Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Wisdom for Life...

David Brooks's second installment of the life reports... no question all these cumulative wisdom corresponds a "happy" life; The question is this good for  progress of morality and civilization?

Finally, the essays present disturbing quandaries. For example, we are told to live for others. But one savvy retiree writes, “Don’t stay with people who, over time, grow apart from you. Move on. This means do what you think will make you feel okay — even if that makes others feel temporarily not okay.”

Is that selfishness or hard-earned realism? That one you’ll have to answer for yourself.

Quote of the Day

"When Pakistani-trained, -supplied, -subsidized, or -harbored terrorists kill American soldiers, we are to accept that the government in Islamabad has no control over its wild lands and regrets terrorist and insurgent violence as much as we do. When, on the other hand, Americans either accidentally or in frustration strike back, then the usual street protests, government smears, and litany of threats follow from Pakistan — which are supposedly to pacify the Pakistani street, and yet by back-channel assurances not endanger the stream of American dollars flowing into the coffers of the Pakistani government elite and military. No better emblem of this was General Musharraf, who occasionally offered his ritual damnations of the U.S., while a large part of his family did pretty well living in America."

- Victor Davis Hanson

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Steve Jobs Brainstorming at NeXT

- via Ben

Messianic Hopes and Politics in the Food Movement

"The ability to eat high-quality food is a luxury, and until that changes, it’s hard to believe that those of more modest financial means with families to feed will be persuaded to forego the convenience and price of, say, McDonald’s in favor of a healthier approach. The superiority of the good-food movement’s arguments is not self-evident when stacked against the realities of limited resources. Ethical and nutritional appeals alone are not enough to overcome the structural advantages of Big Food. For the movement to take the next step forward, it will have to find new and effective ways to reach people beyond the aisles of Whole Foods and bring them into the fold.

The U.S. food system is too global, too all-encompassing a network to be overhauled by one approach. It will take many incremental changes and varied strategies, and it will take politics. This will require playing politics the way it is typically played: with money, with lobbyists, with carefully disciplined strategies, and with targeted messages. An ability to live with compromises, and a realistic understanding of how inert something as institutionalized as food will be when it comes to actual change, needs to become part of the movement. It is encouraging that there have been recent signs of a move toward more concrete and broader political goals. In a New York Times op-ed piece in February 2009, Alice Waters proposed a significant expansion of the National School Lunch Program and called for tripling the program’s budget from $9 billion to $27 billion. Whether or not this particular initiative stands a chance of being realized, it is a step in the right direction.

Similarly, Michael Pollan, in an op-ed in the Times in September, suggested that health care reform could finally provide the food movement with an ally in its fight against intractable agribusinesses. Under present circumstances, health insurers benefit handsomely from our chronically unhealthy food system. “One of the leading products of the American food industry has become patients for the American health care industry,” Pollan writes. But should health care reform pass, he says, this equation may change in the food system’s favor: “When health insurers can no longer evade much of the cost of treating the collateral damage of the American diet, the movement to reform the food system—everything from farm policy to food marketing and school lunches—will acquire a powerful and wealthy ally, something it has never had before.”

Pollan’s idea strikes me as a perceptive, and more important, as a pragmatic idea. It’s a reminder of how shrewd a thinker he can be. Partnering with the much-vilified health insurance industry is the kind of political calculus that the movement will inevitably need to make. Alliances with less-than-appetizing interests are a necessary way forward. Progress may well mean sacrificing the movement’s pristine image. How the sausage gets made, after all, isn’t quite an organic process."

- More Here

To get up-to speed with the "definition" of the food problem, check out the following books: 
Of-course don't forget to support GM crops (sans that notorious patent restrictions) and when time comes, please embrace IVF meat. And most importantly learn about Norman Borlaugh and pay your gratitude to him for making a world better place for us or in other words, how he helped us (which includes you) forget hunger.
For those who are not "into" reading books (yes, people do proudly proclaim that without a hint of irony), then you can order a free (yes, "free") DVD on Norman Borlaugh - Freedom from famine

Quote of the Day

"Most people return small favors, acknowledge medium ones and repay greater ones - with ingratitude."

- Benjamin Franklin

Monday, November 28, 2011

GDD - Gratitude Deficit Disorder, A Global Epidemic

"Almost everyone I know, from pastors to parents, from cashiers to carpet cleaners, from architects to accountants, suffers from GDD: Gratitude Deficit Disorder. Despite all our good intentions and actions, we receive much more flak than gratitude. We are hungry for genuine appreciation and thanks. We want to know that we matter, that our efforts are making the world a better place.
And so do your customers and vendors and coworkers and friends and family. Think back on the past year. It's been tough for many of us, for many reasons. What have your business associates done that you are truly thankful for? An extra phone call? A volunteer effort? Special customer service? An unsolicited referral or testimonial?

Between now and the end of the year, how can you communicate your appreciation? How can you fill the global hunger for gratitude? How can you catch people in the act of goodness? Spend five minutes now making a list of people you are sincerely grateful towards. Then create an action plan to communicate your thanks, with no hidden agenda."

- More Here

Windows Farms

Well, I have been waiting for this... Windows Farms (order the starter kit)

"Windowfarms let you grow fresh vegetables at home by taking advantage of natural light and climate control indoors. The roots are bathed in nutrients from the sea, preventing food plants from getting root bound (as they do in traditional soil filled containers). You get healthier roots, and fresher, more nutritious vegetables without dirt in small spaces.

By bringing edible gardens into living rooms and kitchens, you learn about where your food comes from while eating the freshest produce available."

