Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Kill Decision - Autonomous Drones

John Robb on Dan Suarez's new book Kill Decision... scary.. new drone from Northrop Grumman:

It's an autonomous aircraft/drone that has a full weapons bay (4,500 lbs).   Say that word again:  autonomous.   That's the breakthrough feature.  This also means:

It can make its own "kill decision."  Again and again and again.  That decision is going to get better and better and cheaper and cheaper (Moore's law has made insect level intelligence available for pennies, rat intelligence is next). It isn't vulnerable to a pilot in Nevada directing it to land in Iran. Oops. It will eventually (sooner than you think) be the "Queen," making decisions for thousands of smaller swarmed (semi-autonomous) drones it lays on a battle zone (aka "city").

In sum:  It allows an unprecedented automation of conventional violence.   

Wisdom Of Martin Wolf

Enlightening piece from Martin Wolf on the future of economics... too bad politicians and people wouldn't heed to this wisdom and probably prefer to stay stuck in the quagmire of 20th century economic ideologies.
  • Let a thousand flowers of thought bloom. There cannot be just one general model of the economy or just one approach to economics. Among the blooms discussed were behavioural economics, neuroeconomics, computer based modelling of processes over time. Participants recommended talking to political scientists and even sociologists. They also recommended looking at the causes of inequality, the economics of happiness, the role of institutions, the importance of culture, and the effects of power. Fortunately, economists are creative people. A great deal of imaginative stuff is going on.
  • Time matters in economic processes, which are, in general, not reversible and not characterised by any sort of equilibrium. More broadly still, economics suffers from physics envy. It seeks to be an exact science, which is impossible.
  • Even though economists get much wrong, they still have much to offer to non-economists who tend to assume that economic problems are far more simple than they actually are.

Quote of the Day

"A stoic sage is one who turns fear into prudence, pain into information, mistakes into initiation, and desire into undertaking."

- Nassim Taleb

Monday, January 30, 2012

Sebastian Thrun On University 2.0

This is not just about free online education or redefining the educational system. This is about freedom and liberty. This is just not a freedom of education or a freedom to learn and not even a liberty for free knowledge but this is a new kind of liberty - A LIBERTY TO UNDERSTAND. A liberty to understand with no shackles if we have the will. Liberty to understand without biased teachers and professors. Liberty to understand anywhere in the world since the man made borders have no meaning here. Liberty to understand without paying a penny. Liberty to understand with no time limits. Liberty to understand sans the overestimated IQ. Liberty to understand without any distinction of race, creed, religion or sex. A liberty delivered at our door steps without a single bullet fired and without uttering the word revolution. A liberty bought to us by a pen, a napkin and a camera. This is never happened in the history of mankind, period.

The citizens of this country are currently stuck in an irresponsible, cognitively stagnate and ideological debate of pro and anti tax. They are so mired in their polarized certainty that they have become oblivious to this fact - unintentional consequence of their actions might even bring the country down. Amidst this cacophony, an German born American citizen has upgraded the version of  a liberty without even mentioning the word liberty. This probably could be a cure for democracy's Achilles' heel - to have a thriving, peaceful, perpetual and sane democracy, the country needs intelligent citizens. If we like the idea of democracy, civilization et al., one needs to embrace the fact that we have a moral responsibility to be intelligent. Liberty to understand is a vehicle to pursue that moral responsibility. I am proud to say, this guy Sebastian was and is my professor and he is the new Norman Borlaug. Let thousands of Borlaug bloom on this planet before we kick the bucket. And they will. My hopes have never been so high.

"I spent the last few days under incoming mortar and rocket attacks, then dodging checkpoints under questionable legal status to exfiltrate a war zone to a third world air field until things settledown. I had about an hour of fairly solid internet connectivity to be able to get the assignments done and still managed a respectable score. This is a typical week here for me."
- An email from an online AI class student in Afghanistan.

All I can say is - for once, remove the word "busy" from the lexicon and sign up for the new class at udacity. You might never become an expert in AI but I can promise you that your confidence will skyrocket. If not anything else, you will get much better at what you are doing now. Your world will never be the same. You will develop a sense of awe and wonder. Signup to experience that feeling; you will never regret it. 

Quote of the Day

"Together with intelligence, self-control turns out to be the best predictor of a successful and satisfying life."

