Thursday, June 30, 2011

Indus Script - Rajesh Rao

It's refreshing to finally hear someone talk about Dravidian culture on an international stage. Most Indians are oblivious to pre-Aryan, Dravidian history.

Environmentalism for This century - Stewart Brand

"In Uganda, when a national park was established to protect biodiversity, 5,000 families were forced out of the area. After a change in government, those families returned in anger. To make sure they were never forced out again, they slaughtered all the local wildlife. In the 1980s, Kareiva was a witness in Seattle for protecting old growth forest (and spotted owls). At the courtroom loggers carried signs reading: “You care about owls more than my children.” That jarred him.
When genetically engineered crops (GMOs) came along, environmentalists responded with “knee-jerk anti-technology religiosity,” Kareiva said. How to feed the world was not a consideration. Lessening the overwhelming impact of agriculture on natural systems was not a consideration. Instead, the usual apocalyptic fears were deployed in the usual terms: EVERYTHING’S GOING TO BE DEAD TOMORROW! When Kareiva was working on protecting salmon, he saw the same kind of language employed in a 1999 New York Times full-page ad about dams in the Snake River: TIMELINE TO EXTINCTION! He knew it wasn’t true. Salmon are a weedy species, and the re-engineered dams were letting the fish through.
The Nature Conservancy—where Kareiva is chief scientist working with the organization’s 600 scientists, 4,000 staff, and one million members in 37 countries—promotes a realistic approach to conservation. Instead of demonizing corporations, they collaborate actively with them. They’ve decided to do the same with farmers, starting an agriculture initiative within the Conservancy. For the growing cities they emphasize the economic value of conservation in terms of valuable clean water and air. They started a program taking inner-city kids out to their field conservation projects not to play but to work on research and restoration. An astonishing 30% of those kids go on to major in science.
Kareiva sees conservation in this century as a profoundly social, cooperative undertaking that has to include everyone. New social networking tools can be in the thick of it. For instance, people could use their smartphones to photograph (and geotag, timestamp, and broadcast) the northernmost occurrence of bird species, and the aggregate data could be graphed in real time, showing the increasing effects of global warming on the natural world. When everyone makes science like that, everyone owns it. They’ve invested."

- More

Irradiating Organic Food

Again, we have to understand some basic food "science" before dwelling on that utopian dream of organic food - here.

"The real tragedy of the E. coli incident in Germany is that the outbreak could have been prevented if the organic industry had been willing to irradiate their produce. The bean sprout crop that was the source of the outbreak requires a warm and humid environment to grow, which increases the risk of contamination by E. coli and other disease-causing bacteria. The only certain means of reducing this risk is to irradiate the bean sprout seeds, which effectively kills 99.999 per cent of E. coli. There is no evidence that food irradiation is harmful to consumers, and also no evidence that it affects the nutritional quality of food.
Despite these facts, the organic industry continues to lobby against the use of irradiation. When President Bill Clinton's agriculture secretary Dan Glickman proposed including irradiation in the US National Organic Standards in 1998 - specifically to reduce E. coli risk - the US Department of Agriculture received over 300,000 petitions from individuals and organisations in the US and Europe opposing this move. As a result this provision was removed from the final legislation.
If the organic industry is to retain confidence it must show that it is willing to adopt technologies which put food safety first. If organic food is irradiated then the technology will be more widely accepted across the food chain in general and lives will be saved. That is a goal every food producer should be striving for."

Quote of the Day

"Some problems are so complex that you have to be highly intelligent and well informed just to be undecided about them."

- Laurence J. Peter

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Green Goose - Feedback Loop World Via Sensors

Fascinating article on Wired Magazine on Feedback Loops via FS. What caught my attention was the new "toys" for Max starting this fall!!

"As powerful as the idea appears now, just a few months ago it seemed like a fading pipe dream. Then based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Krejcarek had nearly run out of cash—not just for his company, but for himself. During the day, he was working on GreenGoose in a office building near the MIT campus—and each night, he’d sneak into the building’s air shaft, where he’d stashed an air mattress and some clothes. Then, in late February, he went to the Launch conference in San Francisco, a two-day event where select entrepreneurs get a chance to demo their company to potential funders. Krejcarek hadn’t been selected for an onstage demo, but when the conference organizers saw a crowd eyeing his product on the exhibit floor, he was given four minutes to make a presentation. It was one of those only-in-Silicon Valley moments. The crowd “just got it,” he recalls. Within days, he had nearly $600,000 in new funding. He moved to San Francisco, rented an apartment—and bought a bed. GreenGoose will release its first product, a kit of sensors that encourage pet owners to play and interact with their dogs, with sensors for dog collar, pet toys, and dog doors, sometime this fall."

On GreenGoose sensors:

"The sensors are wireless and have a battery inside which lasts a year. Each one measures a different thing you do, but they all communicate with the same egg-sized base-station. Just stick to items like pet food scoops, frisbees, and water bottles."  

Why Niebuhr Now? - John Patrick Diggins

This is why we all admire Neibuhr; John Partick Diggins's new book Why Niebuhr Now? (review here via Andrew):

Everyone seems to love Niebuhr these days, but not everyone gets him right. Especially when it comes to matters of foreign policy, where the stakes are often as high as they can be, intellectuals tend to get very serious. Niebuhr was of course serious, at times ponderous, himself. Yet he consistently warned against the kind of seriousness that dismisses the ironies inherent in human existence. Anyone who believes that either making war or making peace is relatively straightforward cannot appreciate the insights that Niebuhr left behind.