Quote of the Day

Some years ago I was trying to decide whether or not to move to Harvard from Stanford. I had bored my friends silly with endless discussion. Finally, one of them said, “You’re one of our leading decision theorists. Maybe you should make a list of the costs and benefits and try to roughly calculate your expected utility.” Without thinking, I blurted out, “Come on, Sandy, this is serious.”

- Persi Diaconis

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Noble "Committee" Might Never Recognize Taleb Because...

A humanist at heart, Mr. Taleb ponders not only the effect of Black Swans but also the reason we have so much trouble acknowledging their existence. And this is where he hits his stride. We eagerly romp with him through the follies of confirmation bias (our tendency to reaffirm our beliefs rather than contradict them), narrative fallacy (our weakness for compelling stories), silent evidence (our failure to account for what we don't see), ludic fallacy (our willingness to oversimplify and take games or models too seriously), and epistemic arrogance (our habit of overestimating our knowledge and underestimating our ignorance).

For anyone who has been compelled to give a long-term vision or read a marketing forecast for the next decade, Mr. Taleb's chapter excoriating "The Scandal of Prediction" will ring painfully true. "What is surprising is not the magnitude of our forecast errors," observes Mr. Taleb, "but our absence of awareness of it." We tend to fail -- miserably -- at predicting the future, but such failure is little noted nor long remembered. It seems to be of remarkably little professional consequence.

- An old review of Taleb's Black Swan (via FS)

The Folly of Fools - The Logic of Deceit & Self-Deception in Human Life

Review of new book The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life by Robert Trivers (via Q3D)

This fundamental insight frames Trivers' wide-ranging exploration of deceit and self-deception in the human and animal worlds. He discusses everything from fish whose body markings make it appear as though their heads are at their tail ends (the better to dart away from predators unexpectedly) to the well-established tendency of men to be more active, and less successful, stock traders than women (men's greater estimation of their abilities leads them to buy and sell more frequently).

Trivers argues that deception, self- and otherwise, has had an unappreciated importance in the evolution of human intelligence. Like the unceasing battle against spam that has led to both better spam filters and cleverer spammers, "deception spawns the mental ability to detect it ... These improved intellectual abilities select for more subtle means of deception, which, in turn, select for greater abilities to detect the deception. In short, deception continually selects for mental ability in the deceived."

I also wish Trivers had spent a bit more time on those circumstances in which self-deception can have positive effects. Telling yourself that you can beat the odds against surviving cancer might spur you to try more aggressive therapies. Believing you can achieve some goal — climbing a mountain, getting a new job, rebuilding an engine — can give you the incentive to actually work at it. The trick, of course, is to not slide into overconfidence or blithely deny unpleasant facts — behaviors which, as Trivers shows time and time again, almost always precede disaster.

Quote of the Day

"There are not books enough on earth to contain the record of the prophecies Indians and other unauthorized parties have made; but one may carry in his overcoat pockets the record of all the prophecies that have been fulfilled."

- Mark Twain

Saturday, November 26, 2011

LUCA - A New Hypothesis on How Life Began

Once upon a time, 3 billion years ago, there lived a single organism called LUCA. It was enormous: a mega-organism like none seen since, it filled the planet's oceans before splitting into three and giving birth to the ancestors of all living things on Earth today.

This strange picture is emerging from efforts to pin down the last universal common ancestor - not the first life that emerged on Earth but the life form that gave rise to all others.

The latest results suggest LUCA was the result of early life's fight to survive, attempts at which turned the ocean into a global genetic swap shop for hundreds of millions of years. Cells struggling to survive on their own exchanged useful parts with each other without competition - effectively creating a global mega-organism.

It was around 2.9 billion years ago that LUCA split into the three domains of life: the single-celled bacteria and archaea, and the more complex eukaryotes that gave rise to animals and plants (see timeline). It's hard to know what happened before the split. Hardly any fossil evidence remains from this time, and any genes that date that far back are likely to have mutated beyond recognition.

- More Here

Wisdom Of The Week

"The effect of a grateful outlook on psychological and physical well-being was examined. In Studies 1 and 2, participants were randomly assigned to 1 of 3 experimental conditions (hassles, gratitude listing, and either neutral life events or social comparison); they then kept weekly (Study 1) or daily (Study 2) records of their moods, coping behaviors, health behaviors, physical symptoms, and overall life appraisals. In a 3rd study, persons with neuromuscular disease were randomly assigned to either the gratitude condition or to a control condition. The gratitude-outlook groups exhibited heightened well-being across several, though not all, of the outcome measures across the 3 studies, relative to the comparison groups. The effect on positive affect appeared to be the most robust finding. Results suggest that a conscious focus on blessings may have emotional and interpersonal benefits."

- Alex Tabarok, MR

Quote of the Day

"We're blind to our blindness. We have very little idea of how little we know. We're not designed to know how little we know. Most of the time, [trying to judge the validity of our own judgements] is not worth doing. But when the stakes are high, my guess is that asking for the advice of other people is better than criticising yourself, because other people are more likely – if they're intelligent and knowledgeable – to understand your motives and your needs.

I'm not a great believer in self-help. The role of my book is to educate gossip, to make people more sophisticated in the way they think about the decisions and judgments of other people, which is easy and pleasant to do. If we have a society in which people had a richer language in which to talk about these issues, I think it would have an indirect effect on people's decisions, because we constantly anticipate the gossip of others."

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Friday, November 25, 2011

Food We Eat Might Control Our Genes

“You are what you eat.” The old adage has for decades weighed on the minds of consumers who fret over responsible food choices.