- Steven Pinker

Sunday, January 29, 2012

What I've Been Reading

The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker. It took me almost 3 weeks to finish this 800 page mammoth and most important book of this century. To reiterate Pinker's cautious disclaimer that his theory (a fact rather) is based on history and it's not a prediction for future. Pinker makes that crystal clear with humility.

"As a scientist, I must be skeptical of any mystical force or cosmic destiny that carries us ever upward. Declines of violence are a product of social, cultural, and material conditions. If the conditions persist, violence will remain low or decline even further; if they don't it won't.
I will not try to make predictions; nor will I offer advice to politicians, police chiefs, or peacemakers, which given my qualifications would be a form of malpractice. What I will try to do is identify the broad forces that have pushed violence downward."

I have to confess that having read so many good reviews, I had no intention to read this huge book until I heard about the chapter on animals rights and decline of cruelty to animals. After finishing that chapter, I felt relieved and got an immense boast of optimism.

"When it came to the treatment of animals, modern philosophy got off to a bad start. Descartes wrote that animals were clockwork, so there was no one home to feel pain or pleasure. What sound to us like cries of distress were merely the output of of a noisemaker, like a waring buzzer on a machine. Descartes knew that the nervous system of animals and humans were similar, so from our perspective it's odd that he could grant consciousness to humans while denying it  to animals."
 (In 2009, Max replied to Descartes's cognitive dissonance)

Reading these pages was worse than watching a Quentin Tarantino movie marathon. I felt miserable, depressed and almost puked. It's very hard keep that dose of optimism high given how weird a creatures we are. But yet... that spark which Hume mentioned centuries ago might helps us keep moving forward.. I hope..

"It seems a happiness in the present theory, that it enters not into that vulgar dispute concerning the degrees of benevolence or self-love, which prevail in human nature; a dispute which is never likely to have any issue, both because men, who have taken part, are not easily convinced, and because the phenomena, which can be produced on either side, are so dispersed, so uncertain, and subject to so many interpretations, that it is scarcely possible accurately to compare them, or draw from them any determinate inference or conclusion. It is sufficient for our present purpose, if it be allowed, what surely, without the greatest absurdity cannot be disputed, that there is some benevolence, however small, infused into our bosom; some spark of friendship for human kind; some particle of the dove kneaded into our frame, along with the elements of the wolf and serpent.  Let these generous sentiments be supposed ever so weak; let them be insufficient to move even a hand or finger of our body, they must still direct the determinations of our mind, and where everything else is equal, produce a cool preference of what is useful and serviceable to mankind, above what is pernicious and dangerous."

- David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals

Citizen Philosophers To Help Save Democracy

Most of the four million slaves shipped from Africa to Brazil were sold in Salvador, the first residence of Portugal’s colonial rulers. It’s still Brazil’s blackest city. In Ribeiro’s neighborhood, children play football or do capoeira, pray in Pentecostal Churches or worship African gods. Many are involved with drugs; “every year we lose students to crack,” she tells me. And they study philosophy two hours each week because of a 2008 law that mandates philosophy instruction in all Brazilian high schools. Nine million teenagers now take philosophy classes for three year.

In 1971 the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985 eliminated philosophy from high schools. Teachers, professors in departments of education, and political activists championed its return, while most academic philosophers were either indifferent or suspicious. The dictatorship seems to have understood philosophy’s potential to create engaged citizens; it replaced philosophy with a course on Moral and Civic Education and one on Brazil’s Social and Political Organization (“to inculcate good manners and patriotic values and to justify the political order of the generals,” one UFBA colleague recalls from his high school days).

The official rationale for the 2008 law is that philosophy “is necessary for the exercise of citizenship.” The law—the world’s largest-scale attempt to bring philosophy into the public sphere—thus represents an experiment in democracy. Among teachers at least, many share Ribeiro’s hope that philosophy will provide a path to greater civic participation and equality. Can it do even more? Can it teach students to question and challenge the foundations of society itself?

But can philosophy really become part of ordinary life? Wasn’t Socrates executed for trying? Athenians didn’t thank him for guiding them to the examined life, but instead accused him of spreading moral corruption and atheism. Plato concurs: Socrates failed because most citizens just aren’t philosophers in his view. To make them question the beliefs and customs they were brought up in isn’t useful because they can’t replace them with examined ones. So Socrates ended up pushing them into nihilism. To build politics on a foundation of philosophy, Plato concludes, doesn’t mean turning all citizens into philosophers, but putting true philosophers in charge of the city—like parents in charge of children. I wonder, though, why Plato didn’t consider the alternative: If citizens had been trained in dialectic debate from early on—say, starting in high school—might they have reacted differently to Socrates? Perhaps the Brazilian experiment will tell.