Diggins gets Niebuhr right because, like his subject, Diggins was never a person comfortable with the certainties of either anti-war leftism or triumphalist neo-conservatism. Progressivism, as the name implies, drew lines too straight for both men’s liking. At the same time, Diggins admired Ronald Reagan, the hero of many a neoconservative, but only because he believed that this most right-wing of presidents dreamed of a nuclear-free world. Whether or not Diggins was right about Reagan, he certainly writes in the same spirit as Niebuhr. With every rhetorical tool available to him, Niebuhr dismissed not only left-wing idealism but also the simplistic moralizing that passes for conservative foreign policy-making. For Niebuhr, as Diggins writes, “evil must be faced rather than denied”—but those determined to stare it down no matter what the consequences, like all of God’s creatures, suffer from the sin of pride. “Must we not warn victorious nations that they are wrong in regarding their victory as proof of their virtue,” Niebuhr wrote in 1948, “lest they engulf the world in a new chain of evil by their vindictiveness, which is nothing else than the fury of their self-righteousness?”

Walking & Memory

Henry David Thoreau was right all long - here:

"A recent study shows that aerobic exercise—in particular, walking—can actually increase the size of the part of the brain responsible for memory.
The study got 60 sedentary adults aged 60 to 80 to start a brisk walking program of 40 minutes a day three times a week. After a year, MRIs showed the hippocampus region of these exercisers had increased by about 2%. The walkers also had better performance on memory tests, compared to their scores at the start of the study—an improvement associated with the larger hippocampus.
It seems that brisk walking or moderate aerobic exercise is better than just any activity: the hippocampus brain region for a control group of participants who instead did stretching and toning exercises decreased in volume by 1.4%."

Quote of the Day

"Everyone thinks himself the master pattern of human nature; and by this, as on a touchstone, he tests all others. Behavior that does not square with his is false and artificial. What brutish stupidity!”

- Montaigne

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

EDGE Creatures - Living Fossils

"Evolutionarily distinct creatures contain more genetic diversity. They look different. They tend to be behaviorally different. These are species that are different from everything else on the planet," said Jonathan Baillie, conservation program director at EDGE of Existence.
EDGE stands for Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered, which are the criteria of the animals it tries to protect. They're not just singularly unique, but desperately imperiled and often unappreciated: Pangolins and purple frogs and Laotian rock rats don't have the charisma of traditional conservation favorites, yet in some ways they're more important. To use an art world analogy, losing an EDGE species isn't like losing a Renoir or Monet, but the entirety of French Impressionism.
"We've grown up with rhinos and tigers and lions on TV. Our generation is quite familiar with those. It's now possible expand conservation beyond that," said Baillie. "By conserving EDGE creatures, you save a disproportionate amount of genetic, ecological and behavioral diversity."

- More Here

Insanity of Man vs Lion

Wonder what this "macho" guy was doing during the Arab spring (leave alone all those decades of Mubarak's regime). Macho-ness against a caged and starved Lion would make anyone puke... so much for freedom, democracy and enlarging that circle of morality. Dude, go get a life.

I cannot stop thinking about that famous... A Lion Called Christian: The True Story of the Remarkable Bond Between Two Friends and a Lion

Quote of the Day

"We are living in the middle of a revolution in consciousness. Over the past few years, geneticists, neuroscientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists, anthropologists, and others have made great strides in understanding the building blocks of human flourishing. . . . The unconscious parts of the mind are most of the mind—where most of the decisions and many of the most impressive acts of thinking take place. These submerged processes are the seedbeds of accomplishment."

- David Brooks,
The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement

Monday, June 27, 2011

How the Hippies Saved Physics - David Kaiser

Excerpts from the new book How the Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival by David Kaiser:

As the Cold War nexus of institutions and ideas collapsed, other modes of being a physicist crept back in. The transition was neither smooth nor painless. Caught in the upheavals, a ragtag crew of young physicists banded together. Elizabeth Rauscher and George Weissmann, both graduate students in Berkeley, California, founded an informal discussion group in a fit of pique and frustration in May 1975. From their earliest years they had been captivated by books about the great revolutions of modern physics: relativity and quantum theory. They had entered the field with heads full of Einstein-styled paradoxes; they, too, dreamed of tackling the deepest questions of space, time, and matter. Yet their formal training had offered none of that. By the time they entered graduate school, the watershed of World War II and the hyperpragmatism of the Cold War had long since shorn off any philosophical veneer from physics students’ curricula. In place of grand thoughts, their classes taught them narrow skills: how to calculate this or that physical effect, rather than what those fancy equations might portend about the nature of reality.

The two students had ties to the Theoretical Physics Division of the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, a sprawling national laboratory nestled in the Berkeley hills. They decided to do for themselves what their teachers and textbooks had not. Reserving a big seminar room at the lab, they established an open-door policy: anyone interested in the interpretation of quantum theory was welcome to attend their weekly meetings, joining the others around the large circular table for free-ranging discussions. They continued to meet, week in and week out, over the next three and a half years. They called themselves the “Fundamental Fysiks Group.”

Their informal brainstorming sessions quickly filled up with like-minded seekers. Most members of the Fundamental Fysiks Group found themselves on the periphery of the discipline for reasons beyond their immediate control. Although they held PhDs from elite universities like Columbia, the University of California at Los Angeles, and Stanford, their prospects had dried up or their situations had become untenable with the bust of the early 1970s. Adrift in a sea of professional uncertainty, the young physicists made their way to Berkeley. Finding themselves with time on their hands and questions they still wanted to pursue, they gravitated toward Rauscher and Weissmann’s group. They met on Friday afternoons at 4 p.m.—an informal cap to the week—and the spirited chatter often spilled late into the night at a favorite pizza parlor or Indian restaurant near campus.