That is in fact what happens, according to a recent study of plant-animal micro­RNA transfer led by Chen-Yu Zhang of Nanjing University in China. MicroRNAs are short sequences of nucleotides—the building blocks of genetic material. Although microRNAs do not code for proteins, they prevent specific genes from giving rise to the proteins they encode. Blood samples from 21 volunteers were tested for the presence of microRNAs from crop plants, such as rice, wheat, potatoes and cabbage.

The results, published in the journal Cell Research, showed that the subjects’ bloodstream contained approximately 30 different microRNAs from commonly eaten plants. It appears that they can also alter cell function: a specific rice microRNA was shown to bind to and inhibit the activity of receptors controlling the removal of LDL—“bad” cholesterol—from the bloodstream. Like vitamins and minerals, microRNA may represent a previously unrecognized type of functional molecule obtained from food.

- More Here

Daniel Kahneman @ Google Talks

Daniel Kahneman talks about his new book Thinking, Fast and Slow (via FS).

Quote of the Day

"If you have an idea that is surely bad, don't take the time to see how truly awful it is."
- Pat Winston 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Where Turkey Is The Guest, Not The Entree

"Hi sweetheart, Mommy's here," Jamie Cohen says to one of the birds. She's named her Velma. Cohen lives in Baltimore, and drives five hours one way to attend the feast. She has sponsored one of the diners for years. Her chosen bird died of natural causes last winter. (It costs a one-time fee of $30 to sponsor a bird.) So she's picked out a new brown bird. "I wanted to pick out a new turkey and she's as sweet as she can be, loves to be petted, loves to be kissed and held," Cohen says.  As you might have guessed, Cohen doesn't serve up turkey at her Thanksgiving meal.

"We don't want to eat them," Cohen says. "They're no different than dogs and cats. They feel pleasure and pain."

The turkey feast is hosted by the Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen. Susie Coston, the Sanctuary's manager, says she wants to show people how to honor the birds that are normally part of Thanksgiving dinner. "One of the things we try to do is to let people really meet them," Coston says. "They all have names. And they all have personalities. And they all have friendships, and we want people to see them for who they are."

- More Here

My Life as a Turkey

"After a local farmer left a bowl of eggs on Joe Hutto’s front porch, his life was forever changed. Hutto, possessing a broad background in the natural sciences and an interest in imprinting young animals, incubated the eggs and waited for them to hatch. As the chicks emerged from their shells, they locked eyes with an unusual but dedicated mother.

Deep in the wilds of Florida’s Flatlands, Hutto spent each day living as a turkey mother, taking on the full-time job of raising sixteen turkey chicks. Hutto dutifully cared for his family around the clock, roosting with them, taking them foraging, and immersing himself in their world. In the process, they revealed their charming curiosity and surprising intellect. There was little he could teach them that they did not already know, but he showed them the lay of the land and protected them from the dangers of the forest as best he could. In return, they taught him how to see the world through their eyes.

Based on his true story, My Life as a Turkey chronicles Hutto’s remarkable and moving experience of raising a group of wild turkey hatchlings to adulthood."

- PBS Video

(Check out Joe Hutto's book Illumination in the Flatwoods: A Season with the Wild Turkey)

Watch My Life as a Turkey on PBS. See more from NATURE.

Quote of the Day

“Thousands of people who say they ‘love' animals sit down once or twice a day to enjoy the flesh of creatures who have been utterly deprived of everything that could make their lives worth living and who endured the awful suffering and the terror of the abattoirs.”
- Jane Goodall

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Quote of the Day

"We cannot defy the laws of probability, because they capture important truths about the world."

- Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


  • Reminiscent of A History of Violence and No country for old men. 
  • Ryan Gosling is an underrated actor and Carrie Mulligan shines again. 
  • Tyler was right - there are some thrilling scenes. 
  • It's worth a watch just for the above reason. 

Quote of the Day

"It is the difference between the unknown and the unknowable, between science and fantasy, it is a matter of essence. The four points of the compass be logic, knowledge, wisdom and the unknown. Some do bow in that final direction. Others advance upon it. To bow before the one is to lose sight of the three. I may submit to the unknown, but never to the unknowable. The man who bows in that final direction is either a saint or a fool. I have no use for either."

-Roger Zelazny, Lord of Light

Monday, November 21, 2011

Student Debt Refusal Campaign

Not sure who to blame... I am not going to take sides on this one but this will help future students and hopefully will be a wake up call for universities.

As someone who's been writing about student loan debt for a long time, what's most interesting to me here is the role of faculty members in speaking up about the problem. NYU, where Ross teaches labor history and political theory, is among the most expensive private universities in the country. The website includes a pledge for faculty to sign, reading in part, "We faculty can no longer acquiesce to the ruinous impact on our students of the surging cost of higher education." It takes courage for those who draw their paychecks from our current higher education system to stand up and say that it's no longer tenable, and it might lead to some real change.

Critical Thinking In The Age of Ignorance

"Socrates, Plato’s teacher, famously goaded the Athenian authorities by maintaining that he was wiser than the Oracle at Delphi, who claimed to be the wisest, because he, unlike most people (including the Athenian authorities), knew that he did not know anything. Whether Socrates’ humility was sincere or a secret joke at the expense of the powers that be (before said powers put him to death after tiring of his irreverence), the point is that the beginning of wisdom lies in the recognition of how little we really know.

You can think of the paradox in another way: we live in an era when knowledge – in the sense of information – is constantly available in real time through computers, smart phones, electronic tablets, and book readers. And yet we still lack the basic skills of reflecting on such information, of sifting through the dirt to find the worthy nuggets. We are ignorant masses awash in information.