- via Andrew  (we need this in this country as well)


Neil deGrasse Tyson made this hilarious remark in a recent talk - "Three quarters of the earth, if I drop you butt-naked, you're dead ten minutes later."

Those lines pretty much sums up the harshness of life on this planet and the man vs wild struggle splendidly captured in this movie. But yet the harshness of this planet shouldn't surprises anyone. The surprising factor has always been despite the savage inside each one of us (including Max and I), how we evolved to become a reasonably passive creatures. We often debate and get lost in Fremi's paradox but we often forget to evaluate the probability of how we make a conscious decision to die and more importantly live for someone else. This brilliant and powerful movie shows the dark side of this planet and in the process exposes that better angles of our nature. Liam Neeson has been getting better with age; this is one of his best movies yet.

Quote of the Day

"They all err ­– Muslims, Jews,
Christians, and Zoroastrians.
Humanity follows two worldwide sects:
One, man intelligent without religion,
The second, religious without intellect."

The Epistle of Forgiveness by Abul Ala al-Ma’arri (A blind Arab philosopher)

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Lara Logan & The Unforgettable "Bill", The Puppy

As Logan told Overtime editor Ann Silvio, the story of Bill takes place in Afghanistan where she was recently on assignment, reporting on brothers serving in the US Marines. While working in the field, Lara and her producer Tom Anderson caught up with a group of Marines from the 1st Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment. They had taken on a very special duty: saving Bill, an adorable orphaned puppy that was near death when they found him.

"You know, everyone has this image of Marines as jarheads and door-kickers" said Logan. "But when we got to this patrol base, we saw these guys sitting around caring for Bill. I just watched for a little while, and it was very clear from the first moment that all these Marines loved this little dog. They were mad about him."

- More Here

Life Lessons From Judo

  • Like a drawing in India ink of the whispering of wind in the pines, the secrets of Judo can only be suggested. Only through personal experience can one comprehend the mystic ecstasy of such secrets. It is said of Jujitsu that it would require ten years of practice to win victory over one's self and twenty years to win victory over others . . . Only by cultivating a receptive state of mind, without preconceived ideas or thoughts, can one master the secret art of reacting spontaneously and naturally without hesitation and without purposeless resistance.
  • Respect and kindness, fidelity and sincerity, are no doubt the essential points which Judo students should particularly observe. We come by daily training to know that irritability is one of our weakest points, and that we have to try to avoid it in our life, as it facilitates our opponent's efforts to overcome us. Not to be irritated in any emergency, but to always be calm and composed, is one of the first principles of Judo. Prudence, precaution, temperance, perseverance, presence of mind, quick discernment, decision after deliberation, animation with moderation, self-respect, and self-control--all these are surely moral qualities which are inculcated by the study of Judo. Greatness of mind, obedience to duty and abhorrence of extravagance should be among other points observed with no less attention. As we study and acquire the principles of Judo, we should naturally come to understand how these virtues can be enjoyed and utilized. The main object of Judo lies in this point. It seeks to augment human strength, morality and intellect by human means and efforts. It tends to train young people in the habits and condition conducive to the accomplishment of great undertakings.
  • Since the fundamental principle acquired through the practice of Jujitsu has been elevated to a finer moral concept called Judo, "The Way of Gentleness," it may well be said that the primary objective of practicing Judo is perfection of character.
  • Only by cultivating a receptive state of mind, without preconceived ideas or thoughts, can one master the secret art of reacting spontaneously and naturally without hesitation and without purposeless resistance.
  • Victory over the opponent is achieved by giving way to the strength of the opponent, adapting to it and taking advantage of it, turning it in the end to your own advantage.
       - More Lessons Here

Wisdom Of The Week

"Schumpeter applauded capitalism as much as Marxists despised it. But he shared the Marxist beliefs that creative destruction was at the heart of capitalism and that its inevitable consequence would be capitalism’s demise. Schumpeter feared that the very success of capitalism would give entrenched interests the power to resist the process of innovation that was at the heart of capitalism’s success. Mitt Romney is right to emphasise the role of creative destruction in the market economy, but that is not the market economy his financial backers have in mind.