The group’s intense, unstructured brainstorming sessions planted seeds that would eventually flower into today’s field of quantum information science; they helped make possible a world in which bankers and politicians shield their most critical missives with quantum encryption. Along the way, members of the Fundamental Fysiks Group, together with parallel efforts from a few other isolated physicists, contributed to a sea change in how we think about information, communication, computation, and the subtle workings of the microworld.
Despite the significance of quantum information science today, the Fundamental Fysiks Group’s contributions lie buried still, overlooked or forgotten in physicists’ collective consciousness. The group’s elision from the annals of history is not entirely surprising. On the face of it, they seemed least likely to play any special role at all. Indeed, from today’s vantage point it may seem shocking that anything of lasting value could have come from the hothouse of psychedelic drugs, transcendental meditation, consciousness expansion, psychic mind-reading, and spiritualist séances in which several members dabbled with such evident glee. History can be funny that way.

Quote of the Day

"Love is the crowning grace of humanity, the holiest right of the soul, the golden link which binds us to duty and truth, the redeeming principle that chiefly reconciles the heart to life, and is prophetic of eternal good."

- Petrarch, reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895), p. 392.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

What I've Been Reading

Business in the Cloud: What Every Business Needs to Know About Cloud Computing by Michael H. Hugos and Derek Hulitzky (Author).

"Recent studies shows that IT, the business application systems it supports and the data centers and staff needed to run the technology and systems, average about 6% of business operating expenses. This 6% of operations budget has a critical leverage over the profitability of the business as a whole if it can be used to deliver better business as a whole if it can be used to deliver better business responsiveness and agility. More ironic is that, at present, about 70% to 80% of company IT budgets goes to the operation and maintenance of existing systems and data centers. So in many organizations, there isn't much money available to design and develop new systems."

  • The obvious choices are $$ saving, seamlessly adapting to ever-changing technologies, faster project life cycle, security (that's debatable for now), less in-house "dissonance" and most importantly companies can concentrate on improving their core business.
  • What do you call a country where electricity, gas (heat), banking et al aren't centralized? A third world. And most recent obvious ubiquitous internet says it all. 
  • Going green - electricity consumption. Companies doesn't need to run quasi-factories in name of IT. 
  • Moore's law aside, there are limits to exploring and exploiting natural resources. In-satiatable appetite of IT infrastructure could be tamed by the cloud. 
  • Companies will be forced to stream-line and standardize the IT process, which in-turn would ease any existing and future interfaces with other business division, partners and companies.
  • The biggest revenue sources for cloud might be from home computing.
  • IT to "go" - "You can buy a gift card on Amazon and use it to setup our own data center." 
  • Service provider could pull the plug anytime (Wikileaks vs Amazon), a libertarian nightmare (that said, what is not their nightmare?)
  • Creative destruction - unemployment (that's debatable too).
  • Of course, more interconnectedness, centralization and monopoly will lead to more complexity. We would be more vulnerable to that notorious Black Swans. Only solace when shit hits the fan - we will not be alone.
  • And so far, there has been this hidden irony
P.S. Cloud computing startup's like EucalyptusRightscale and Engine Yard are probably the one's to watch out for according to Bill Gurley

"We talk breathlessly about access and inclusion in a global communication network, but speak little of exactly why we want to communicate with one another on such a planetary scale. What's sorely missing is an overarching reason for why billions of human beings should be increasingly connected. Toward what end? The only feeble explanations thus far offered are to share information, be entertained, advance commercial exchanged, and speed the globalization of the economy. All the above, while relevant, nonetheless seem insufficient to justify why nearly seven billion human beings should be connected and mutually embedded in a globalized society. Seven billion individual connections, absent any overall unifying purpose, seems a colossal waste of human energy." - The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis by Jeremy Rifkin

Blind Spots - Max H Bazerman & Ann E Tenbrunse

I promised myself to stop reading books on cognitive biases but there is always that one last fascinating book. Blind Spots: Why We Fail to Do What's Right and What to Do About it by Max H Bazerman and Ann E Tenbrunse is luring to break that promise. Good reviews on Guardian and Neuroskeptic:

Books about our cognitive deficits and psychological quirks are hardly thin on the ground, but this benefits from a close focus: on our "ethical blind spots", which result in our failure to act as well as we think we do. People are bad at predicting what they will do, and bad at remembering what they did if it conflicts with their self-image. Though the illustrations from individuals are interesting enough, the book zooms out regularly to the field of "business ethics" – not quite the oxymoron more cynical readers might assume, but troublesome enough. The message: if we are not careful, our "want" self will generally overrule our "should" self. I eyed a packet of crisps thoughtfully.

"This is not the same as saying that 'the road to hell is paved with good intentions'. T
hat old phrase warns against trying to be good and, as a result, causing evil, because your plans go wrong. Blind Spots is saying, even if all of your attempts to be good work out just fine, you might still cause evil despite that.For example, you could be a good employee, who never calls in sick unnecessarily, kind to your friends and colleagues, and a generous charity donor.
Unfortunately, you're an accountant connected to Enron, and your work - ultimately - consists of defrauding innocent people. But of course, you don't think of it like that, because we don't tend to think about things "ultimately".

Five Barriers to an Ethical Organization

Quote of the Day

"Maybe we should develop a Crayola bomb as our next secret weapon.  A happiness weapon.  A beauty bomb.  And every time a crisis developed, we would launch one.  It would explode high in the air - explode softly - and send thousands, millions, of little parachutes into the air.  Floating down to earth - boxes of Crayolas.  And we wouldn't go cheap, either - not little boxes of eight.  Boxes of sixty-four, with the sharpener built right in.  With silver and gold and copper, magenta and peach and lime, amber and umber and all the rest.  And people would smile and get a little funny look on their faces and cover the world with imagination."