Of course, it may be that humanity has always been short on critical thinking. That’s why we keep allowing ourselves to be talked into supporting unjust wars (not to mention actually dying in them), or voting for people whose main job seems to be to amass as much wealth for the rich as they can get away with. But the need for critical thinking has never been as pressing as in the Internet era. At least in developed countries – but increasingly in underdeveloped ones as well – the problem is no longer one of access to information, but of the lack of ability to process and make sense of that information.

Unfortunately, colleges, high schools, and even elementary schools are unlikely to mandate introductory courses in critical thinking on their own. Education has increasingly been transformed into a commodity system, in which the “customers” (formerly students) are kept happy with personalized curricula while being prepared for the job market (rather than being prepared to be responsible human beings and citizens).

This can and must change, but it requires a grassroots movement that uses blogs, online magazines and newspapers, book clubs and meet-up clubs, and anything else that might work to promote educational opportunities to develop critical-thinking skills. After all, we do know that it is our future."

- Wisdom of Massimo Pigliucci

The "If" Syndrome - Stubbornness, Laziness & Ethical Consumerism

"David Vogel, a skeptic of ethical consumption, argues that beyond the narrow range of the population who really care and are already buying the products that match their values, consumers can’t be counted on. In The Market For Virtue, he cites a study suggesting that consumers:
will only buy a greener product [if] it doesn’t cost more, comes from a brand they know and trust, can be purchased at stores where they already shop, doesn’t require a significant change in habits to use, and has the same level of quality, performance, and endurance as the less-green alternative.

This might indicate that the people who say they care are, to put it bluntly, lying. People don’t want to admit to survey researchers that they don’t care about climate change or workers, so they exaggerate their concerns. But there are other reasons consumers do not act even when they have strong ethical beliefs."

- More Here.

Check out David Vogel's excellent book The Market For Virtue: The Potential And Limits Of Corporate Social Responsibility )

Quote of the Day

"Man's unfailing capacity to believe what he prefers to be true rather than what the evidence shows to be likely and possible has always astounded me. We long for a caring Universe which will save us from our childish mistakes, and in the face of mountains of evidence to the contrary we will pin all our hopes on the slimmest of doubts. God has not been proven not to exist, therefore he must exist."

- Academician Prokhor Zakharov, fictional character from Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


  • If you haven't read Mike Lewis's Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, read it before watching the movie.
  • Brad Pitt will be remembered for this movie. What I mean by that is a clip from this movie will be the final clip in the roll of Brad Pitt clips on the Oscar night of the year he kicks the bucket. 
  • Jonah Hill is gonna receive his first Oscar (talk about "prediction"). 
  • Best movie of the year, period.
  • And fyi -  I am not a sports fan (leave alone baseball). 

"I made one decision in my life based on money, and I swore I' d never do it again."
- Bill Beane

Seven Healthy Sins

Btw., I don't agree with all seven in this list.

Anger can be helpful - for you and for others:

Research published in Psychological Science also found that anger can help prime you to effectively complete unpleasant tasks and compete more forcefully for the things that you need to acquire, such as deeply discounted shoes. Swearing when you stub your toe or staple your finger to your tie alleviates pain by increasing your pain threshold, according to a study in NeuroReport by Richard Stephens at Keele University.

The effect was particularly strong for women. Finally, releasing negative emotions like anger may reduce stress and anxiety that result from bottling up frustration.

Quietly seething over a perceived injustice will increase production of cortisol, a hormone that is related to depression, obesity and suppressed immune function.

Quote of the Day

What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task.

- Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor E. Frankl

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Will We Ever Understand the Brain? - David Eagleman

Wisdom Of The Week

Another area ripe for conservative reappraisal is the environment. Conservatives who sensibly dislike both the centralized regulation of most environmental policy and the untethered apocalypticism of much of the environmental movement have tended to respond with a non sequitur: the environment has mostly become a cause of the Left, therefore environmental problems are either phony or are not worth considering. To be sure, many environmental problems have been overestimated, and the proposed remedies are problematic from several points of view, but conservatives, with only a handful of exceptions, have ceased sustained reflection on how to assess environmental problems seriously, or how to craft non-bureaucratic and non-coercive remedies for many genuine problems that require solutions.

The tortured course that has led to the extreme polarization of environmental issues is beyond the scope of this paper, but suffice it to say that this polarization has been deleterious to both the aims of the environmental movement -- which has allowed environmentalism to become so strongly associated with the aims of the Left as to be no longer worth conservatives competing for -- and the long-term political viability of American conservatism, which has at this point almost entirely conceded areas of sustained public concern (environmental health, the provision of parks, and the protection of wildlife and scenic landscapes) to its political opponents.

There is a small subculture on the Right, known as "free market environmentalism," that offers an alternate path toward environmental protection consistent with conservative principles, including respect for property rights, a strong preference for markets, and our congenital suspicion of government and regulation. The conservative movement would be well served to take those ideas more seriously.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

"It is amazing how the “one percent” epithet, a reference to the top 1% of earners, has caught on in the United States and elsewhere in the developed world. In the United States, this 1% includes all those with a 2006 household income of at least $386,000. In the popular narrative, the 1% is thickly populated with unscrupulous corporate titans, greedy bankers, and insider-trading hedge-fund managers. Reading some progressive economists, it might seem that the answer to all of America’s current problems is to tax the 1% and redistribute to everyone else.

Clearly, this caricature is based on some truth. For instance, corporations, especially in the financial sector, reward too many executives richly despite mediocre performance. But apart from tarring too many with the same brush, there is something deeply troubling about this narrative’s reductionism.

It ignores, for example, the fact that many of the truly rich are entrepreneurs. It likewise ignores the fact that many of the wealthy are sports stars and entertainers, and that their ranks include professionals such as doctors, lawyers, consultants, and even some of our favorite progressive economists. In other words, the rich today are more likely to be working than idle."

