Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Farm Grows in Brooklyn!!

Why Do Dogs Rub Up Against Things That Smell Bad?

"As it happens, a team of animal behaviorists led by Jenny Ryon at Dalhousie University had explored this very question of canines' penchant for perfume in 1986. Their study wasn't with dogs—to the best of my knowledge, no controlled studies on scent-rubbing with domesticated dogs have ever been done—but with a very close relative instead: the wolf (Canis lupus). The authors note that scent-rubbing is an unconditioned response in wolves, which means that it's an instinct, more or less, and they submit that wolves have been observed to luxuriate among the pungent, nostril-pinching stews of everything from detached body parts to insect repellent to rotten fruit and cigar ashes. That's quite a wide array of stinky things, some of which did not exist through most of evolutionary history.

Ryon and her coauthors' objective, however, was to conduct a controlled test of the idea that wolves will grind up on unfamiliar, strong-smelling objects as a way to obtain chemosensory information about them. This is a relatively easy hypothesis to test, because if it's correct, then simple repeated exposure to the same stimulus should lead to a decrease in rubbing.

It's not clear how much of these wolf and hyena findings you can extrapolate to your own dog's behavior next time she rolls around in rotting duck gizzards or badger vomit."

- More Here

Quote of the Day

"Personally, I would not give a fig for any man's religion whose horse, cat and dog do not feel its benefits.  Life in any form is our perpetual responsibility."

- S. Parkes Cadman

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Dolphins "Regenerate" Missing Flesh

Author Michael Zasloff, a professor of immunology at Georgetown University, wondered how dolphins survive huge shark bites without bleeding to death or falling victim to infection from the many bacteria in sharks' mouths. Not only do dolphins recover from "basketball-sized" bites, they regenerate the missing flesh and heal over with no scarring or sign of injury. "That's impossible," Zasloff told ABC, "truly impossible."

Zasloff theorizes that dolphins can produce stem cells that regenerate the bitten-off tissue, or any other kind of tissue that's needed. "The repair of a gaping wound to an appearance that is near normal requires the ability of the injured animal to knit newly formed tissues with the existing fabric of adipocytes, collagen and elastic fibers," Zasloff explained. "The dolphin's healing is similar to how mammalian fetuses are able to heal in the womb."

But what about infection? Even if the dolphin didn't fall prey to the shark's bacteria, swimming around in the ocean with an open wound invites infection. Zasloff thinks that dolphins may have their own little supply of antibiotics, siphoned off from other ocean creatures like plankton or algae when the dolphin eats them, and then stored in fat for later use.

Another mystery Zasloff has been pondering for the past nine years is why dolphins with these large wounds don't appear to be in pain. Zasloff notes that not showing weakness or pain is an evolutionary response (so that predators can't tell which animals are weak), but he thinks dolphins may make their own version of morphine. "I propose that the wound itself is releasing a pain-relieving substance, and it must be unbelievably powerful."

The dolphin's amazing ability to recover from wounds that would be catastrophic to humans could be a boon to researchers... if, that is, they can scientifically verify how exactly dolphins are doing it in the first place. "My hope is this work will stimulate research that will benefit humans," says Zasloff. "I feel reasonably certain that within this animal's healing wounds we will find novel antimicrobial agents as well as potent analgesic compounds." Zasloff's only lament is that this research isn't happening fast enough, and that his own work is hampered by his limited "access to dolphins."

- More Here

Wisdom Of The Week

"These are findings that are incredibly powerful and important. We think we see with our eyes, but the reality is that we largely see with our brains. Our brain is a master at giving us what we expect to see. It’s all about expectation, and when things violate expectation we are just unaware of them. We go around the world with a sense that we pay attention to lots of things. The reality is that we notice much less than we think. And if we notice so much less than we think, what does that mean about our ability to figure out things around us, to learn and improve? It means we have a serious problem. I think this book has done a tremendous job in showing how even in vision, which is such a good system in general, we are poorly tooled to make good decisions.

If you think about the financial crisis, it was to some degree caused by conflicts of interest. You pay a group of people a lot of money to see reality in a distorted way, and lo and behold they are able to do it. Now you would think that in the case of people working for Lehman Brothers, for example, that the firm wanted them to see reality correctly. But they paid them to see reality incorrectly. What ended up happening is that people saw reality as they wanted to see it, not as it really was. This is an example of this issue coming into play in a big, important and quite devastating way."