- Robert Fulghum

Saturday, June 25, 2011

How To Become A Better Human (P.S. Learning Involved)

Two great post's on Q3D (here and here), reviewing four different books:
"Newspapers today are filled with stories of genes for this and neurons for that. Recent examples range from “The Love-Cheat Gene: One in Four Born to be Unfaithful” to “Scientists Reveal Brain Cells Devoted to Jennifer Aniston”. Partly, the reductionist worldview is gaining in prevalence because many of its claims are true: evolutionary theory is now firmly established, our genome is being deciphered and there are indisputable correlations between consciousness and brain activity. But a problem arises when scientists, policymakers or the media adopt this biological perspective in the search for simple solutions to complex problems, blaming the credit crunch, for example, on short-termism inherited from our primate ancestors. Some thinkers are, therefore, rebelling against the reductionist consensus.

Of course, those with a strongly religious perspective often reject it outright. But even secular thinkers are increasingly resisting its claim to be the whole truth. Although some go too far in their attacks – arguing wrongly, for example, that we have next to nothing to learn about ourselves from our evolutionary history – such critics are, nonetheless, right to point out that in accepting the reductionist view, we risk doing ourselves a dangerous disservice.
All three books, different as they are, point to the same conclusion: that we need not allow ourselves to be reduced by these powerful new disciplines of genetics, neuroscience and computing. Instead, we can learn from them and assimilate them into a broader understanding of ourselves. We can, in fact, use them to become better at being human."
"Nowadays, of course, it’s common sense to distrust our common sense. A number of best-selling books have made us painfully aware of the biases that beset our everyday reasoning — we overrate the importance of recent events and overvalue objects because we happen to possess them, and so on. Watts turns his attention elsewhere: his primary aim is to debunk “methodological individualism,” the notion that “until one has succeeded in explaining some social phenomenon — the popularity of the Mona Lisa or the relation between interest rates and economic growth — exclusively in terms of the thoughts, actions and intentions of individual people, one has not fully succeeded in explaining it at all.

In such a world, can we really use common sense as a guide? No.
We need a kind of uncommon sense, Watts argues. And we’re in luck. If you had asked social scientists even 20 years ago what powers they dreamed of acquiring, they might have cited the capacity to inconspicuously track the behaviors, purchases, movements, interactions and thoughts of whole cities of people, in real time. Of course, this is exactly what is possible now that so many of us — via credit cards, cellphones, online social networks, blogs and so on — leave just such digital breadcrumbs as we move through our lives. Watts provides powerful examples, many taken from his own work in this new field of computational social science. One project tracked patterns of tweets and retweets among 1.6 million Twitter users. Another followed thousands of people as they judged which songs they wanted to download, and found that their individual tastes were easily trumped by small, and random, differences in a song’s perceived popularity among other people."

Wisdom Of The Week

Shimon Peres speech on foreign aid via MR. The technology is of no use until people fundamentally change their attitude and morality. Until that happens, flamboyance of technology will remain a fad.

"Look, the West can’t help everyone and the regimes would be insulted if we tried. But they don’t need our help. The greatest poverty in our time has been in China and India. Did these countries reduce poverty because of our help? No. They did it themselves.

Giving is problematic. We take money from poor people in rich countries and give it to rich people in poor countries. Aid sometimes creates corruption.

And suppose we gave people computers. Would computers help? No. There is no technology without civilization, civilization is the carriage of technology. It is a matter of institutions. If a country discriminates against women, for example, no computers will help. Do you know who are the greatest opponents of democracy in the Middle East? The husbands. As long as husbands discriminate against their wives the husbands will support the dictators.

Now, however, there is a young generation who are realizing that the glory is within. The glory [of civilization] it is within their power to grasp."

Quote of the Day

A fundamental landscape change. "We've spent the past 40 years putting technology inside the enterprise and we're going to spend the next 20 years ripping it out."

Bill Gurley on Cloud Computing

Friday, June 24, 2011

City Living & Urban Upbringing Affect Neural Social Stress Processing In Humans

Having lived in cities for most of life, I have developed an innate aversion for cities. I gave up the $$ and the addiction of intellectual city life in exchange for the foliage. Triumph of The City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier is enlightening but the subtitle is very misleading. That triumph comes with an immense cost and hope we comprehend this before creating those charter cities. 

Older post here after reading Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopgramatist Manifesto by Stewart Brand  -
"Yes, Brand's argument did convince that charter cities are in-fact green. But there are two crucial factors missing - First, people currently living in slums are not planning to do so for ever but they do so on the hope someday they will be able to get out of it. That's the hope that keeps them going. Charter cities might take that dream away. Question is what happens then?
Secondly, what are the neural implications of living in a slum? What happens to our brains sans Biophilia? Thanks to neural plasticity, wouldn't that change who we are? I don't have the answer to those two questions but I think those needs to be answered before falling in love with slums."

Now this excellent paper on cognitive effects on dwelling in a city answered my question; abstract - here:

"More than half of the world’s population now lives in cities, making the creation of a healthy urban environment a major policy priority. Cities have both health risks and benefits1, but mental health is negatively affected: mood and anxiety disorders are more prevalent in city dwellers and the incidence of schizophrenia is strongly increased in people born and raised in cities. Although these findings have been widely attributed to the urban social environment, the neural processes that could mediate such associations are unknown. Here we show, using functional magnetic resonance imaging in three independent experiments, that urban upbringing and city living have dissociable impacts on social evaluative stress processing in humans. Current city living was associated with increased amygdala activity, whereas urban upbringing affected the perigenual anterior cingulate cortex, a key region for regulation of amygdala activity, negative affect and stress. These findings were regionally and behaviourally specific, as no other brain structures were affected and no urbanicity effect was seen during control experiments invoking cognitive processing without stress. Our results identify distinct neural mechanisms for an established environmental risk factor, link the urban environment for the first time to social stress processing, suggest that brain regions differ in vulnerability to this risk factor across the lifespan, and indicate that experimental interrogation of epidemiological associations is a promising strategy in social neuroscience."