Raghuram Rajan

Friday, November 18, 2011

On JS - High Justice Sensitivity

Psychological scientists are trying to determine whether injustice-oriented people like Lisa have a unique way of processing information. In a recent article published in the European Journal of Personality, Anna Baumert and her coauthors suggested that people who spend a lot of time mulling over injustice develop powerful and unique conceptions of injustice that influence their attention to, interpretation of, and memory for information about justice. 

The authors point out that in one experiment, individuals who had high justice sensitivity (JS) “displayed a memory advantage for unjust information.” In a separate experiment, people who had high JS perceived an ambiguous situation as less just than did people with low JS.

According to the article, JS can exert a powerful effect on a person’s cognitive processes: Because justice-related concepts are so accessible to individuals with high JS, ideas about injustice become important parameters for their cognitive functions and potentially lead them to commit more justice-related actions than individuals with low JS.

- More Here

Profile of Svante Paabo

Excellent profile of Svante Paabo from the August issue of New Yorker.

Svante Pääbo heads the institute’s department of evolutionary genetics. He is tall and lanky, with a long face, a narrow chin, and bushy eyebrows, which he often raises to emphasize some sort of irony. Pääbo’s office is dominated by a life-size model of a Neanderthal skeleton, propped up so that its feet dangle over the floor, and by a larger-than-life-size portrait that his graduate students presented to him on his fiftieth birthday. Each of the students painted a piece of the portrait, the over-all effect of which is a surprisingly good likeness of Pääbo, but in mismatched colors that make it look as if he had a skin disease.
At any given moment, Pääbo has at least half a dozen research efforts in progress. When I visited him in May, he had one team analyzing DNA that had been obtained from a forty- or fifty-thousand-year-old finger bone found in Siberia, and another trying to extract DNA from a cache of equally ancient bones from China. A third team was slicing open the brains of mice that had been genetically engineered to produce a human protein.

In Pääbo’s mind, at least, these research efforts all hang together. They are attempts to solve a single problem in evolutionary genetics, which might, rather dizzyingly, be posed as: What made us the sort of animal that could create a transgenic mouse?

The question of what defines the human has, of course, been kicking around since Socrates, and probably a lot longer. If it has yet to be satisfactorily resolved, then this, Pääbo suspects, is because it has never been properly framed. “The challenge is to address the questions that are answerable,” he told me.

“There’s nothing unique about most of science,” Ed Green, a professor of biomolecular engineering at the University of California at Santa Cruz who works on the Neanderthal Genome Project, said. “If you don’t do it, somebody else is going to do it a few months later. Svante is one of the rare people in science for whom that is not true. There wouldn’t even be a field of ancient DNA as we know it without him.”

“It’s a nice rarity in science when people take not only unique but also productive paths,” Craig Venter, who led a rival effort to the Human Genome Project, told me. “And Svante has clearly done both. I have immense respect for him and what he’s done.”

Quote of the Day

"The main point about Darwinian evolution is that it is a process of drift, with no purpose or direction"

- John Gray

Thursday, November 17, 2011

IVF Meat - The Cost vs Taste Hurdle

"Right now, the artificial meat consists of little more than muscle tissue grown from stem cells. An actual piece of meat is substantially more complex, as the muscle fibers have integrated into a coherent tissue and built up through use. Associated tissues, like blood and fat, also contribute to taste, appearance, and texture.

It might be possible to overcome these hurdles. Stem cells for blood and fat have been identified, and culturing them and getting them to differentiate into mature tissues is probably not much more complex than getting muscle fibers to grow in a dish. But this comes back to cost: getting any cells to grow into mature tissues is ferociously expensive, and adding additional cell types will increase the complexity and cost."

- More Here

Terrible Truths...

Ben Casnocha excerpts from David Foster Wallance's unfinished novel The Pale King. Let's take a moment to remember (or learn) the significance of our insignificance.

"I'm talking about the individual US citizen's deep fear, the same basic fear that you and I have and that everybody has except nobody ever talks about it except existentialists in convoluted French prose. Or Pascal. Our smallness, our insignificance and mortality, yours and mine, the thing that we all spend all our time not thinking about directly, that we are tiny and at the mercy of large forces and that time is always passing and that every day we've lost one more day that will never come back and our childhoods are over and our adolescence and the vigor of youth and soon our adulthood, that everything we see around us all the time is decaying and passing, it's all passing away, and so are we, so am I, and given how fast the first forty-two years have shot by it's not going to be long before I too pass away, whoever imagined that there was a more truthful way to put it than "die," "pass away," the very sound of it makes me feel the way I feel at dusk on a wintry Sunday...

And not only that, but everybody who knows me or even knows I exist will die, and then everybody who knows those people and might even conceivably have heven heard of me will die, and so on, and the gravestones and monuments we spend money toh ave put in to make sure we're remembered, these'll last what -- a hundred years? two hundred? -- and they'll crumble, and the grass and insects my decomposition will go to feed will die, and their offspring, or if I'm cremated the trees that are nourished by my windbown ash will die or get cut down and decay, and my urn will decay, and before maybe three or four generations it will be like I never existed, to only will I have passed away but it will be like I was never here, and people in 2104 or whatever will no more think of Stuart A. Nichols Jr. than you or I think of John T. Smith, 1790 to 1863, of Livingston, Virginia, or some such. That everything is on fire, slow fire, and we're all less than a million breaths away from an oblivion more total than we can even bring ourselves to imagine, in fact, probably that's why the manic US obsession with production, produce, produce, impact the world, contribute, shape things, to help distract us from how little and totally insignificant and temporary we are."

