legal on some public roads. It is likely that they will be better drivers than many of the humans that drive cars since they have faster reaction times and do not suffer from the impairments and distractions of people, such as talking on cell phones or even texting. They could be a boon for older and disabled people who will no longer be limited in their ability to go places.
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Meet the pretenders

As a culture, we have become more used to the idea that people can feel that their bodies do not match their own sense of identity. This is usually manifested in terms of gender and to some extent society has begun to come to terms with transgender people and transvestites, though there is still a long way to go. People are at least aware of them, even if not accepting, and those groups still experience a lot of enormous discrimination and abuse.
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The evolution of dogs

PZ Myers had an interesting post on a topic that I have long been intrigued by and that is how when breeders selectively bred silver foxes purely on the basis of a trait by which they are more tolerant towards humans, the animals change physically too, such as their ears becoming more floppy and their snouts shorter, similar to the way that we believe that wolves in the wild evolved to become the dogs we now have.
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How PGP works

Since the Edward Snowden revelations a year ago, I have been writing quite a lot about encryption although I don’t know much about it. I came across this introduction to the PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) system, a common form of what is known as public key cryptography, that was fairly clear about how it worked in converting the plain text message into the encrypted form called the ciphertext.
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