Quote of the Day

"When we finally know we are dying, and all other sentient beings are dying with us, we start to have a burning, almost heartbreaking sense of the fragility and preciousness of each moment and each being, and from this can grow a deep, clear, limitless compassion for all beings."

- Sogyal Rinpoche

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Planet of Viruses - Carl Zimmer

Humans "Made" Dogs To Bark

“The direct or indirect human artificial selection process made the dog bark as we know,” said Csaba Molnar, formerly an ethologist at Hungary’s Eotvos Lorand University.
Molnar’s work was inspired by a simple but intriguing fact: Barking is common in domesticated dogs, but infrequent if not downright absent in their wild counterparts. Wild dogs yip and squeal and whine, but rarely produce the repetitive acoustic percussion that is barking. Many people had made that observation, but Molnar and his colleagues were the first to rigorously investigate it.
Because anatomical differences between wild and domestic dogs don’t explain the barking gap, Molnar hypothesized a link to their one great difference: Domesticated dogs have spent the last 50,000 years in human company, being intensively bred to fit our requirements.
Evolution over such a relatively short time is difficult to pin down, but Molnar reasoned that if his hypothesis were correct, two facts would need to be true: Barks should contain information about dogs’ internal states or external environment, and humans should be able to interpret them.
To people who know dogs well, this might seem self-evident. But not every intuition is true. As Molnar’s research would show, sheepherders — people understandably certain in their ability to recognize their own own dogs’ voices — actually couldn’t distinguish their dogs’ barks from others.

- More Here

On Social Psychology

One more enlightening "conversation" as usual @ Edge:

Daniel Gilbert:
The unconscious was banished to psychology’s basement for more than half a century. But in the mid 1970’s, Tim Wilson and Dick Nisbett opened the basement door with their landmark paper entitled "Telling More Than We Can Know," in which they reported a series of experiments showing that people are often unaware of the true causes of their own actions, and that when they are asked to explain those actions, they simply make stuff up. People don’t realize they are making stuff up, of course; they truly believe the stories they are telling about why they did what they did.  But as the experiments showed, people are telling more than they can know. The basement door was opened by experimental evidence, and the unconscious took up permanent residence in the living room. Today, psychological science is rife with research showing the extraordinary power of unconscious mental processes.
If liberating the unconscious had been Wilson’s only contribution to psychological science, it would have been enough. But it was just the start. Wilson has since discovered and documented a variety of fascinating ways in which all of us are "strangers to ourselves" (which also happens to be the title of his last book—a book that Malcolm Gladwell, writing in the New Yorker, correctly called the best popular psychology book published in the last twenty years). He has done brilliant research on topics ranging from "reasons analysis" (it turns out that when people are asked to generate reasons for their decisions, they typically make bad ones) to "affective forecasting" (it turns out that people can’t predict how future events will make them feel), but at the center of all his work lies a single enigmatic insight: we seem to know less about the worlds inside our heads than about the world our heads are inside.

Steven Pinker:
Why doesn't social psychology get more respect? I readily agree that social psychology, not least Wilson's own research, has made profound discoveries, which deserve a greater place in policy and personal recommendations. But the field has been self-handicapped with a relentless insistence on theoretical shallowness: on endless demonstrations that People are Really Bad at X, which are then "explained" by an ever-lengthening list of Biases, Fallacies, Illusions, Neglects, Blindnesses, and Fundamental Errors, each of which restates the finding that people are really bad at X. Wilson, for example, defines "self-affirmation theory" as "the idea that when we feel a threat to our self-esteem that's difficult to deal with, sometimes the best thing we can do is to affirm ourselves in some completely different domain." Most scientists would not call this a "theory." It's a redescription of a phenomenon, which needs a theory to explain it.
Social psychology has, as Wilson noted, made valuable contributions in methodology and discovery. But to explain its own findings—to explain why humans are bad at what they are bad at, and good at what they are good at—it needs to invoke deeper principles from fields other than social psychology itself, including genetics, evolutionary biology, and economics. Wilson's dismissals of the very fields that could complement and deepen social psychology help answer his question of why his discipline is not taken as seriously as it should be.

Quote of the Day

"The prefrontal cortex doesn’t get the input it needs and is being shut down by drugs. That reduces the psychotic symptoms. It also causes the prefrontal cortex to slowly atrophy."

Nancy Andreasen on Psychiatric Drugs

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

On Epigenetics

Richard C. Francis on his new book, Epi-Genetics: The Ultimate Mystery of Inheritance - HERE (I am still tempted think of epigenetics as the science of Karma):