Quote of the Day

"The field of social psychology has become very competitive, and high-impact publications are only possible for results that are really surprising. Unfortunately, most surprising hypotheses are wrong. That is, unless you test them against data you've created yourself."


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

GoodGuide Purchase Analyzer

Tried GoodGuide Purchase Analyzer today and loved it!!

The Natural Histories Project

Quote of the Day

"In the developed world, you have good contracting environments, a good system of law enforcement, and so on. So, in the developed world, you can hire professional managers and expect a certain, you know, sticking to the contract law, and so on. It’s rather more difficult to have the same kind of adherence to the rule of law in emerging economies. So, in emerging economies, family firms sort of provide a second-best solution to this poorly developed institutional problem."

Vikas Mehrotra

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

On Self Deception

"People are really good at self-deception. We attend to the facts we like and suppress the ones we don’t. We inflate our own virtues and predict we will behave more nobly than we actually do. As Max H. Bazerman and Ann E. Tenbrunsel write in their book, “Blind Spots,” “When it comes time to make a decision, our thoughts are dominated by thoughts of how we want to behave; thoughts of how we should behave disappear.”

In centuries past, people built moral systems that acknowledged this weakness. These systems emphasized our sinfulness. They reminded people of the evil within themselves. Life was seen as an inner struggle against the selfish forces inside. These vocabularies made people aware of how their weaknesses manifested themselves and how to exercise discipline over them. These systems gave people categories with which to process savagery and scripts to follow when they confronted it. They helped people make moral judgments and hold people responsible amidst our frailties.

But we’re not Puritans anymore. We live in a society oriented around our inner wonderfulness. So when something atrocious happens, people look for some artificial, outside force that must have caused it — like the culture of college football, or some other favorite bogey. People look for laws that can be changed so it never happens again.
The proper question is: How can we ourselves overcome our natural tendency to evade and self-deceive. That was the proper question after Abu Ghraib, Madoff, the Wall Street follies and a thousand other scandals. But it’s a question this society has a hard time asking because the most seductive evasion is the one that leads us to deny the underside of our own nature.

- David Brooks

World University Rankings

Our rankings of the top universities across the globe employ 13 separate performance indicators designed to capture the full range of university activities, from teaching to research to knowledge transfer. These 13 elements are brought together into five headline categories, which are:
  • Teaching — the learning environment (worth 30 per cent of the overall ranking score)
  • Research — volume, income and reputation (worth 30 per cent)
  • Citations — research influence (worth 30 per cent)
  • Industry income — innovation (worth 2.5 per cent)
  • International outlook — staff, students and research (worth 7.5 per cent). 
Check out the rankings here

Quote of the Day

"We learn from history that man can never learn anything from history."

- George Bernard Shaw

Monday, November 14, 2011

Economically Unenlightened Citizens R' Us !!

"Governmental power joined with wrongheadedness is something terrible, but all too common. Realizing that many of our leaders and their constituents are economically unenlightened sheds light on the troubles that surround us.

Buturovic began putting all 17 questions to a new group of respondents last December. I eagerly awaited the results, hoping that the conservatives and especially the libertarians (my side!) would exhibit less myside bias. Buturovic was more detached. She e-mailed me the results, and commented that conservatives and libertarians did not do well on the new questions. After a hard look, I realized that they had bombed on the questions that challenged their position. A full tabulation of all 17 questions showed that no group clearly out-stupids the others. They appear about equally stupid when faced with proper challenges to their position."

- More Enlightenment from Daniel B. Klein R welcome to the wonderland of Lake Wobegon

Quote of the Day

"The first problem is that higher status for the wealthy can easily lead to crony capitalism. In public discourse social status judgments are often crude. Critical differences are lost, like the distinction between earning money through production for consumers, as Apple has done, and earning money through the manipulation of government, which heavily subsidized agribusinesses have done. The relevant question, in my view, is not about how much you have earned but about how you have earned it. To further confuse matters, many right-wing Republican politicians supported corporate bailouts and corporate welfare far beyond what was necessary to stabilize the economy, in doing so further muddying the difference between productive and predatory capitalism.

The second problem is that many conservatives have become so attached to their cultural vision that they have ceded sound, technocratic reasoning to the left and center. For instance there is a common willingness among conservatives to defend the Bush tax cuts, even though the evidence does not show much of an economic payoff.

That rhetorical line appeals to tax-weary voters, and seems part of a core conservative vision, but it is treading on dangerous ground because it moves away from testable theory: those tax cuts have already been in place for many years, yet it remains to be seen when or if they will spur the economy."

Tyler Cowen

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Prefrontal Gym - Neuroscience To Help Addicts Quit

“Just last week, we actually scanned our first cocaine addict, who is someone who wants to quit but has not been able to. This has essentially ruined his life,” Eagleman says. He describes what happened:

We put him in the scanner … and we showed him pictures of cocaine. That activates the craving networks in his brain. We measured that on the fly, and we represented [the measurement] as a bar on the screen. His job is to make that bar go down. He’s getting visual representation of what’s happening inside his skull. It’s something you would not normally have conscious access to. … He was totally good at it. We said, “Now crave.” Bar goes up. “Now, do what you can to suppress your craving.” He got good at making the bar go down.

As an addict learns what thoughts make the cravings go down, Eagleman and LaConte hypothesize, he can build up his ability to resist, like working out a muscle. Eagleman calls it “the prefrontal gym.”

