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Sam Westreich, PhD

“It says DO NOT EAT. I should probably at least taste it, right?”

I normally wouldn’t think of eating it… but it says not to eat. You have me intrigued. Image by Ann from Pixabay.

All I know is that they tell me “DO NOT EAT”, and I’m so tempted to do so.

What’s the deal with these little packets of silica gel? What are they there for? What do they do? Why do they say gel, when they feel like they’re full of dry sand or pebbles?

And most importantly, what would happen to someone if, hypothetically, they were to eat the packet or its contents?

I’ve always wondered…


I want my kidney back, kidney back, kidney back…

Is this the face a the 22nd century repo man? Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

Here’s a weird hypothetical situation: let’s say that you donate an organ to someone. Perhaps you give up a kidney for a stranger, in a brave act of generosity.

But there’s a complication. Perhaps you find out that the person was lying to you, and you no longer feel the same goodwill towards them. Maybe the person passes away.

What happens to your donated organ? Can you claim it back, like if you lent someone your car?

And if you get it back, could it be put back in your body? …


It’s happened before.

It looks like simple, innocent food… but is that a deadly bottle of SOY SAUCE lurking in the front right, ready to strike? Photo by j on Unsplash

Disgusting? Yes. Harsh? Absolutely.

But is it deadly?

Soy sauce is an incredibly popular condiment, used as a staple in many different Asian dishes. It’s based on soybeans, hence the name, but it also includes roasted grain, brine, and a bit of mold culture to aid in fermentation.

These ingredients aren’t simply mixed together and bottled; soy sauce is fermented. Traditionally, it takes months to prepare a proper soy sauce, although much of the modern sauce that we consume is created…


How to recover when your tool fails and the customer is watching

I feel generally like a child in adult clothing, but especially so when I’m presenting to a customer or prospective client and something goes wrong. Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

The drop in my stomach. The sudden dry mouth. Getting thrown off my stride, losing my voice and stumbling as I frantically have to figure out what I’m doing next. It’s like walking down stairs and missing a step, that moment when your foot lands on only empty air.

It’s when a demonstration of a product, service, or feature goes wrong.

Keep in mind, I’m not even in sales! I’m a project manager, which means that I mostly work on communications and hustling around…


Paleontologists: “You’re burning our fossils for your cars!”

“This baby can burn an entire Tyrannosaurus in twenty minutes on the race track!” Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

I always thought that there was a sort of poetic justice to it, especially when I played with my plastic toy dinosaurs. Great beasts had walked the Earth millions of years ago, and were now seeing a second life, of sorts, as interpreted representations of those same shapes.

Also, I envisioned animals being pressed beneath the ground until they turned into goop. …


The best managers will remember these when they go back to the office.

“I feel really managed right now, boss! Nice job on treating me as a basic, decent human being!” Photo by krakenimages on Unsplash

When my company first announced that we were switching to a full remote approach, we planned to only spend a couple of weeks at home, “until the whole pandemic thing blows over.” Now, coming up on a year later, there is still no concrete date for when we will return to the physical office.

Despite tech companies still continuing the work from home approach (for us, it’s looking like May is the absolute earliest we will be returning to…


For many, all that data they acquire will be worse than useless.

For some companies, the love affair with big data may end in heartbreak. Photo by Alexander Sinn on Unsplash

Internet-connected smart devices, from Amazon’s Echo to Google Assistant to the rare Samsung Bixby, are listening and collecting data on our requests and questions. Smart wearables collect massive troves of health information. Uber logs our trips, Doordash saves our grocery purchases. Even right-wing “alternative news” platforms, like Parler, were largely funded by billionaires like the Mercers, known for a strong interest in data collection.

It’s also especially prevalent in…


Could intended cooling can lead to unintended food poisoning?

Look at that delicious roast turkey. Don’t stick it in the fridge right away, or you’ll risk worse than the after-dinner sleepies! Photo by SJ . on Unsplash

As a child, I took this as fact and didn’t think too much about it. But it came up again recently, and now that I’ve got a PhD focusing on the microbiome — collective populations of diverse bacteria and other microbes — it stuck with me.

Why wouldn’t we want to put hot food into the fridge? Shouldn’t we want to cool food down…


Why you need to know your audience before you make a single slide.

“…and that concludes my hour-long presentation. Any questions?” “Yes, what do all those abbreviations mean? I was playing with my phone.” Photo by Tool., Inc on Unsplash

Yes, that’s a privilege. You don’t get better at something by doing it once, perfectly. Unless you’re a born prodigy, you’re not going to get something perfect on the first try. You’ll be bad at it, but you’ll keep struggling and learning and, eventually, improving.

It’s painful and unpleasant, but the best way to improve your skills is to keep on failing in different ways. In the words of Thomas Edison:

“I didn’t fail. I just found 2,000 ways not to make a lightbulb.”


How amateur stock traders are becoming a potent force for saving the apes

Indirectly, GameStop Corporation is helping with gorilla conservatism. It’s a crazy world, these days. Photo by Joshua J. Cotten on Unsplash

But sometimes, it pulls together to become a potent force for good — often from the strangest areas.

One example of this has been on display over the last few days, in a subreddit called /r/WallStreetBets. The members have been rushing over each other to donate to help rescue gorillas.

It’s gone to the point where some of the gorilla conservation groups are now adopting slogans from the subreddit.

What’s going…

Sam Westreich, PhD

PhD in genetics, bioinformatician, scientist at a Silicon Valley startup. Microbiome is the secret of biology that we’ve overlooked.

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