Dan Airely on The Invisible Gorilla

Quote of the Day

“Is joy sometimes in the head, sometimes more visceral, sometimes a thrill, and sometimes an expansiveness, or, instead, does joy have a single, consistent core — a distinctive, identifiable, unique experiential character?”

Perplexities of Consciousness by Eric Schwitzgebel

Friday, July 29, 2011

Management Styles - The Difference Between Apple And Google

“Apple Is a Design Company With Engineers; Google Is an Engineering Company With Designers.”


A must watch talk on Auteur Theory of Design by John Gruber

Good Liars

Fascinating paper - full pdf here:

"Abstract: A neglected area in deception research is what constitutes a good liar. On the basis of deception theory, people's views about how liars respond, impression for- mation theory and persuasion theory, we describe 18 attributes that in our view are pre- sent in a good liar. Insight into these characteristics will help law enforcement person- nel in two ways: It provides insight into who would be suitable for undercover opera- tions, and it may help lie detectors, because one reason why people make errors in lie detection is that they do not take the full complexity of deception into account and seem to have limited knowledge about what is actually going on in a liar's mind."

Quote of the Day

"I am among those who think that science has great beauty. A scientist in his laboratory is not only a technician: he is also a child placed before natural phenomena which impress him like a fairy tale."

- Marie Curie

Thursday, July 28, 2011

3D Printing - The World's First Printed Plane

- More Here

Benefits Of Exercise On Brain Health & Cognition

The reviewed studies suggest that both aerobic exercise and can have significant positive effects on  and function, but more research is needed to better elucidate these effects.
"It is increasingly prevalent in the print media, television, and the Internet to be bombarded with advertisements for products and programs to enhance mental and physical health in a relatively painless fashion through miracle elixirs, computer-based training, or gaming programs, or brief exercise programs," the authors say. "Although there is little convincing scientific evidence for such claims, there have been some promising developments in the scientific literature with regard to physical activity and  effects on cognitive and  health."

- More Here

Quote of the Day

"The mind is its own place, and in it self Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven."

- John Milton,
Paradise Lost

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Marc Hauser Lecture On Morality

- Via Here

Quote of the Day

"I infer that our President has had a very deep, very true, and indeed very depressing education in public choice economics.  And I infer that any path to a workable fiscal conservatism will be tougher and more painful and more distortionary than we had thought.

Personally, I still would opt for an alternative route, even if it were doomed to fail politically.  But that’s a luxury I have precisely because I am not…President of the United States."

- Tyler Cowen

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Importance of Trail and Error in Nudge & Future of Nudge

"Policymakers who work with behavioral scientists to identify particular behavioral problems (e.g. Why don’t people save more in their retirement accounts? Why do people fail to take advantage of a social program they’ve started to apply to?) and understand how and why they form are the ones most likely to benefit from behavioral insights – in combination, of course, with other traditional insights. So are those where considerable thought is given to questions about the scalability of a particular behavioral solution. Skipping ahead to technical solutions in the form of handy lists of nudges may be tempting, but is likely to lead to unsatisfactory results.

There is also a much bigger political debate going on in the background of these conversations. Is behavioral science a challenge to the regulatory state or a supporter of it? Is it ideologically left, right, or center? When is a nudge a shove? What constitutes “voluntary”? Are behavioral policies transformative or cute and tiny? Perhaps you think applied behavioral scientists should grapple with these questions. Or perhaps you think they are largely irrelevant to the particular problems and policymakers who work in partnership with them. Like other political debates, these are philosophical ones that can go in circles without reaching clear resolutions. That’s fine. Individual societies with differing social and cultural values will settle on answers to their own level of satisfaction. Either way, applying behavioral science is not a mandate, it is a choice. The applied behavioral scientists and those who would like to engage with them, in the public and private sectors, should (and hopefully will) continue to do so with an openness to scientific experimentation, a commitment to rigor, and an expectation of realism."

- More Here

Socrates On Internet

Quote of the Day

"When I am attacked by gloomy thoughts, nothing helps me so much as running to my books. They quickly absorb me and banish the clouds from my mind."

- Michel de Montaigne

Monday, July 25, 2011

What Ants Can Teach Us

Ants provided some guidance for Doug Lawson, a systems analyst at Southwest Airlines.

