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Brett Szmajda
Advocating science, skepticism, and cool gadgets.
Advocating science, skepticism, and cool gadgets.

Brett's posts

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In my latest feature article, I investigated the curious links between the blood-borne immune system, and mental diseases like post-traumatic stress disorder. 

The findings suggested some sort of crosstalk was going on between the immune system and the brain. Neurogenesis, learning and a normal stress response all seemed to rely on it. “That led us to think that the immune system is a partner in the maintenance of the brain,” summarised Schwartz. 

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Swing by a newsagent (remember them?) this month and you can see my latest article, which got the cover of COSMOS! I know that we're all online all the time these days, but it still remains cool to see my name in print...
2 Photos - View album

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Cool new research shows how chameleons change colour - and it has nothing to do with the pigments under their skin.

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A brilliant talk.

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Very, very fascinating documentary looking at gender and work preferences. Why, in one of the most gender equal countries in the world (Norway) do people still end up falling into 'typical' gendered job roles? (e.g. Engineers still tend to be men, nurses still tend to be women). 

An extremely balanced review of a number of theories, with some answers that will surprise you.

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Friday #Longreads! This week: insurgents attack an air base in Afghanistan, why spending hours awake in the middle of the night might be a good thing, and making money -- literally.

The Great Paper Caper (7350 words)
I'm not sure that I could describe this better than GQ's own standfirst: "Frank Bourassa became the most prolific counterfeiter in American history—a guy with more than $200 million in nearly flawless fake twenties stuffed in a garage. How he got away with it all, well, that's even crazier." I'll be frank here (hurrrrrr) -- I don't think this is fantastic journalism, but it is incredibly interesting subject matter, which is how it has earned its place in this week's post.  
Article by Wells Tower:

Broken Sleep (2400 words)
Before the advent of modern lighting, evidence suggests that most people had a two-stage sleeping pattern -- they went to bed soon after nightfall, woke in the middle of the night to think, write, or make love, then slept again. Do modern sleeping patterns now mean that we're missing out on a hidden pool of creativity? A thought-provoking piece.
Article by Karen Emslie: 

Enemy Inside the Wire: The Untold Story of the Battle of Bastion (5900 words)
Yeah so I've been on a bit of a war article kick recently. This one is a great article describing a raid from a couple years back, where 15 Taliban fighters infiltrated one of the largest air bases in Afghanistan. Like the Bin Laden article from last week, this is gripping reading from an expert writer.
Article from Matthieu Aikins: 

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Weekly #longreads  thread!
This week: a genius chef and his fight with tongue cancer, how self-driving cars are posing ethical challenges to their creators, and the gripping story of SEAL Team Six's takedown of Bin Laden.

Getting Bin Laden, by Nicholas Schmidle (8450 words)
This is a stunningly well-researched account of the night that SEAL Team Six assaulted Bin Laden's compound in Pakistan, and the months leading up to the risky assault. Where it shines is that it reads like a Tom Clancy novel, but maintains the attention to detail that demonstrates the writer's mastery of the subject material. There is a lot of work poured into these eight thousand words.

Automated Ethics, by Tom Chatfield (2900 words)
A shorter one to counterbalance two long pieces, but no less weighty in subject matter. It asks the question -- with the rise of A.I. like that of self-driving cars, what are the consequences of handing our ethical decisions to machines? Touches upon concepts ranging from the difficulties of programmatically defining an ethical structure, to the biases and imperfections that define us as humans.

A Man of Taste, by D. T. Max (8250 words)
A modern-day Beethoven tale, this excellent profile from the New Yorker details the multiple-award winning chef Grant Achatz. Where this profile takes a turn into genius is that it juxtaposes his rise to fame with his battle with tongue cancer, how debilitating it is for a chef to lose their sense of taste… and how it redefined how Achatz thought about food. Truly excellent writing, great story structure and a fascinating subject. 

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Friday Longreads.

This week: body organs that can taste and smell things, how the major banks are making a mint from high-frequency trading, and the poor saps who keep gore and porn from dominating your social media streams.

The Laborers Who Keep Dick Pics and Beheadings Out of Your Facebook Feed (3,200 words)
The title pretty much says it all -- a tale of the how many of the major social media sites outsource moderation to keep the worst of the internet at bay, and the effect that it has upon the poor workers who have to see it all. 

The Wolf Hunters of Wall Street (10,000 words)
Don't let the length of this article put you off -- it's fascinating. A tale of a trio of stock traders who figured out how high-frequency traders were manipulating the market in the split seconds before a transaction went through… and how they learned to work around it. Exceptional writing: what could be a boring technical document is instead presented as a gripping tale. 

The Startling Sense of Smell Found All Over Your Body (2,000 words)
Why might  a series of proteins involved in smelling and tasting food be found in many other places inside your body, including your heart, your kidneys, and your gut?  I could get all Buzzfeed here and say THE ANSWER MIGHT SURPRISE YOU but just read the damn article. It's cool.

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I have a sudden desire to buy an expensive drone quadcopter and an Oculus Rift: 

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Friday Longreads -- +The New Yorker  special.

3 longreads to celebrate the last weekend before the New Yorker puts a paywall on their archive again. This week: Netflix's assault on the standard TV model, Anthony Bourdain shares the darker side of restaurant eating, and a 1933 profile of the original scientist turned rock star -- Albert Einstein.

Don't Eat Before Reading This (2700 words)
Anthony Bourdain dishes the dirt with a chef's view of restaurant eating. Written with his trademark acerbic style, it alternates between brutally honest and hilarious. If you've got a sensitive stomach, I suggest you take the advice of the headline. 

Scientist and Mob Idol (5700 words)
A brilliant profile of Albert Einstein from way back in 1933. What happens when a quiet recluse gains international fame? Perhaps more interesting, how did the author of a dense treatise in theoretical physics gain the limelight? A humanising piece on a great scientist.
Part 1: 
Part 2:

Outside the Box (6300 words)
How Netflix went from nearly broke, offering a 49% share to Blockbuster (who turned them down), to a powerhouse in the industry that is challenging the way we think about television.

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