And perhaps Schumpeter was right. The prescient, cynical Adam Smith had still not imagined a world in which the Wealth of Nations would cross the world digitally at the click of a mouse. Nor had he envisaged one in which legislation would be drafted by paid lobbyists."

- via FS

Quote of the Day

"Emptiness which is conceptually liable to be mistaken for sheer nothingness is in fact the reservoir of infinite possibilities."
- Daisetz Suzuki

Friday, January 27, 2012

What I've Been Reading

Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery by Gary Reylonds. 
  • It is more difficult to process information if it is coming at you both verbally and in written form at the same time (according to John Sweller's cognitive load theory).
  • Let go of the past - Unlearn ineffective habits learned over the years.
  • Some tools are better than others but it is possible to present effectively even with older versions of PowerPoint.
  • No dissolves, spins or other. The presentation of the content should be simple, balanced, and beautiful.
  • Don't handout printouts of your slides beforehand. They don't work without you.
  • Don't use software tools during the initial phase of planning. Before you design your presentation, you need to see the big picture and identify your core messages—or the single core message. This can be difficult unless you create a stillness of mind for yourself, something which is hard to do while puttering around in slideware.
  • Always ask yourself these following questions - If the audience could remember only one thing, what do you want it to be? What's my point? And why does it matter?
  • Ask yourself if you can pass the elevator test. Elevator Test - When you arrive at the admin desk outside the vice- president's office, suddenly she comes out with her coat and briefcase in hand and says, "...sorry, something's come up, give me your idea as we walk down to my car..." Imagine such a scenario. Could you sell your idea in the elevator ride and the walk to the parking lot? Sure, the scenario is unlikely, but possible. What is very possible, however, is for you to be asked without notice to shorten your talk down, from, say, 20 minutes, to five minutes (or from a scheduled one hour to 30 minutes). Could you do it?
  • Slides are slides. Documents are documents. They aren't the same thing. Don't attempt to merge them.
  • PowerPoint and Keynote are not good tools for making written documents; use word processors instead.
  • In the book Made to Stick , Heath brothers explain simply and brilliantly the  that "sticky" ideas have six key principles in common: simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, emotions, and stories. And yes, these six compress nicely into the acronym SUCCESs.
  • The biggest reason why most people fail to craft effective or "sticky" messages is because of what they call the "Curse of Knowledge." The Curse of Knowledge is essentially the condition whereby the deliverer of the message cannot imagine what it's like not to possess his level of background knowledge on the topic. When he speaks in abstractions to the audience, it makes perfect sense to him, but to him alone. In his mind it seems simple and obvious. The six principles— SUCCESs—are your weapons, then, to fight your own Curse of Knowledge (we all have it) to make messages that stick.
  • Internalize your story, but do not memorize it line by line. You can't fake it. You believe in your story, or you do not. And if you do not, no amount of hyped-up, superficial enthusiasm or conviction will ever make your time with an audience meaningful.
  • Formal speech and formal writing devoid of any emotion whatsoever is extremely difficult to stay with for more than a few minutes. Your conscious mind has to remind you to "stay awake, this is important!" But someone who speaks in a natural, human, conversational style is far easier to stay engaged with. Good presenters target people's "left brain" and "right brain."
  • Always keep the audience in mind by first keeping your talk as short as you can and still doing an effective job telling your story, and second, after you have prepared your presentation, go back and edit like crazy, eliminating parts that are not absolutely crucial to your overall point or purpose of the talk. You must be ruthless. When in doubt, cut it out.
  • The best visuals are often ones designed with an eye toward simplicity. Yet, this says nothing about the specifics of a visual presentation. That will depend on the content and context. For example, even the best visuals used in support of a presentation for one audience on, say, quantum mechanics, may appear complicated and confusing to a different audience. Simplicity is often used as a means to greater clarity.
  • Don't have to use slideware for every presentation, but if you do, the visuals should seem a part of the show, not something "over there" off to the side.
  • The following Zen aesthetic values can be applied to slide design and web design: Simplicity, Subtlety, Elegance, Suggestive rather than the descriptive or obvious, Naturalness (i.e., nothing artificial or forced), Empty space (or negative space), Stillness, Tranquility, Eliminating the nonessential.
  • You can get people's interest by violating their expectations. Surprise people. Surprise will get their interest.
  • Use of bullet points in slides should be a rare exception.
  • iStockphoto is an excellent resource to get free imagines to use in presentations.
  • Quotes can indeed add credibility to your story. Quotes should be short, in most cases, since it can become quite tedious when a presenter reads a paragraph from a screen.
  • Empty space in a design is not "nothing," it is indeed a powerful "something," which gives the few elements on your slide their power.The slides have a clean white background with plenty of active empty space that helps guide the viewer's eyes. Learn to see and manipulate empty space to give your slide designs greater organization, clarity, and interest.
  • Check out some great slides here and here
  • Practice Mindfulness - Rather than hating washing the dishes, you just wash the dishes. When you write a letter, you write a letter. And when you give a presentation, you give a presentation. Once we allow our mind to drift to thoughts of success and failure or of outcomes and technique while performing our art, we have at that moment begun our descent.
  • Following five principles of Judo offer good advice for delivering effective presentations:
  1. Carefully observe oneself and one's situation, carefully observe others, and carefully observe one's environment.
  2. Seize the initiative in whatever you undertake.  
  3. Consider fully, act decisively. 
  4. Know when to stop.  
  5. Keep to the middle.
  • Remember Benjamin Zander's (author of The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life) words of wisdom - "This is the moment—this is the most important moment right now. Which is: We are about contribution. That's what our job is. It's not about impressing people. It's not about getting the next job. It's about contributing something."
  • Humor is a wonderful way to remind everyone around us—no matter how hard the work gets—that our true and most "central" self is not obsessed with childish demands, entitlements, and calculations but is instead supportive, confident, helpful, and even inspiring. A presentation is as good a time as any to let people see that side of you.
  • A good tip to always remember - It's not about us, it's about them. And about the message.
  • No matter how much time you are given, never ever go over time, and in fact finish a bit before your allotted time is up. We want to leave our audiences satisfied (motivated, inspired, more knowledgeable, etc.), but not feeling that they could have done with just a little less.
  • You will make it look easy and natural by preparing and practicing like mad. The more you rehearse, the more confident you'll become, and the easier it will seem to the audience.

