Monday, March 2, 2015

When a Man Loves a Pigeon - Nikola Tesla & a White Pigeon

When I come across these amazing bonds which great men seamlessly surpass the species boundaries; needless to say, I smile and this idiot thinks of his bond with Max :-):

Is it ironic or apt that a man who had dedicated much of his life to the future of wireless communication would fall for the ancient, living technology of a carrier pigeon? And is it ironic or apt that a man whose final years as an inventor were dedicated to a fearful direct-energy “teleforce” weapon (dubbed the “death ray” by the press) fell in love with the key symbol for peace?

We cannot know what thoughts or emotions were coiled inside Tesla’s mind and heart as he feared for the life of his nameless, winged mistress, and then mourned her passing as he would a lover. But we can discern, and appreciate, the creaturely affection that he experienced, and ultimately spoke of matter-of-factly, once the race for absolute human technical mastery had been assumed by others. For the man who invented the rotating magnetic field, “animal attraction” or “animal magnetism” was not simply a figure of speech, but an everyday experience and personal responsibility, and one that did not stop at the border between species. As such, this patron saint of the cybernetic triangle—one linking human, animal, and machine—sends us a message from the age of high industry and scientific discovery concerning love itself as the invisible but overwhelming alternating current that animates existence, and can sometimes be explicitly shared among creatures.

It might seem that this nameless bird was not in a position to reciprocate Tesla’s affections. And yet who could speak for this pigeon of pure white, with light gray tips on her wings? Who could say what she “felt” for the tall, melancholy, strangely dressed creature who fed, nursed, and caressed her? As with the love between two humans, or between Balthus and his cat Mitsou, or a human and an operating system like Samantha in the 2013 film Her, fully symmetrical affection is not the criterion by which we can determine whether love is in effect. We need not invoke the transmigration of souls to account for the connection or recognition that occurred. Nothing mystical need have taken place; no modern Ovid is necessary to account for the romantic sacrilege. Finitude is what all creatures share. No matter how carefully philosophers try to build a semantic or ontological wall between ourselves and other animals, we all perish. We all die. Humans may anticipate their end with more conscious and unconscious dread than do our fellow animals, but we need only see the survival instinct in action to appreciate that all creatures cling to life with furious intensity when the spark of their inexplicable existence is threatened.

Love is the name we give to this furious intensity when we direct it outward, beyond the survival of the self, to the compassionate caretaking of another pulse, pounding fragile and finite, under another skin.

Quote of the Day

One of the biggest problems with the world today is that we have large groups of people who will accept whatever they hear on the grapevine, just because it suits their worldview—not because it is actually true or because they have evidence to support it. The really striking thing is that it would not take much effort to establish validity in most of these cases… but people prefer reassurance to research.

- Neil deGrasse Tyson

Sunday, March 1, 2015

A Dog's World, in Shadow

- More Here

Quote of the Day

If someone is able to show me that what I think or do is not right, I will happily change, for I seek the truth, by which no one was ever truly harmed. It is the person who continues in his self-deception and ignorance who is harmed.

- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Wisdom Of The Week

To deepen the benefits of Big Data, we must put the social sciences and the humanities on equal footing with math and computer science - I cannot agree more !!

The things we want to measure, but don’t know what data to collect.

The data we want to collect, but don’t know how to capture.
The data we’ve captured, but can’t use because they’re not accurate.
The data we’ve captured, but don’t know how to interpret.
The data that we misinterpret, because there’s too much noise and not enough signal.
The data that we misattribute, because we mistake correlation and causality.
The data that we misuse, because we want them to support an agenda based on falsehoods.

Without Data Literacy, we end up in one of the following scenarios with regard to Data:

we don’t collect it;
we ignore it;we look at it, but don’t apply it;
we apply it incorrectly;
we extract the wrong meaning from it;
or twist it to support our (wrong) ideas.

Data Literacy can help us solve those problems, but it’s only one part of the puzzle. Anyone can throw a few numbers together to make a quick statistic, or compile tons of them into massive spreadsheets, but without any real meaning to be extracted we’re left with numerical gibberish, or “data salad,” if you will. This is where contextualization, narration, and design / visualization come into play; described for the purpose of how we can enable Data Literacy.


Employing methodologies and frameworks from the social sciences and humanities can get at key questions like:

  • Who created the data, for what reason, under what conditions, for which purpose? What are the barriers, entry points, and backgrounds that impact their ‘data exhaust’?
  • Who is gathering, analyzing, interpreting, explaining, and visualizing the data — what are their goals, seen and unseen biases, and personal backgrounds they bring to bear on these exercises?
  • Who the ultimate audience or audiences? What framing do you have to employ to best communicate the findings — and what happens if they don’t understand or agree?
  • What impact do things like the current zeitgeist, their geopolitical position in the world, or previously held beliefs play in the audience’s willingness to engage? Ability to understand?