"Because we know that ants have accomplished these amazing things right based on very simple rules, we know that if we want to see something complicated happen - like completely filling the interior of an aircraft with people - we know that simple ant-type behavior is adequate to represent what's occurring," Lawson said.

"So Southwest Airlines said, 'Help us figure out the most efficient way to help us get our passengers on a plane,' and you said, 'I know - I'll use ants'?" asked Salie.

"Yeah, right. Because they do complicated things with very simple rules," Lawson said.

Lawson used mathematically-modeled ants to determine the most efficient way of boarding a plane, which turns out to be open seating.

"So Southwest's way of boarding without seat numbers is actually more efficient than when I board another airline and know exactly what my seat is?" asked Salie.

"Right. When we simulated what the different airlines are doing, it turns out that with assigned seats, there's a one-third chance that you're going to ask two people to get up, whereas open seating - since the middle seat is the undesirable one - generally that's the one that's last to be filled, [so] only one person is likely to get up, the person sitting near the aisle," said Lawson. "I may have to ask somebody to get up and get out of the way to let me get to a seat, and that's about it. So it's really simple."

- via FS

Quote of the Day

"Love is not the dying moan of a distant violin, it’s the triumphant twang of a bedspring"

S.J. Perelman

Sunday, July 24, 2011

What I've been Reading

This year's Pulitzer prize winner -  The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee. A fascinating journey spread out across 4000 years - from Egyptian Mummy to Greek queen Atossa (circa 500 B.C) to Harvard medical. This audacious endeavor would make anyone's head spin. Wonder, where these doctors get time to write such wonderful books (Mukherjee joins that elite team of Gawande, Goorpman et al).

The book ends with an open question...
In the end, every biography must also confront the death of its subject. Is the end of cancer conceivable in the future? Is it possible to eradicate this disease from our bodies and our societies forever?

Murkherjee also "predicts" that in the future, this battle against cancer might remain the same - "the relentlessness, the inventiveness, the resilience, the queasy pivoting between defeatism and hope, the hypnotic drive for universal solutions, the disappointments of defeat, the arrogance and the hubris." 
In other words, it's up-to that eternal conundrum - human nature, which has the potential to win or lose this battle or make it more stagnant. We simply cannot predict it.

P.S. I wonder, why Mukherjee never mentioned P53 - Tumor Protein 53 in the book?

Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara

If we can subside that inevitable urge to compare with the classic Dil Chatha Hai then we would love Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. I did - it's a Farhan Akhtar's show all along; the actor in him sizzles. His poems were mesmerizing and much better than the songs.

Quote of the Day

"Love and you shall be loved. All love is mathematically just, as much as two sides of an algebraic equation."

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Deciphering Emotional Intelligence via Sensors

"Some of our body's responses during a conversation are not designed for broadcast to another person - but it's possible to monitor those too. Your temperature and skin conductance can also reveal secrets about your emotional state, and Picard can tap them with a glove-like device called the Q Sensor. In response to stresses, good or bad, our skin becomes clammy, increasing its conductance, and the Q Sensor picks this up.

Physiological responses can now even be tracked remotely, in principle without your consent. Last year, Picard and one of her graduate students showed that it was possible to measure heart rate without any surface contact with the body. They used software linked to an ordinary webcam to read information about heart rate, blood pressure and skin temperature based on, among other things, colour changes in the subject's face (Optics Express, vol 18, p 10762).

It's not too much of a stretch to imagine that these sensors could combine to populate the ultimate emotion-reading device. How would the world change if we could all read each other's social signals accurately? Baron-Cohen has already seen the benefits in his studies of people with Asperger's syndrome at the Autism Research Centre in Cambridge, UK. "It's not a miracle cure," he says, but people equipped with Picard's technology were learning extra social skills. Baron-Cohen says the wearers retained some ability to read emotions accurately after they removed the glasses. Such enhancements for the rest of the population might increase emotional intelligence through the generations."

