# The Outrageous Cost of a Gene Test

1 month ago

### Mechanism of crumb toughening in bread-like products by microwave reheating.

Always wanted to understand this!

Abstract

Comparing breads reheated in conventional and microwave ovens revealed that the latter considerably toughens the crumb texture when internal boiling is induced. Moisture loss in itself has a relatively minor toughening effect. The major changes, caused by boiling, occur only in systems with starch concentration in excess of a threshold level of about 37% (wet basis). Substantially greater amounts of amylose are leached out of the granules in the case of sustained boiling during microwave heating, as compared to conventional oven heating. The free amylose solution is being “pushed” by the generated steam pressure toward the air-cell wall interface. A rich amylose phase is accumulated at that interface and over the granules. Upon cooling, the amylose undergoes rapid phase changes; thus, toughening is apparent in a relatively short time after heating. Minimizing the textural deleterious effects in microwave reheating of bread-like products should entail (a) preventing or minimizing internal boiling, (b) diluting of the starch concentration below the threshold level, (c) interfering with the amylose phase change by using complex forming agents.

1 month ago - 2

For my scientific illustration class… succulents are cool ass plants.

(via somuchscience)

### In ants and bees, there are no sex chromosomes. Instead, sex is determined by whether or not an egg was fertilized. If the egg isn’t fertilized, the offspring is male. If the egg is fertilized, it’s female. So male ants have no fathers, and they have half as many chromosomes as females. Poor little things.

Beatrice the Biologist: Clarification, Sex Determination, and Cheesecake

(via chopdawg)

I’ve always maintained that its not the number of chromosomes that matters, but rather how you use them.

(via jtotheizzoe)

(via jtotheizzoe)

### Some (Quantitative) Thoughts on Housing and Homelessness in NYC

The other night I was speaking to a friend about the intersection of real estate warehousing (the practice of buying housing and keeping it unoccupied for investment reasons; see NYT article linked below) and homelessness. My friend claimed that there are more than enough vacant apartments to house all of the city’s homeless with the obvious implication that we should really do something about these warehousing practices.

I was curious, so I started searching around to answer a few questions, the most basic of which are these: How many vacant and unavailable apartments are there in NYC? How many homeless people are there?

Fortunately, the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development has a decently thorough and relatively recent report on their “Housing and Vacancy Survey” (link below) which gives us a good handle on the number of vacant units in NYC.

In 2011, the number of vacant available rental units was 68,000, while the number of vacant units available for sale was 31,000. At the same time, the number of vacant units not available for sale or rent was 164,000 in 2011, the highest since 1965, when the first HVS was conducted (Table 1). Of the 164,000 vacant units not available for sale or rent, 48,000 units, or 29.4 percent,were classified as unavailable because they were undergoing or awaiting renovation.
As previous HVSs have shown, most of these unitsundergoing or awaiting renovation will be occupied or vacant and available for sale or rent by 2014, when the next HVS will be conducted (Table 8). At the same time, the number of units that were unavailable because of occasional, seasonal, or recreational use was 65,000 or 39.5 percent, the highest since 1978, when the Census Bureau began classifying vacant unavailable units by such reason (Table 8). Of the units in this category, more than six in ten were located in Manhattan, and about six in ten were in cooperative or condominium buildings.
First of all, notice that not all of these units are being “warehoused” exactly - many of them are part-time homes for our great city’s globe-trotting wealthy (about 40%). Another ~30% are ostensibly undergoing renovation, which should mean that that they’ll hit the rental or purchase market in the near-ish future (one hopes). Nonetheless, I’m going to ignore these subtleties and push forward to think a little about the numbers.

According to the Coalition for the Homeless (link below) 164,000 units is about 3 times the number of homeless people in municipal shelters in NYC, which is about 50k people. I’m gonna to break here for a second just to let myself reflect on that number; 50,000 homeless people. Wow.

But note that this 50k number doesn’t include people who are in private shelters nor does it include people who are just on the streets. The same page from the Coalition for the Homeless claims that 90% of homeless people in NYC use the municipal shelter system, so the total number of homeless in NYC should be about 56,000. That’s a big number. It’s also about 1/3 the number of vacant but unavailable housing units in the city. If those units could house even 2 people on average, then 1/6 of the vacant but unavailable apartments could house all of the city’s homeless people.

Now we have to ask - how many of those unavailable apartments could realistically be made available through some policy measure. I suppose that depends on what you think can be accomplished through the political process. For example, is it realistic to envision a policy regime that would make the 65,000 units that are occupied on an occasional/partial basis available to renters? More than half of those units are in Manhattan’s cutthroat real-estate market. If they were made available, who would actually get them? Would dumping all these units onto the market open up room at the low end or would they all get sold off to the wealthy?

I don’t really know how to answer these questions, but I’ll throw out some numbers anyway. The citywide rental vacancy rate in NYC was about 3.1% in 2011 (the rate in Manhattan and Brooklyn is right now much lower at ~1.5%). If some utopian dream was realized and all the vacant units were somehow dumped onto the rental market, then the citywide rental vacancy rate would go to ~8.1% (there are about 3.3 million units in NYC total). I think it’s reasonable to assume that more-than-doubling the supply would have a big effect on rental prices. Because of the level of demand for NYC housing, it seems unlikely that these units would end up in the hands of the homeless without some serious policy changes, but perhaps a big decrease in housing pricing in NYC is good medicine regardless? My wallet certainly thinks so.

Just want to make clear - I am not making a claim that homelessness is primarily an economic phenomenon. I was just checking up on a claim that my friend made, which is that there are far more vacant but unavailable housing units in NYC than there are homeless people. The claim, it turns out, is very true. Even if releasing all those units would do nothing for the homeless, I think that truth is focusing.

References:

1. NYT on Warehousing: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/25/realestate/25home.html
3. Coalition for the Homeless, Basic Facts Page: http://www.coalitionforthehomeless.org/pages/basic-facts-about-homelessness-new-york-city-data-and-charts

nybg:

Dickinson’s personal herbarium was a passion of hers, amounting to over 400 pressed specimens which she would often share in letters. It wasn’t that long ago that the NYBG had its own exhibition on the poet’s surprising knack for botany. —MN

From Emily Dickinson’s journal, pressed plants and flowers, c. 1839-1846

nybg:

Mutation is rarely a phenomenon that inspires admiration or high valuation, but in plants, the boundaries are a little more vague. Fasciation occurs when a plant—mutated by one of many possible factors (bacteria, viruses, insect attacks, simple genetic variation, etc.)—loses the plot a bit.

By that, I mean that the meristem stops directing the plant to grow new tissue around cylindrical points and instead shoots off in odd ribbons of tissue. And while this “ailment” isn’t quite as broadly prized as other botanical afflictions, such as striped tulips, there’s a definite horticultural element out there on the hunt for beautiful oddities.

That cactus up top is giving a thumbs up, so I suppose it’s all in good fun. —MN

Fasciated Flora

Icones Farlowianae by BioDivLibrary on Flickr.

Cambridge, Mass. :The Farlow Library and Herbarium of Harvard University,1929..
biodiversitylibrary.org/page/36263198

Colorized SEM of Anthrax Bacteria

(via somuchscience)