Weekly Head Voices #20: A Lamarckian Knot.

Welcome dear fellow-monkeys, to the 20th edition of the Weekly Head Voices, exceptionally vaguely associated with the 13th week of the year 2010. In this post, nothing much happens, except that I tell you about the bowline (the king of knots), present the usual GTD analysis, spiced up with some perspective gravy and conclude with a brief introduction to epigenetics, something that I’ve also very recently learned about for the first time.

Here is the knot I promised, as well as one of this post’s major visual elements:

I just love the gentleman’s wooden delivery! It somehow suits the knot. It turns out that the version below, albeit of exactly the same knot, is a more correct or accepted execution (but the delivery is not as cool):

This is the knot I use to tie my keys to my James Bond-small 8G USB stick and to my iButton with a length of diabolo string (that’s seriously good stuff!), as a sort of makeshift and extremely space-efficient key-ring. With the bowline knot, you can make a fixed-size loop at the end of a rope that won’t slip and is also easy to untie. It turns out this is often called the King of Knots, which is kind of nice, as it’s dead simple to make and extremely useful. To my few sailing friends this is probably old news, hopefully to some of you it’s not.

During week 13, consisting of only 4 work days (we had us a nice long weekend here in NL, hence also the lateness of this post), I had about 15 hours of regular meetings and managed to complete 26 GTD tasks spread over 9 projects.

As part of my new high-priority theme of keeping things in perspective, I’ve been revising my work strategy in a number of regards. Importantly, I’ve taken a hard look at my work-at-home policy. Somehow, I’d forgotten about my rule of only working at home on the fun parts of my job, and otherwise only in case of a looming deadline. However, there had been so many deadlines, that I had gotten into the bad habit of simply continuing at home with my work day, without applying the fun-filter. That’s all over now. The fun-filter is back on ultra-strict, thank you very much. I just have to remember next time deadline-season comes along again.

Further, my GTD-brainwashed inbox-emptying compulsion had reached pathological proportions. I wasn’t able to open up my work inbox without stressing out and immediately going to work emptying the thing out again by processing all mails, a situation that would occur at the most inopportune and unsuitable times. I’ve now got this in check as well, and I’m able to stare at my inbox when it’s not mail processing time without breaking down. (So what if I have to bite down and have those bulging veins on the sides of my head!) This is a refinement of the first of my three rules of stress-free email productivity, in that sometimes one has to check mail for other reasons than processing the whole inbox, and in those cases it’s important to remember that it’s not an inbox processing moment.

In a slight variation of the usual backyard philosophy theme, I’d like to tell you briefly about epigenetics, something that I’ve recently heard about for the first time. This weekend’s Volkskrant had a good article on the topic by Frank Grosveld (professor of Cell Biology and Genetics at the EMC in Rotterdam) and Jos de Mul (professor of Philosophy of Man and Culture, also at the EMC). Epigenetics is the study of external influences by the surroundings, feeding and habits on gene expression. The DNA itself is not modified, but how the DNA code is read and reacted upon: This happens through chemicals that attach to the nucleotides in the DNA. In this way, there’s an extra regulatory layer, allowing the environment to influence gene expression.

Sounds reasonable, until one ponders the implications: A number of studies have shown that this mechanism makes it possible for environmental effects to be inherited, even being passed on for example from grandparents to grandchildren! The Volkskrant article mentions a number of examples:

  • Men who were underfed during their pre-adolescence have grand-children with a significantly lower risk of cardiovascular disease whilst grandfathers who lived in times of plenty have grand-children with a significantly higher risk of diabetes (Pembrey and Bergen 2006).
  • In gestating rats, exposure to an anti-fungal agent used in wine-making affects offspring three generations down the line (Skinner 2008).
  • Mice placed in a stimulation-rich environment have offspring with a similarly improved memory, even when they grow up in a stimulation-poor environment (Feig 2009).

Besides shedding new light on the whole Nature vs. Nurture debate, this has the profound implication that we live in a kind of post-existentialist reality, where your actions and experiences affect not only yourself, but also your future offspring, and even the offspring of those around you, in more direct ways than hitherto recognised.

Think about that for a while, ok?

(P.S. Figuring out the first part of the title of this post is left as a simple but gratifying exercise for the reader: You too will be able to use this impressive-sounding qualifier in full sentences at cocktail parties.)