- via MR (Affectiva website)

A History of Air Conditioning

"In late 19th-century America, engineers had the money and the ambition to pick up where the Romans had left off. In 1881, a dying President James Garfield got a respite from Washington, D.C.'s oppressive summer swelter thanks to an awkward device involving air blown through cotton sheets doused in ice water. Like Elagabalus before him, Garfield's comfort required enormous energy consumption; his caretakers reportedly went through half a million pounds of ice in two months.
The big breakthrough, of course, was electricity. Nikola Tesla's development of alternating current motors made possible the invention of oscillating fans in the early 20th century. And in 1902, a 25-year-old engineer from New York named Willis Carrier invented the first modern air-conditioning system. The mechanical unit, which sent air through water-cooled coils, was not aimed at human comfort, however; it was designed to control humidity in the printing plant where he worked. In 1922, he followed up with the invention of the centrifugal chiller, which added a central compressor to reduce the unit's size. It was introduced to the public on Memorial Day weekend, 1925, when it debuted at the Rivoli Theater in Times Square. For years afterward, people piled into air-conditioned movie theaters on hot summer days, giving rise to the summer blockbuster.
It's not an exaggeration to say that Carrier's innovation shaped 20th-century America. In the 1930s, air conditioning spread to department stores, rail cars, and offices, sending workers' summer productivity soaring. Until then, central courtyards and wide-open windows had offered the only relief. Residential air conditioning was slower to take hold: As late as 1965, just 10 percent of U.S. homes had it, according to the Carrier Corporation. Families in the South made do by sleeping on the porch or even putting their underwear in the icebox. By 2007, however, the number was 86 percent. As cool air spread across the country, Sun Belt cities that had been unbearable in the summer became more attractive places to live and work, facilitating a long-term shift in U.S. population."

- More Here

Wisdom of the Week

"The Republican refusal to countenance any way to raise revenues to tackle the massive debt incurred largely on their watch and from a recession which started under Obama's predecessor makes one thing clear. They are not a political party in government; they are a radical faction that refuses to participate meaningfully in the give and take the Founders firmly believed should be at the center of American government. They are not conservatives in this sense. They are anarchists.

Their fiscal anarchism has now led to their threat to destabilize and possibly upend the American and global economy because they refuse to compromise an inch. They control only one part of the government, and yet they hold all of it hostage. I cannot believe they are prepared to allow the US to default rather than give an inch toward responsibility. Except I should believe it by now. Everything I have written about them leads inexorably to this moment. Opposing overwhelming public opinion on the need for a mixed package of tax hikes and spending cuts, drawing the president into a position far to the right of the right of his party, and posturing absurdly as fiscal conservatives, they are in fact anti-tax and anti-government fanatics, and this is their moment of maximal destruction.

Coming from abroad, this country seems as if it is beyond dysfunctional. It looks like a banana republic on the verge of economic collapse. Now that Nixon's dream has come true and the GOP is fundamentally the party of the Confederacy, it was perhaps naive to think they could ever accept the legitimacy of this president, or treat him with respect or act as adults in the governing process.

But this is who they are. I longed for Obama to bridge this gulf in ideology. But he cannot bridge it alone, especially when the GOP is determined to burn the bridge entirely, even when presented with a deal so tilted to the right only true fanatics could possibly walk away from it. And so the very republic is being plunged into crisis and possible depression by a single, implacable, fanatical faction. Until they are defeated, the country remains in more peril than we know."

- Words of Wisdom From

Quote of the Day (& Cable News Parasites)

"As our window onto the world, and onto ourselves, a popular medium molds what we see and how we see it—eventually, if we use it enough, it changes who we are, as individuals."

- Nicholas Carr, author of
The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains

That's exactly the problem with cable news. Cable news addicts have become quasi-parasites (oblivious to themselves), acting as carriers of dissonance across all factions of the society. They have the most prefect sense of certainty, instant panacea and omnipotent knowledge. In other words, delusional. Self reflection is the only cure but self reflection is impossible when sinking in a quagmire of dissonance.

Friday, July 22, 2011

A Concert For Dogs

"Lou Reed and I got to curate this music theater festival at the Sydney Opera House last summer, so we got to invite all of our favorite people. I said during one of the meetings, “And we will also do a concert for dogs.” And they said, “OK, concert for dogs.” They didn’t even think about it, they just wrote it down and it became part of the program. We began the concert with a sort of introduction of all these whale sounds and it was on the same premise as “Why do whales sing?”—“Why do dogs bark?”