"Changes that arise from normal gene regulation happen in the short term, but epigenetic changes alter the way that genes react to the world for a very long time—even when the original cause has vanished. It is this rather shocking long-term influence that makes epigenetics one of most alluring—and terrifying—shifts in how we think about our genes. Epigenetic changes can occur in adulthood, in childhood, even in utero (a phenomenon explained in Origins by Annie Murphy Paul), with the consequence that an event you experienced as a child could dictate the ways your genes behave in a different situation as an adult. It may have been simple-minded to assume that we are programmed by our genes, but there was a weird egalitarianism in that: Even if we get different genes to begin with, we are under their sway in the same way. Epigenetic change means that not only do we start out as unwitting participants in a genetic lottery, but environmental forces we cannot see or control can mess with our genetic hardware and change our destiny. At the level of DNA, epigenetic change occurs when particular chemicals become attached to the gene, and stay there, altering how the gene behaves. The first of these attachments to be discovered, and still the best known, is from the methyl group. In 1980, it was shown that different degrees of methylation can alter gene expression in different ways. Demethylation can cause problems, too. Depending on the genes involved, one consequence can be unconstrained cell division, otherwise known as cancer. 
The causes of epigenetic attachments are various, and the evidence so far indicates they range from pollution to stressful social interactions. Studies on the long-term effects of a pregnant woman's poor nutrition suggest that the food our mothers eat while we are in the womb can shape our gene expression. So, too, the food they don't eat. The best data on long-term genetic change come from the terrible Dutch famine of 1944, when the Nazis blockaded food supplies, disrupted transport, and flooded farmlands in western Holland. It has emerged as the classic case study in the field, thanks to the exemplary record-keeping of the Dutch, which gives researchers solid longitudinal data on the famine's many far-reaching effects. For children who were in utero at the time of the famine, the consequences include a higher risk of schizophrenia, antisocial personality disorder and other psychological disturbances, and even 50 years down the road, a greater likelihood of becoming obese. At first glance it may seem that the legacy is poor health in general. But that's not how it works. The impact depends on exactly when the fetus was exposed to the famine, Francis reports. Women whose mothers suffered the famine in the first trimester have a higher risk of breast cancer. Those whose mothers suffered in the second trimester have problems with lungs and kidneys.
In 2009, one team unearthed a tantalizing result: Examining the blood cells of adults who were in the womb at the time of the famine, researchers discovered unusual epigenetic attachments on the gene that codes for a hormone called insulin-like growth factor 2. The hormone is crucial for growth, particularly in fetuses. It turns out the IGF2 gene of the famine group is methylated to a different degree than the same gene in a non-famine group. Even though scientists haven't yet traced the specific causal chain between the epigenetic attachments, the genes, and people's lives, those attachments are a smoking gun for epigenetic change in the womb, and health issues many decades later.
Even more fascinating, and unnerving, it appears that the consequences of epigenetic change may stretch over several lifetimes. In one Swedish village, which also has records of crop harvests that go back hundreds of years, the paternal grandsons of men who experienced famine were less likely to have cardiovascular disease than their peers whose paternal grandfathers did not experience famine. But, wait, conventional wisdom says only genes are supposed to be passed on to the next generation. Most epigenetic attachments are stripped away from genes in the creation of sperm and egg cells. Yet it seems that a record of some epigenetic attachments is passed on and then recreated in the genome of the embryo, too. That means that an event in your parent's life that occurred before you were conceived could affect how your genes work today. In other words, the sins of the fathers may be visited on the deoxyribose nucleic acids of the sons. How malleable are our sons and daughters? The mechanisms involved are extraordinarily subtle. Researchers are now only beginning to understand how and why this happens.

A Sense of Wonder with Leon Lederman

Quote of the Day

"The world is a thing of utter inordinate complexity and richness and strangeness that is absolutely awesome. I mean the idea that such complexity can arise not only out of such simplicity, but probably absolutely out of nothing, is the most fabulous extraordinary idea. And once you get some kind of inkling of how that might have happened, it's just wonderful. And … the opportunity to spend 70 or 80 years of your life in such a universe is time well spent as far as I am concerned."

- Douglas Adams

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

How to Deal With Crappy People

I completely back James Altucher's theory - here. I was worried of becoming an automaton but now that notorious confirmation bias ameliorates it. Over the years, I have tried to reason with them, fight with them, forgive them and tried every inconceivable trait I could imagine. Nothing worked except - ignoring and forgetting them. Trust me, it's much easier than it seems (cable news is a great place to start!!).

There is only ONE only way to deal with these people in a way that will make you happier instead of sadder. ONE WAY. And it always works. This is the most important part of the Emotional leg of the Daily Practice. COMPLETELY IGNORE THE EVIL PEOPLE
  • Completely ignore them.
  • Don’t think about them.
  • Don’t talk to them.
  • Don’t write them.
  • Most important: Don’t give them advice. They will NEVER listen to your advice. It’s arrogant and stupid to think they will. It will only lead to  more cycles of pain for you. The goal for me is to stop all cycles that cause me any pain at all. Giving advice to crappy people will only result in more pain for you. That’s the only possible result. Much better to be happy than to flush knotted up brown advice down a toilet that caused you agony to push out. This is hard.
  • Most important: Never gossip about them behind their backs. Just completely disregard. We don’t care about their happiness or how evil they are. We only care about you. Its hard to do. Never ever talk about them behind their backs. Repeat this 500 times. This is hard also. Because it’s an addiction.

Quote of the Day

"Time takes it all, whether you want it to or not. Time takes it all, time bears it away, and in the end there is only darkness. Sometimes we find others in that darkness, and sometimes we lose them there again."

- Stephen King, The Green Mile

Monday, June 20, 2011

June 20th 2011

Irony of life is with language and infinite ways to communicate instantly but yet not a single word could be said. Like Max...  there is beauty in unspoken words and there is beauty in silence. May be these moments, un-distilled by the burden expression will be best remembered till the end.

"Life should be an aim unto itself, a purpose unto itself." - Montaigne

It was easier for Montaigne to write those elegant words but living life as an end in itself ain't easy. But as usual, Max makes it look seamless. It's a pleasure watching the wonder of life unfold through his eyes.

Launching Human Genomes Into Space...?

Fragmented human genomes could be shipped toward the stars and reconstructed upon their arrival, spawning the first interstellar citizens and avoiding the problems of long-distance space survival.
That’s just one idea — proposed by genome pioneer J. Craig Venter — emerging from the field of dreams seeded by DARPA’s 100-Year Starship project. DARPA is collecting proposals for a conference on the starship project this fall. You can submit ideas through July 8; find out more here.
We have no idea what interstellar travel might look like in 100 years, of course — just as Jules Verne could never have conceived of the technology required to really send humans to the moon when he wrote about it in 1865. But if we start now, we can make it happen, according to David Neyland, who directs DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office.
“One hundred years is a pretty good period of time in terms of inspiring research to go off and tackle really hard problems that you don’t even know which questions to ask at the beginning,” he said in a conference call Thursday.