Quote of the Day

"What we think, we become."

- Buddha

Thursday, January 26, 2012

13th Amendment To Non-Human Animals - Can Animals Be Slaves?

I am sooooooooo thrilled; more on this ground breaking lawsuit here:

"The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits the condition of slavery. But it does not refer to a "person" or any particular class of victims.

So, can animals be slaves?

The case - the first-ever seeking to apply the 13th Amendment to nonhuman animals – represents a growing trend among a new generation of legal advocates who recognize that society moved away from the outdated notion that animals are unfeeling things a long time ago. It is time for our laws to follow suit. The lawsuit calls for the five orcas to be released to a more appropriate environment, such as a coastal sanctuary. Protected sea pens would allow these orcas greater freedom of movement; the opportunity to see, sense and communicate with their wild cousins and other ocean animals; and the ability to feel the tides and waves and engage in behavior that is natural to their species.

In another case drawing widespread interest, a New York City woman has filed a civil suit against the pet store that sold her a puppy, named Umka, who quickly developed chronic, debilitating medical conditions. The suit seeks to establish that animals are living beings, not inanimate things, and to hold the store accountable for Umka's pain, suffering and medical bills.

The legal system currently considers animals to be "property." If the legal definition of an animal is rightfully amended to recognize that animals feel emotions such as pain, joy, fear and grief, it could significantly affect the level of compensation that could be awarded when a buyer purchases an unhealthy dog born in a puppy mill – a mass-breeding facility in which animals are kept in tiny, feces-caked cages and never given any love or attention or even a chance to roll in the grass.

If successful, the lawsuit would leave pet stores financially liable for selling animals from puppy mills.
No matter what the outcome, the issue has focused attention on the miserable lives ofanimals churned out in breeding mills and the far-reaching consequences of buying animalsinstead of adopting them from shelters."

Udacity - Alex Tabrrok On Sebatian Thurn's New "Gig"

"Thrun was eloquent on the subject of how he realized that he had been running “weeder” classes, designed to be tough and make students fail and make himself, the professor, look good. Going forwards, he said, he wanted to learn from Khan Academy and build courses designed to make as many students as possible succeed — by revisiting classes and tests as many times as necessary until they really master the material.