We expected only a few hundred dogs—and thousands of dogs showed up. We had areas for small, medium, and large. There were a lot of rocker dogs. You know, I want rock! They were just this wonderful audience. My favorite were the ones in the front row—the droolers. And they were like, [makes facial expression]. Plus they had all been really primed because for one week before the show, all of the owners of the dogs had been like, “We are going to a concert just for you—you are going to love it.” So they were like, “ Yes!” 

It was a short concert—it was twenty minutes. But we got a lot done and there were no dogfights at all. It was really wonderful. We played some things that had to do with rhythm, because those of you who have dogs know that when you’re walking the dog, it is a rhythmic relationship, otherwise you are dragging them down the street or you are being dragged. You have to synchronize and get into a groove. So we played some things that were more or less dancing, walking things, and people moved a little bit. 

It really was the most wonderful musical experience I’ve ever had. Then I got a lot of invitations to “do a dog concert here,” and I was so afraid because I don’t really want to be the “dog concert” musician, as much as I love them. So if any of you want to organize one, it is really fun. Just have a small one to start. Oh also, I forgot, at the end, we did some howling. Once they got permission to howl, of course everyone was like, “Hooowwwwwl!” 

Have you ever done concerts with whales?"

- More Here on Extending our Senses

Ayrton Senna - A Documentary

Quote of the Day

"The paradox of common sense, then, is that even as it helps us make sense of the world, it can actively undermine our ability to understand it."

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Not-Invented-Here Bias - Dan Ariely

"We can get attached not only to objects but to our own ideas. Too much, sometimes. Let Edison be a lesson."
- Dan Areily

How to Turn Republicans and Democrats Into Americans - Mickey Edwards

Great piece by Mickey Edwards which has the potential to change the course of this country for good and yes, the Max keeps that dreamer inside me alive. Let's wish this happens in our lifetime.  

I am not calling for a magical political “center”: many of the most important steps forward in our history have not come from the center at all, including women’s suffrage and the civil-rights movement, and even our founding rebellion against the British crown. Nor am I pleading for consensus: consensus is not possible in a diverse nation of 300 million people (compromise is the essential ingredient in legislative decision-making). And I’m not pushing for harmony: democracy depends on vigorous debate among competing views. The problem is not division but partisanship—advantage-seeking by private clubs whose central goal is to win political power. There are different ways to conduct elections and manage our government—and strengthen the democratic process. Here are some suggestions designed to turn our political system on its head, so that people, not parties, control our government.
  • Break the power of partisans to keep candidates off the general-election ballot.
  • Turn over the process of redrawing congressional districts to independent, nonpartisan commissions.
  • Allow members of any party to offer amendments to any House bill and—with rare exceptions—put those amendments to a vote.
  • Change the leadership structure of congressional committees.
  • Fill committee vacancies by lot.
  • Choose committee staff solely on the basis of professional qualifications.
Fareed's take on this and the cable news which is hell bent on de-democrazing this
"Polarization has been fueled by a new media, which have also been narrowcast. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) gave an interview to the Wall Street Journal in which he suggested that he might further the conservative agenda through an occasional compromise. That provoked a tirade from Rush Limbaugh, which then produced a torrent of angry e-mails and phone calls to Issa’s office. Issa quickly and publicly apologized to Limbaugh and promised only opposition to President Obama. Multiply that example a thousandfold, and you have the daily dynamic of Congress.

It’s depressing — but the fact that our politics are the result of structural shifts means that they can be changed. Mickey Edwards, a Republican and a former House member from Oklahoma, has a highly intelligent essay in Atlantic magazine, suggesting a series of reforms that could make a difference. Some of them are large-scale, such as creating truly open primaries and handing over the power of redistricting to independent commissions. Others are seemingly small but crucial changes in congressional procedure and practice, for example, filling committee vacancies by lot and staffing committees with professionals rather than with political apparatchiks."

Quote of the Day

"Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat."

– Teddy Roosevelt

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Reframing Excuses

"Here are some reframing questions that you can try on your excuses. Think of your biggest excuse for not succeeding at something, and apply these questions to it

  • Are you saying that I should encourage you to fail because your excuse is valid?
  • Are you saying that you should encourage me to fail if I have your same excuse?
  • Has there ever been someone in history who has succeeded in spite of your excuse?
  • How might someone who has succeeded at your goal think about your excuse?
  • What’s your life going to be like 5 years from now if you believe this excuse?

Apply these questions to your excuse for success and see how they work. And on a final note, just remember that the true movers and shakers of the world make no excuses for themselves, and thus, they don’t apologize for their success because they’ve earned it."