-More Here

Quote of the Day

"He who finds a new path is a pathfinder, even if the trail has to be found again by others; and he who walks far ahead of his contemporaries is a leader, even though centuries pass before he is recognized as such."

- Nathaniel Schmidt, Ibn Khaldun

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Super 8

There are two kinds of sci-fi movies one can expect from J.J.Abrams:

1. Nostalgia driven
2. Mystery driven

This one falls under the former category. It's not one of his best movies but yet simple and touching. He is one of those endangered film makers who still "believes" in producing sci-fi movies with a heart and soul. So glad that he didn't go the M. Night Shyamalan way.

A National Strategic Narrative by Mr.Y

Let's hope, elect, pray and do whatever else is "humanely" possible to make this paper as one of the most influential documents of this century - HERE (via FP)

"Courageously, the authors make the case that America continues to rely far too heavily on its military as the primary tool for how it engages the world. Instead of simply pumping more and more dollars into defense, the narrative argues:

By investing energy, talent, and dollars now in the education and training of young Americans -- the scientists, statesmen, industrialists, farmers, inventors, educators, clergy, artists, service members, and parents, of tomorrow -- we are truly investing in our ability to successfully compete in, and influence, the strategic environment of the future. Our first investment priority, then, is intellectual capital and a sustainable infrastructure of education, health and social services to provide for the continuing development and growth of America's youth.

The paper argues persuasively that the tendency of Americans to broadly label the rest of the world has been hugely counterproductive. The authors point out that the tendency over the last decade by some Americans to view all Muslims as terrorists has made it more difficult to marginalize genuine extremism, while alienating vast swaths of the global Muslim community. In a world where credibility is so central to America's national interest and reach around the globe, the overheated domestic debate about the war on terror has never served it very well.
Lastly, the narrative makes a clarion call for America to look forward, not back, in today's interconnected world:

And yet with globalization, we seem to have developed a strange apprehension about the efficacy of our ability to apply the innovation and hard work necessary to successfully compete in a complex security and economic environment. Further, we have misunderstood interdependence as a weakness rather than recognizing it as a strength. The key to sustaining our competitive edge, at home or on the world stage, is credibility -- and credibility is a difficult capital to foster. It cannot be won through intimidation and threat, it cannot be sustained through protectionism or exclusion. Credibility requires engagement, strength, and reliability -- imaginatively applied through the national tools of development, diplomacy, and defense."

Quote of the Day

"Repeated punishment, while it crushes the hatred of a few, stirs the hatred of all... just as trees that have been trimmed throw out again countless branches."

- De Clementia, Seneca

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Wisdom Of The Week

Andrew's beautiful post on Neibuhr's final form of love - Forgiveness:

Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we are saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint.
Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.

And then one reads this story. A 27-year old Rais Bhuiyan was working at a gas station when a white supremacist enraged by 9/11 came in and shot him in the face. The attacker was on a spree of non-white killings and was captured, tried, and sentenced to die next month. Buiyan wants to commute his assailant's sentence, despite having his face almost destroyed and being blind in one eye. Here's why:

"I strongly believe he was ignorant," Bhuiyan explained to the audience. "He couldn't differentiate right from wrong. ... By executing him now, we are losing everything." His Muslim faith, he said, teaches forgiveness, not vengeance.

Nadeem Akthar, the brother-in-law of another of Stroman's victims, Hasan, spoke at the press conference as well. "The last 10 years have been a long 10 years," he told the audience. "We've been going through a lot of turmoil ... but we made it here." He quoted Sura 5, verse 32 from the Quran, something he said his sister, Hasan's wife, had wanted him to share. "If someone slays one person, he has slain mankind entirely," reads the verse. "And if someone has saved one person, he has saved mankind entirely."

Jim Al-Khalili Talk With The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams

What I've Been Reading

Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing by Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe. Barry Schwatz's TED speech catapulted him to well deserved quasi-celebrity status and this book delivers more than that famous speech. This is probably the only book where one can find the wisdom of a janitor and judge on the same page. 

"We can experience fear, confidence, desire, anger, pity, and generally any kind of pleasure and pain either too much or too little, and in either case not properly . But to experience all this at the right time, toward the right objects, towards the´right people, for the right reason, and in the right manner - that is the median and the best course, the course that is a mark of virtue." - Aristotle  

2500 years ago, Aristotle summed up particle wisdom in those simple words.  
Practical wisdom deficit in this country makes the economic deficit look minuscule. But yet nothing much can be done collective unless we as individuals perpetually hone the traits of sharing, learning, compassion and being conscientious. All this should be self-evident else... and yes, it's not self-evident to many. 

"The 24 character strengths Seligman identified include things like curiosity, open-mindedness, perspective, kindness and generosity, loyalty, duty, fairness, leadership, self-control, caution, humility, bravery, perseverance, honesty, gratitude, optimism, and zest. He organized these strength into six virtues; courage, humanity and love, justice, temperance, transcendence, and wisdom and knowledge. Aristotle would have recognized many of these strengths as the kind of "excellences" or virtues he considered necessary for eudaomonia, a flourishing or happy life." - Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman

Quote of the Day

“A little bit of agitation gives motivation to the soul, and what really makes the species prosper is not peace so much as freedom"

- Jean Jacques Rousseau

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Truth of False - Shankar Vedantam

Crazy but scary... here:

"Shankar Vedantam, a reporter for The Washington Post, explains that right after reading the flyer, people mostly remembered the false statements as false.

SHANKAR VEDANTAM: But about 30 minutes later, older people started to remember some of the false statements as true, and three days later, very large numbers of older people and significant numbers of younger people also started remembering increasing numbers of myths as true.

The true statements did not suffer the same kind of deterioration with time. In other words, over time we tend to remember false things as true but not true things as false.

