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This and the previous blog are notes from the Coursera: ’Genes and the Human Condition’, University of Maryland, lectures on “My Genes Made Me Do It”. What follows is from lecture 3.

“Psychologists don't really do consensus, but in the case of personality traits, it's hard to avoid: Openness to experience, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism (OCEAN for short) that constitute the sum of human personality. Each of us has our own unique coordinates depending on precisely where we fall along each of these five dimensions. Where we fall in each dimension is about 50% genetic and 50% environmental. So what do you think is the major environmental influence on personality? If you said parents then you would be wrong. Some major studies suggested that parents make only a few percent of differences in personalities and behaviors.  And the effects of family largely disappear as people get older. Criminal parents are most likely to produce criminal children. Yes, but not if they adopt the children. Likewise the children of divorced parents are more likely to get divorced. Yes, but only if they are biological children. So basically, these studies suggest that parents are overrated as shapers of values. Sandra Scarr suggests that people pick the environment to suit their characters.

You adopt the mannerisms of your peers. In the western world, at least, peers may be a lot more important than parenting. There are evolutionary reasons for this. Your peers will be your lovers, your allies, your rivals. In the long run, they're the ones who matter most. They matter more than your parents.”


It is interesting to compare Hillary Clinton’s politically slanted book: “It Takes a Village” with that of  Senator Rick Santorum’s conservative: “It Takes a Family”. Both books ignore the ability of children to make their own choices.

In a new field of study called genopolitics, it has become accepted that your political views may have a genetic component. Neuroscientists have shown that liberals and conservatives have different patterns of brain activity. In particular, there are differences in their amygdala, the part of the brain that makes emotional responses. Research has shown that people’s whose basic emotional responses to threats are more pronounced, develop ring wing opinions. Twin studies suggest that opinions on a long list of issues from religion, to gay marriage, to party affiliations have a substantial genetic component.

In the upcoming American presidential elections, it will be interesting to see how the idea that genes could influence the political outcome plays out.

Below is a mashup of the Coursera lecture:



I recently completed an edX course from Curtin University, Western Australia on digital marketing entitled: Digital Branding and Engagement. I must confess that when I enrolled I had a low expectation for the course. I expected it to be Marketing 101. I didn't understand the  power and pervasiveness of digital branding. Yes, we all know how important the digital world has become but perhaps not how it is being used to capture the hearts and minds of vulnerable people for commercial purposes.

The Curtin University edX course on Digital Branding and Engagement consisted of four modules. The first module was on; The Digital Consumer -- which explored the role of social media in consumer participation and engagement -- Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.

The second module examined Content Marketing -- creating content value and distributing it to target audiences. Content marketing is not new and the video below gives a brief history of it into the digital age.

Then there has to be that classic video clip by Steve Jobs explaining the "Think Different" marketing.


For more: click here

We recently spent two weeks visiting my stepson Martin and his wife, Ayesha and daughter, Olive in Hong Kong. We flew direct from Auckland NZ to Hong Kong on premium economy with Air New Zealand on an overnight flight. Having been in China in 2007 I expected Hong Kong to be more like China but it definitely had that British feel about the place. Everyone understood English and there was the familiar sense of how things are done and what to expect.

The other unexpected thing about Hong Kong was that the island was very mountainous and the streets were steep and winding and probably followed goat trails up the mountains. Martin lived on Robinson Road which is fairly way up the mountain and so also every evening we would eat out (fabulous restaurants) which involved clambering down numerous flights of stairs to somewhere near the harbour — it’s ok if you are young and fit. Thankfully the journey up was by escalator which in the morning ran down the mountain until 10:30 am.

We did the usual tourist things: The Peak, returned by cable car, the Museum of History and the International Commerce Centre (ICC) in Kowloon, etc and finally Disneyland. At Disneyland we stayed a night at the Hollywood Hotel so that Olive could meet Mickey.


We took a ferry to Macao and spent a night there. Macao was a former Portuguese dependency on the west side of the Pearl River estuary opposite Hong Kong. Macao was developed by the Portuguese as a trading post, and in the 18th century was the chief centre of trade between Europe and China. The older parts of Macao were very picturesque but the newer parts reminded me of Las Vegas — high-rise hotels and casinos everywhere.

We returned to New Zealand with some issues of re-entry since one of us carried a British passport without NZ residency status -- the perils of travel and travel agents.


Before retiring from the Microbiology & Immunology Department I accepted a commission to compile an online version of the social archives as part of the history of Microbiology, University of Otago. The concept seemed simple -- assemble archival material into a time-frame and the events and people would tell the story of the Department. While this may be relatively easy for a former staff member or student, those unfamiliar with the Department would not know where to look or which path to follow -- a guidebook was necessary. A limited print version of the guidebook was printed and the archives were placed online (see the Microbiology Archive page).


Not being trained as a historian, it was  unavoidable that the presentation of the events and the 'facts' would became viewed through the eyes of someone that participated in many of the events and held a certain world-view. In the end the history of Microbiology became part of my story.