- More Here

Organic Pet Food & Health Benefits

And buyers should beware when reading labels — just as they should in the grocery store. Just because a pet food markets itself as "grain free" or "byproduct free" doesn't necessarily mean it will make a difference to an animal's health, says Dr. Jennifer Larsen, a veterinarian and professor of clinical nutrition at UC Davis.

"Food doesn't have to prove health benefits," she says. "Unless an individual pet has a specific documented intolerance to a certain type of grain, there's no advantage."

Furthermore, a "grain-free" food isn't necessarily higher in protein, Larsen adds. "It can still contain ingredients such as tapioca and peas. Often those diets are simply high in fat."

How does a pet owner filter though all this information? Since every animal is different, experimentation may be in order to find the right food, says Scanlan, the holistic vet. "But just because something
should be good for them doesn't mean it is. There is no such thing as 'the' best diet."

- More Here, nevertheless it's a great progress from the ubiquitous BHA/BPA ridden pet foods.

Quote of the Day

“Sometimes when people are under stress, they hate to think, and it’s the time when they most need to think.”

- Bill Clinton

Monday, July 18, 2011

In Defence of Dogs - John Bradshaw

Review of John Bradshaw's new book In Defence of Dogs - here:

"His account of the evolution of dogs is fascinating. Surveying the latest research, he concludes that the dog's epic journey towards domestication probably started around 20,000 years ago. Dogs have become almost a separate species from wolves, and their evolution continues to confound biologists. What Bradshaw is keen to stress, though, is the unique evolutionary pact between humans and dogs: we have programmed into them a deep need for relationships with humans, which we must treat with respect.
This material underpins Bradshaw's most compelling chapters, which explore the emotional lives of dogs. The revelation here for many dog owners might perhaps be that dogs' emotional repertoires are much more limited than we generally think. Research confirms that most dog owners are convinced their dogs can feel and display complex emotions – particularly guilt. In fact, there is almost no evidence for this; dogs simply do not have the self-awareness for such emotions. But in persisting with the notion that dogs have this advanced understanding of their actions – and our expectations – we end up punishing them in ways they cannot understand. Dogs are specialists in love, fear and joy. But we must stop assuming their knowledge of emotions beyond their grasp.
Elsewhere in these sections, Bradshaw tackles the question: "Does your dog love you?" The answer is yes: probably even more than you think. Dogs are profoundly attached to their owners, and this love – a term Bradshaw happily uses – is often at the root of their apparent misbehaviour. For example, dogs not properly trained to understand that when we leave we will return can be plunged into the depths of anxiety when we are not around. Bradshaw estimates that up to 20% of dogs suffer from "separation distress" when left alone at home."

Neuromotor Fitness - New Addition Into Exercise Guidelines

"Exercise focusing on balance, agility and coordination for 20 minutes on two or more days per week.

The benefits and recommendations have been expanded in this version of the ACSM guidelines.  The authors note the growing literature supporting the benefits of exercise such as tai chi and yoga in promoting balance and flexibility.  Balance and flexibility become increasingly important to counteract the effects of aging.  There is more research support for these types of exercise programs to reduce risk of falls and fall-related medical complications in older individuals."

- More Here

Quote of the Day

"The tools we use have a profound (and devious!) influence on our thinking habits, and, therefore, on our thinking abilities."

- Edsger W. Dijkstra, Selected Writings on Computing.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Preserving Olfactory Memory

Perfumes can be preserved for long periods of time when kept from light and oxygen, and ambient odors can often be analyzed and distilled into a chemical formula, which can be re-created synthetically by a skilled perfumer.
A pioneer of this approach is Roman Kaiser, a Swiss fragrance chemist who developed a technology called “headspace” in the 1970s that made it possible to capture and analyze the scent given off by flowers and other objects. Using a glass container, a pump, and a sampling trap that gathers molecules using a solvent or coated surface, the system allows a chemist or perfumer to gather the volatile scent molecules exuded by an object without harming it. In 1995, Kaiser read a book called “Vanishing Flora” that contained beautiful, detailed illustrations of rare and endangered plants, and had an idea: He convinced his employer, Givaudan, the world’s largest flavor and fragrance company, to let him embark on an olfactory version of the project.
Over the past 10 years, Kaiser has traveled the globe to capture the scents of hundreds of rare and endangered plants. His recently published book, “Scent of the Vanishing Flora,” contains lists of chemicals representing the formula for each plant’s scent, and he has also reconstituted many of these fragrances synthetically. His main purpose was to show people the olfactory beauty in nature, but it also has scientific value: A plant’s scent is an important component of its evolution and ecology. “These are documents,” Kaiser says, “so you would be able in 200 years to re-create these scents when all these plants do not exist any more.”