- More Here

Quote of the Day

“Right now the only real barrier is one of communication. Bonobos communicate at a higher frequency, and the transition between their consonants and vowels is very difficult for us to hear. We use a programme that converts human speech into lexigrams [symbols that represent words but are not necessarily indicative of the objects referenced by them] that bonobos understand and use to communicate back via a touch screen. If we could change the parameters so that it recognised bonobo vocalisations that were repetitive – when they make multiple attempts to say ‘apple’, for example – then we would have an application that allows for running translations of what they say to us and vice-versa. At that point there’s no reason why our two cultures shouldn’t co-exist.

“I’m not looking to achieve what you might call ‘racial integration’,” Savage-Rumbaugh adds, “just for apes to be treated with dignity and respect. But it’s not only apes that we’ve kept in the closet: it’s the same with children who have learning disabilities, for example. Anyone with whom we can’t adequately communicate doesn’t sit properly in human society. But there’s a great reward for people who make time to break down those barriers, because individuals who haven’t conformed to society often have a capacity to love without qualification or condition. I feel we and bonobos could learn so much from each other. We’re both limping along as injured species, and if we could put the best of both of us together, we could be superhuman.”

Savage Rumbaugh

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Pragmatic Programmer

Excellent extracts from the book The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master by Andrew Hunt and David Thomas - here. As a young man when I started my career in computers, I believed it was blessing to work with rational machines but over the years that belief has been slowly decimated. The truth is programmers build software with their ego's embedded into it and worse, some even forget the difference between programming and poetry.
  • Care About Your Craft: Why spend your life developing software unless you care about doing it well?
  • Provide Options, Don’t Make Lame Excuses: Instead of excuses, provide options. Don’t say it can’t be done; explain what can be done.
  • Be a Catalyst for Change: You can’t force change on people. Instead, show them how the future might be and help them participate in creating it.
  • Make Quality a Requirements Issue: Involve your users in determining the project’s real quality requirements.
  • Critically Analyze What You Read and Hear: Don’t be swayed by vendors, media hype, or dogma. Analyze information in terms of you and your project.
  • DRY—Don’t Repeat Yourself: Every piece of knowledge must have a single, unambiguous, authoritative representation within a system.
  • Eliminate Effects Between Unrelated Things - Design components that are self-contained, independent, and have a single, well-defined purpose.
  • Use Tracer Bullets to Find the Target - Tracer bullets let you home in on your target by trying things and seeing how close they land.
  • Program Close to the Problem Domain: Design and code in your user’s language.
  • Iterate the Schedule with the Code - Use experience you gain as you implement to refine the project time scales.
  • Use the Power of Command Shells: Use the shell when graphical user interfaces don’t cut it.
  • Always Use Source Code Control: Source code control is a time machine for your work—you can go back.
  • Don’t Panic When Debugging: Take a deep breath and THINK! about what could be causing the bug.
  • Don’t Assume It—Prove It:  Prove your assumptions in the actual environment—with real data and boundary conditions.
  • Write Code That Writes CodeCode generators increase your productivity and help avoid duplication.
  • Design with Contracts: Use contracts to document and verify that code does no more and no less than it claims to do.
  • Use Assertions to Prevent the ImpossibleAssertions validate your assumptions. Use them to protect your code from an uncertain world.
  • Finish What You StartWhere possible, the routine or object that allocates a resource should be responsible for deallocating it.
  • Configure, Don’t IntegrateImplement technology choices for an application as configuration options, not through integration or engineering.
  • Analyze Workflow to Improve ConcurrencyExploit concurrency in your user’s workflow.
  • Always Design for ConcurrencyAllow for concurrency, and you’ll design cleaner interfaces with fewer assumptions.
  • Use Blackboards to Coordinate WorkflowUse blackboards to coordinate disparate facts and agents, while maintaining independence and isolation among participants.
  • Estimate the Order of Your AlgorithmsGet a feel for how long things are likely to take before you write code.
  • Refactor Early, Refactor OftenJust as you might weed and rearrange a garden, rewrite, rework, and re-architect code when it needs it. Fix the root of the problem.
  • Test Your Software, or Your Users WillTest ruthlessly. Don’t make your users find bugs for you.
  • Don’t Gather Requirements—Dig for ThemRequirements rarely lie on the surface. They’re buried deep beneath layers of assumptions, misconceptions, and politics.
  • Abstractions Live Longer than DetailsInvest in the abstraction, not the implementation. Abstractions can survive the barrage of changes from different implementations and new technologies.
  • Don’t Think Outside the Box—Find the BoxWhen faced with an impossible problem, identify the real constraints. Ask yourself: ``Does it have to be done this way? Does it have to be done at all?’‘
  • Some Things Are Better Done than DescribedDon’t fall into the specification spiral—at some point you need to start coding.
  • Costly Tools Don’t Produce Better DesignsBeware of vendor hype, industry dogma, and the aura of the price tag. Judge tools on their merits.
  • Don’t Use Manual ProceduresA shell script or batch file will execute the same instructions, in the same order, time after time.
  • Coding Ain’t Done ‘Til All the Tests Run‘Nuff said.
  • Test State Coverage, Not Code CoverageIdentify and test significant program states. Just testing lines of code isn’t enough.
  • English is Just a Programming LanguageWrite documents as you would write code: honor the DRY principle, use metadata, MVC, automatic generation, and so on.
  • Gently Exceed Your Users’ ExpectationsCome to understand your users’ expectations, then deliver just that little bit more.
  • Think! About Your WorkTurn off the autopilot and take control. Constantly critique and appraise your work.
  • Don’t Live with Broken WindowsFix bad designs, wrong decisions, and poor code when you see them.
  • Remember the Big PictureDon’t get so engrossed in the details that you forget to check what’s happening around you.
  • Invest Regularly in Your Knowledge PortfolioMake learning a habit.
  • It’s Both What You Say and the Way You Say ItThere’s no point in having great ideas if you don’t communicate them effectively.
  • Make It Easy to ReuseIf it’s easy to reuse, people will. Create an environment that supports reuse.
  • There Are No Final DecisionsNo decision is cast in stone. Instead, consider each as being written in the sand at the beach, and plan for change.
  • Prototype to LearnPrototyping is a learning experience. Its value lies not in the code you produce, but in the lessons you learn.
  • Estimate to Avoid SurprisesEstimate before you start. You’ll spot potential problems up front.
  • Keep Knowledge in Plain TextPlain text won’t become obsolete. It helps leverage your work and simplifies debugging and testing.
  • Use a Single Editor WellThe editor should be an extension of your hand; make sure your editor is configurable, extensible, and programmable.
  • Fix the Problem, Not the BlameIt doesn’t really matter whether the bug is your fault or someone else’s—it is still your problem, and it still needs to be fixed.
  • ``select’’ Isn’t BrokenIt is rare to find a bug in the OS or the compiler, or even a third-party product or library. The bug is most likely in the application.
  • Learn a Text Manipulation LanguageYou spend a large part of each day working with text. Why not have the computer do some of it for you?
  • You Can’t Write Perfect SoftwareSoftware can’t be perfect. Protect your code and users from the inevitable errors.
  • Crash EarlyA dead program normally does a lot less damage than a crippled one.
  • Use Exceptions for Exceptional ProblemsExceptions can suffer from all the readability and maintainability problems of classic spaghetti code. Reserve exceptions for exceptional things.
  • Minimize Coupling Between ModulesAvoid coupling by writing ``shy’’ code and applying the Law of Demeter.
  • Put Abstractions in Code, Details in MetadataProgram for the general case, and put the specifics outside the compiled code base.
  • Design Using ServicesDesign in terms of services—independent, concurrent objects behind well-defined, consistent interfaces.
  • Separate Views from ModelsGain flexibility at low cost by designing your application in terms of models and views.
  • Don’t Program by CoincidenceRely only on reliable things. Beware of accidental complexity, and don’t confuse a happy coincidence with a purposeful plan.
  • Test Your Estimates: Mathematical analysis of algorithms doesn’t tell you everything. Try timing your code in its target environment.
  • Design to Test:  Start thinking about testing before you write a line of code.
  • Don’t Use Wizard Code You Don’t Understand: Wizards can generate reams of code. Make sure you understand all of it before you incorporate it into your project.
  • Work with a User to Think Like a User: It’s the best way to gain insight into how the system will really be used.
  • Use a Project Glossary: Create and maintain a single source of all the specific terms and vocabulary for a project.
  • Start When You’re Ready: You’ve been building experience all your life. Don’t ignore niggling doubts.
  • Don’t Be a Slave to Formal Methods: Don’t blindly adopt any technique without putting it into the context of your development practices and capabilities.
  • Organize Teams Around Functionality: Don’t separate designers from coders, testers from data modelers. Build teams the way you build code.
  • Test Early. Test Often. Test AutomaticallyTests that run with every build are much more effective than test plans that sit on a shelf.
  • Use Saboteurs to Test Your Testing: Introduce bugs on purpose in a separate copy of the source to verify that testing will catch them.
  • Find Bugs Once: Once a human tester finds a bug, it should be the last time a human tester finds that bug. Automatic tests should check for it from then on.
  • Build Documentation In, Don’t Bolt It On: Documentation created separately from code is less likely to be correct and up to date.
  • Sign Your Work: Craftsmen of an earlier age were proud to sign their work. You should be, too.