Therefore, if we are to move from:

  • Big Data / Even Bigger Data to More Meaningful Data
  • Data Science to Data Literacy
… we must employ the art, craft, and science of narration. The danger in not doing this leaves the understanding, application, and adoption of data and Data to those who are skilled in the art of collecting, storing, and parsing it. In my experience in and around the field over the last decade, at best you will get an academically-presented assessment and at worst, you will get an obtuse, ‘inside baseball’ report.

Quote of the Day

If I really hoped to make major progress in AI, the best place to do this wouldn’t be another AI lab. If I really wanted to build a better thinker, I should go study philosophy. […] I quit my technology job to get a Ph.D. in philosophy. And that was one of the best decisions I ever made.

- Dr. Damon Horowitz in the Chronicle for Higher Education

Friday, February 27, 2015

Microbes R Us !!

This week has been full of Microbes news!!

My No-Soap, No-Shampoo, Bacteria-Rich Hygiene Experiment:

My skin began to change for the better. It actually became softer and smoother, rather than dry and flaky, as though a sauna’s worth of humidity had penetrated my winter-hardened shell. And my complexion, prone to hormone-related breakouts, was clear. For the first time ever, my pores seemed to shrink. As I took my morning “shower” — a three-minute rinse in a bathroom devoid of hygiene products — I remembered all the antibiotics I took as a teenager to quell my acne. How funny it would be if adding bacteria were the answer all along.

Allergy Risk May Be Tied to How You Wash Your Dishes:

The findings demonstrated only an association, not cause and effect, so it was not clear whether these behaviors directly led to fewer allergies. But it may be the case that these behaviors expose children to innocuous bacteria, which can help strengthen their immune systems, said Bill Hesselmar, an assistant professor at the University of Gothenburg and lead author of the study.

Finally, Rob Knight brilliant TED talk:

And we've just over the last few years found out that the microbes in different parts of the body are amazingly different from one another. So if I look at just one person's microbes in the mouth and in the gut, it turns out that the difference between those two microbial communities is enormous. It's bigger than the difference between the microbes in this reef and the microbes in this prairie. So this is incredible when you think about it. What it means is that a few feet of difference in the human body makes more of a difference to your microbial ecology than hundreds of miles on Earth.

And this is not to say that two people look basically the same in the same body habitat, either. So you probably heard that we're pretty much all the same in terms of our human DNA. You're 99.99 percent identical in terms of your human DNA to the person sitting next to you. But that's not true of your gut microbes: you might only share 10 percent similarity with the person sitting next to you in terms of your gut microbes. So that's as different as the bacteria on this prairie and the bacteria in this forest.

So these different microbes have all these different kinds of functions that I told you about, everything from digesting food to involvement in different kinds of diseases, metabolizing drugs, and so forth. So how do they do all this stuff? Well, in part it's because although there's just three pounds of those microbes in our gut, they really outnumber us. And so how much do they outnumber us? Well, it depends on what you think of as our bodies. Is it our cells? Well, each of us consists of about 10 trillion human cells, but we harbor as many as 100 trillion microbial cells. So they outnumber us 10 to one. Now, you might think, well, we're human because of our DNA, but it turns out that each of us has about 20,000 human genes, depending on what you count exactly, but as many as two million to 20 million microbial genes. So whichever way we look at it, we're vastly outnumbered by our microbial symbionts. And it turns out that in addition to traces of our human DNA, we also leave traces of our microbial DNA on everything we touch. We showed in a study a few years ago that you can actually match the palm of someone's hand up to the computer mouse that they use routinely with up to 95 percent accuracy.

Quote of the Day

Seek out that particular mental attribute which makes you feel most deeply and vitally alive, along with which comes the inner voice which says, 'This is the real me,' and when you have found that attitude, follow it.

- William James, The Principles of Psychology

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Quote of the Day

Everything in physiology follows the rule that too much can be as bad as too little. There are optimal points of allostatic balance. For example, while a moderate amount of exercise generally increases bone mass, thirty-year-old athletes who run 40 to 50 miles a week can wind up with decalcified bones, decreased bone mass, increased risk of stress fractures and scoliosis (sideways curvature of the spine)—their skeletons look like those of seventy-year-olds. To put exercise in perspective, imagine this: sit with a group of hunter-gatherers from the African grasslands and explain to them that in our world we have so much food and so much free time that some of us run 26 miles in a day, simply for the sheer pleasure of it. They are likely to say, “Are you crazy? That’s stressful.” Throughout hominid history, if you’re running 26 miles in a day, you’re either very intent on eating someone or someone’s very intent on eating you.

- Robert M. Sapolsky, Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers: The Acclaimed Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Diseases, and Coping

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Quote of the Day

If our well-being depends upon the interaction between events in our brains and events in the world, and there are better and worse ways to secure it, then some cultures will tend to produce lives that are more worth living than others; some political persuasions will be more enlightened than others; and some world views will be mistaken in ways that cause needless human misery.

- Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values