- via Q3D. May be someday, odor from Max's wet nose can be "recreated" as well...

Quote of the Day

"Whether epidemiology alone can, in strict logic, ever prove causality, even in this modern sense, may be questioned, but same must also be said of laboratory experiments on animals."

- Richard Doll

Saturday, July 16, 2011

How To Save A Snapping Turtle

via Andrew

The God Complex - Tim Harford

Tim Harford author of the new book, Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure on TED - one the best talks so far this year.

What is God Complex? - via wiki - "A god complex is a non-clinical term generally used to describe an individual who consistently believes he or she can accomplish more than is humanly possible or that their opinion is automatically above those with whom he or she may disagree. The individual may believe he or she is above the rules of society and should be given special consideration or privileges."

Wisdom of the Week

"We are far from having a clear model that connects all these dots; what I offer is conjecture based on research that has not made the leap to claim those connections. However, the argument is suggestive; it gives us a framework to grapple with the idea that many of us are, by a combination of nature, nurture, and the interactions between us, much better and less selfish than our standard models predict, as philosophers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and David Hume have argued. In fact, it brings the centuries-old debate between Hobbes and Rousseau—or between the Adam Smith of The Wealth of Nations and the Adam Smith of The Theory of Moral Sentiments—to the present, with genetics and fMRI studies thrown in as fresh evidence. Over the past decade, Rousseau seems to have gained the advantage over Hobbes."

- The Unselfish Genes

Quote of the Day

"It used to be said that the Victorians of the nineteenth century talked incessantly about death but were silent about sex, whereas today we talk incessantly about sex and are silent about death."

- Richard John Neuhaus

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Neuroscience of the Debt Debate... Seriously!!

"In fact, around 50 percent of prisoner's dilemma games played by real people end in mutual cooperation, with both partners showing tight-lipped solidarity. In essence, our brains seem primed for a level of cooperation beyond what's theoretically in our rational best interest. Without this bias, our species may never have struck on such fundamentally trust-based behaviors as reciprocal food sharing—a thought that puts present political squabbles into perspective.
To put it another way, the neural operations in social decision-making involve calculating trust as well as implementing strategy. In support of this claim, several recent functional MRI brain scanning studies have shown that activation of the ventral striatum—a deep structure in the forebrain—predicts the intention to trust a partner in games similar to the prisoner's dilemma."

- More
Here or just call it ego games. 

Quote of the Day

"I don't know what happiness is but it's definitely NOT just going with the flow. Going with the flow, for Christ sake? Don't ever go with the flow. Stop the flow, go against the flow, start the flow, but don't under any circumstance just go with the flow."
- Ricky Gervais

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Animal Welfare & Moral Progress - Peter Singer

An excellent news sans China via Peter Singer - here:

"First, the British House of Commons passed a motion directing the government to impose a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses. The motion followed the release of undercover footage, obtained by Animal Defenders International, of a circus worker repeatedly beating Anne, an elephant. The measure was, at least initially, opposed by the Conservative government, but supported by members of all political parties. In a triumph for parliamentary democracy, the motion passed without dissent.
More controversially, the lower house of the Dutch parliament passed a law giving the Jewish and Islamic communities a year to provide evidence that animals slaughtered by traditional methods do not experience greater pain than those that are stunned before they are killed. If the evidence cannot be provided, stunning before slaughter will be required in the Netherlands.
At times, it has seemed that gains for animals in Western countries have been outweighed by increasing animal abuse in China, as growing prosperity there boosts demand for animal products. I found it difficult to watch the videotape of the beating of Anne, but that recording did not compare to videos I have seen of animal cruelty in China.
The sickening footage available online shows bears kept in cages so small that they cannot stand up, or in some cases move at all, so that bile can be taken from them. Worse still (if one can compare such atrocities) is a video showing fur-bearing animals being skinned alive and thrown onto a pile of other animals, where they are left to die slowly.
In light – perhaps one should say darkness – of such images, it is sometimes suggested that animal welfare is exclusively a Western concern. But that is implausible, given that Buddhist tradition places more emphasis on concern for animals than Judaism, Christianity, or Islam. Long before Western philosophers included animals in their ethics, Chinese philosophers like Zhuangzi said that love should permeate relations not only between humans, but between all sentient beings. Nowadays, China has its own animal-rights campaigners, and there are signs that their message is beginning to be heard."