Wisdom Of The Week

With advances in genetic selection we may be able to screen the genetic make-up of embryos and reduce the prevalence of conditions such as schizophrenia and autism. Could this in fact be a retrograde step? Simon Baron-Cohen, director of the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge thinks so, and not just because he considers it a form of eugenics. He believes it could also deprive humanity of some crucial attributes.

Recently, Baron-Cohen and his colleagues reported that people living and working in Eindhoven - a major information technology and industry hub in Holland - are more than twice as likely to have children with autism than those living in Haarlem and Utrecht, similar-sized Dutch cities that lack the focus on technology-based industries (New Scientist, 22 June).

"Our work suggests that parents of children with autism - and who therefore carry some of the genes for autism - have talents in systemising, which has been responsible for innovation in fields like science, mathematics, music, technology, art and engineering," he says.

- More on Beautiful Minds

Quote of the Day

"A Reality that would be impossible to imagine, even for the possessor of the most tortured and surreal imagination."

- Brian Cox on Quantum Mechanics in his new book The Quantum Universe: (And Why Anything That Can Happen, Does)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Quote of the Day

In 1980 only 23 percent of state pension money had been invested in the stock market; by 2008 the number had risen to 60 percent. To top it off, these pension funds were pretty much all assuming they could earn 8 percent on the money they had to invest, at a time when the Federal Reserve was promising to keep interest rates at zero. Toss in underfunded health-care plans, a reduction in federal dollars available to the states, and the depression in tax revenues caused by a soft economy, and you were looking at multi-trillion-dollar holes that could be dealt with in only one of two ways: massive cutbacks in public services or a default—or both. Whitney thought default unlikely, at least at the state level, because the state could bleed the cities of money to pay off its bonds. The cities were where the pain would be felt most intensely. “The scary thing about state treasurers,” she said, “is that they don’t know the financial situation in their own municipalities.” 

“How do you know that?”

“Because I asked them!”

- Michael Lewis