BOB GARFIELD: Hmm — well, I guess there's some hope in that. By what mechanism is this taking place?

SHANKAR VEDANTAM: The mind relies on a number of rules of thumb, and one of the rules of thumb that it uses is that things that are more easily recalled are true even if the context in which they originally heard the statement was that the statement is false."

Animals & Love: Exclusive Excerpt From Exultant Ark

Excerpts from the new book Exultant Art: A Pictorial Tour of Animal Pleasure by Jonathan Balcombe - Here , an eye opener (for most); a must read:

On the question of love’s existence in the hearts and minds of animals, science has been mainly mute. Few textbooks on animals discuss the possibility of love. For instance, the word love can be found in neither the index of The Oxford Companion to Animal Behavior nor the Encyclopedia of Animal Behavior. There are, I think, two main reasons for this. First, it is difficult, if not impossible, to prove feelings of love in another individual, even a human. This is the challenge of private experiences. It is why the study of animal feelings in general was largely neglected for the century following the 1872 publication of Charles Darwin’s The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. But humans can at least give verbal expression to their loving feelings; so far, animals cannot, although there is the potential for revelations from language-taught great apes.

Second, our sense of superiority over other animals has made us loath to accept the idea that they can have such presumably complex feelings as love. That nonhumans are conscious remains controversial for some scientists, although their numbers are dwindling. Nevertheless, biologists usually use the term bond in place of love when referring to nonhumans. This is a safety net to avoid anthropomorphism.

As scientific interest in animal emotions has grown in recent years, new discoveries have suggested that animals too can feel love. One such discovery is that spindle cells occur in nonhumans. These large neurons, named for their shape, occur in parts of the human brain thought to be responsible for social organization, empathy, and intuitions about the feelings of others. Spindle cells are also credited with allowing us to feel love and to suffer emotionally. Long believed to exist only in the brains of humans and other great apes, in 2006 spindle cells were discovered in the same brain areas in humpback whales, fin whales, killer whales, and sperm whales. Furthermore, the proportion of spindle cells in whales’ brains is about three times that in human brains. It appears that spindle cells evolved in whales about thirty million years ago, some fifteen million years before humans acquired them, so the fact that the common ancestor of cetaceans and primates lived more than ninety-five million years ago means that spindle cells evolved separately in these lineages. In 2008, spindle cells were reported in both African and Indian elephants."

How to Print a Bicycle - 3D Printing

Quote of the Day

"There's been no biological change in humans in 40,000 or 50,000 years. Everything we call culture and civilization we've built with the same body and brain."

- Steven Jay Gould

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Meditation & Creative Mind

"The closest analogues are the so-called executive functions, brain systems involved in planning, integrating of sensory information, and abstract thinking, that are thought to be concentrated in the prefrontal cortex. There is, says Aronson, a way to improve executive functioning, and it's the very same practice prescribed by Alexander: mindfulness meditation. In fact, Aronson is currently planning a meditation study with undergrads at NYU. "Some studies show that people who do mindfulness meditation gain as much as 10 IQ points," he says. "What that seems to indicate is that it works on the ability to screen out irrelevant information, to clear out the mind of distractions, and to focus intently on relevant stimuli, which frees up resources to solve problems."
Subjectively, after a few weeks of practice, I can say that meditation does seem to quickly bring on a sense of quiet and clarity. Still, being creative is not as simple as being relaxed. It also involves the ability to make unexpected connections, to move fluidly among concepts, to consolidate past memories, ideas, or impressions and arrive at new insights. Alexander calls this second step "accessing your creative unconscious," and he believes meditation can set the stage.

 - More Here

How To Innovate - Fareed Zakaria

Again, life without TV comes with a cost; after "three" days of waiting, the video podcast of  Restoring the American Dream: How to Innovate is online now. A must watch (embedding disabled).

Len Baker perfectly  sums up the two personality traits he looks out for in the future entrepreneurs:
  • High energy level
  • Intellectual honesty and eagerness to seek negative feedback
Obviously, we as a nation has a surfeit of the former trait but the latter dissipates amongst the denizens of Lake Wobegon.

Fareed's Innovation story on Time magazine - here:

"What is innovation? We don't really have a good fix on the concept. We know it when we see it. But this much is clear: it encompasses more than just scientific or technological breakthroughs, as becomes apparent when you look at which companies are considered the most innovative. In the world of business rankings, it is very rare for a company to rank first in every survey, since the criteria often vary greatly. Yet when tackling innovation, one company, Apple, utterly dominates the lists, whoever puts them together.

So how would one define Apple's innovations? It is not a company that focuses on pathbreaking science and spews out new inventions and patents. The 2010 Booz & Co. ranking of companies by their expenditures on research and development places Apple 81st. As a percentage of its revenue, the company spends less than half of what the typical computer and electronics company does and a fifth of what Microsoft spends. Apple's innovations are powerful and profound, but they are often in the realms of design, consumer use and marketing. This is hardly unusual. In fact, the application of technology in service of a consumer need or business objective is what true innovation always has been.

Viewed from a historical perspective, that combination at the heart of successful innovation becomes clear. Len Baker, one of the founding fathers of the Silicon Valley venture-capital industry, says, "My favorite example is Isaac Merritt Singer, who invented the first commercially successful sewing machine. The real benefit to society was that he was the first person to sell to women, because prior to this it was assumed that women couldn't operate machinery. His company invented the installment plan and the trade-in. That's innovation. Think of eBay: eBay didn't create new technology. It used technology and revolutionized the way people do things." This idea of innovation as a new business process is of course older than modern capitalism itself. The system of accounting called double-entry bookkeeping, invented in Renaissance Italy, was powerfully connected to the development of trade and commerce. New ideas in all kinds of fields can fuel economic growth."

P.S.: CDO's doesn't count as innovation.