Testosterone & Neural Representation Of Winning

"One area being disrupted relates to dominance, a decent laboratory stand-in for winning. Scientists have long thought that dominance is largely determined by testosterone: the more you have, the more likely you are to prevail, and not just on the playing field. Testosterone is desirable in the boardroom, in the courthouse, and in other scenarios that reward risk and bold action. Twenty-five years ago, scientists proved the hormone’s role in winning streaks: a win gives you a jolt of T, which gives you an edge in your next competition, which gives you more T, and so on, in a virtuous sex-hormone feedback loop."

- More Here 

Quote of the Day

"It is said that if know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle."

The Art of War, Sun Tuz

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Why We Need Whales

"The second way in which animals can boost ocean productivity is by nutrient scavenging - feeding at depth and bringing nutrients back to the sunlit zone. Sperm whales, for instance, feed on squid and fish at great depths, and defecate at the surface. Models suggest that this recycling of deep material may well be significant for essential elements such as iron.
On a local scale, humpback whales in the Gulf of Maine have also been shown to scavenge nutrients. In fact, they release more nitrogen at the surface than flows in from all the rivers (PLoS One, vol 5, p e13255).
Many other species are known to feed in deep waters on occasion and return to the surface, including seals, penguins, turtles, seabirds and sunfish, so it is possible these animals also return significant amounts of nutrients to surface layers.
Surprisingly, even krill may play a part. While they were thought to live in the upper 200 metres of water, krill have recently been observed at much greater depths. There is footage of krill 3500 metres down on the sea floor, apparently feeding on material that has sunk to the bottom (Current Biology, vol 18, p 282). If krill regularly feed on the sea floor and return to the surface, this may be an important route for bringing nutrients from the sediments back to the surface.
Of course, the opposite process also occurs. Animals that feed near the surface at night and return to deeper waters take nutrients back down with them. We don't yet know on what scale nutrients are removed from and returned to the surface in this way or what the overall net effect is, so the importance of nutrient scavenging to the productivity of the oceans remains to be established."

- More Here

Meditation Is A Powerful Painkiller

It's now Jonah Lehrer's turn to write on Meditation:

"Consider a study by scientists at Wake Forest University. After only a few days of meditation training—teaching people to better focus their attention, concentrating less on the discomfort and more on a soothing stimulus—subjects reported a 57% reduction in the “unpleasantness” of their pain. Such improvements are roughly equivalent to the benefits of morphine.
A brain scanner showed how the intervention worked. Learning to meditate altered brain activity in the very same regions, such as the insula and anterior cingulate cortex, that are targeted by next-generation pain medications. It’s as if the subjects were administering their own painkillers.
While this research demonstrates the therapy’s practicality—it typically took less than two hours of training to see a marked improvement—it’s not the first time that scientists have demonstrated a connection between meditation and reduced sensitivity to pain. Previous studies have shown that experienced Zen meditators have significantly higher pain thresholds and that meditation training can reduce the anxiety associated with intense discomfort.
But meditation isn’t the only mind-based approach that has gotten impressive results. Researchers at Duke University recently looked at a wide variety of psychological interventions for chronic lower back pain, including cognitive behavioral therapy, biofeedback and hypnosis. In almost every case, these treatments proved effective, leading to improved health outcomes at a fraction of the cost of conventional medical approaches.
The larger lesson is that, for far too long, we’ve been treating pain as a purely physical problem, a sensation rooted in the breakdown of the flesh. As a result, we’ve invested in costly and often ineffective surgeries, such as spinal fusion, that attempt to fix the mechanical failure.
But this approach oversimplifies an extremely complex condition. It’s now clear that pain is best understood as a mental state concerning the body, an objective sensation terribly twisted by the brain. And that’s why these psychological interventions sometimes work better than scalpels: They help us to untwist our thoughts."