And I loved as well his story of the physical class at Stanford, which dwindled from 200 students to 30 students because the online course was more intimate and better at teaching than the real-world course on which it was based.

So what I was expecting was an announcement from Thrun that he was helping to reinvent university education: that he was moving all his Stanford courses online, that the physical class would be a space for students to get more personalized help. No more lecturing: instead, the classes would be taken on the students’ own time, and the job of the real-world professor would be to answer questions from kids paying $30,000 for their education.

But that’s not the announcement that Thrun gave. Instead, he said, he concluded that “I can’t teach at Stanford again.” He’s given up his tenure at Stanford, and he’s started a new online university called Udacity. He wants to enroll 500,000 students for his first course, on how to build a search engine — and of course it’s all going to be free."

- More Here

A Cure For Capitalism Concerns

"America’s political system, especially at the federal level, is letting us down, in ways that cut across political parties and span Presidential administrations and Congressional sessions. But it would be wrong to place either the U.S. competitiveness problem or its solution at the feet of the government. Business plays a role in creating even those problems that seem to stem from public policy. Take, for instance, America’s corporate tax code. The code is convoluted in part because government authorities have allowed it to be, but also because corporate leaders have relentlessly pushed for loopholes and subsidies that serve narrow self-interest. Part of the business agenda for U.S. competitiveness is to stop taking actions that benefit one’s own firm but, collectively, weaken America’s business environment.

Moreover, business can and must be a positive part of the solution to America’s competitiveness problem. Individually and collectively, firms can upgrade the business environment in the communities where they operate—by supporting educational institutions, building shared infrastructure, investing in workforce skills, deepening clusters, and so on. We are not suggesting corporate charity here. In our survey, we asked each respondent what would happen to his or her company if it undertook more activities to benefit the local community. A full 22% said that the company itself would be more successful as a result. Another 72% said that their companies could do more to benefit the local community without affecting company success. Only 7% felt that doing more for the community would diminish corporate success. Untapped opportunities exist for firms to upgrade the competitiveness of their local communities, and to benefit themselves in the process."

- More Here

Quote of the Day

"In order to be open to creativity, one must have the capacity for constructive use of solitude. One must overcome the fear of being alone."

- Rollo May

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Metting Nassim Taleb In Person !!

It was a sheer pleasure listening to Taleb last night at Stevens Institute, Hoboken, NJ. Lecture was a condensed version of his Antifragility (which probably would be  the title of his upcoming book) talk with Russ Roberts last week (full audio and text here). Taleb was very simple and charismatic in person but as usual his limited patience for BS made the Q&A session more hilarious. Observing him at close quarters, it was very clear he would like to be remembered as a philosopher rather than an intellectual or an economist (duh!!)
Of-course I got a copy of The Black Swan signed by him!!

Quote of the Day

"An educated man must have a 'curiosity in exploring the unfamiliar and unexpected, an open-mindedness in entertaining opposing points of view, tolerance for the ambiguity that surrounds so many important issues, and a willingness to make the best decisions he can in the face of uncertainty and doubt."

- Derek Bok

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Learn Probability & Statistics - Larry Summers

As the “Moneyball” story aptly displays in the world of baseball, the marshalling of data to test presumptions and locate paths to success is transforming almost every aspect of human life. It is not possible to make judgments about one’s own medical care without some understanding of probability, and certainly the financial crisis speaks to the consequences of the failure to appreciate “black swan events” and their significance. In an earlier era, when many people were involved in surveying land, it made sense to require that almost every student entering a top college know something of trigonometry. Today, a basic grounding in probability statistics and decision analysis makes far more sense

A good rule of thumb for many things in life holds that things take longer to happen than you think they will, and then happen faster than you thought they could. Think, for example, of the widespread use of the e-book, or the coming home to roost of debt problems around the industrialized world. Here is a bet and a hope that the next quarter century will see more change in higher education than the last three combined

- Larry Summers

For What Reason People Stay Vegan - Ethics, Health Or Environment?

Ethics - the clear winner (here):

"In 2009 and 2010, the pledge questionnaire administered at the beginning of the pledge asked people to nominate reasons why they decided to go vegan for the month. I broke these reasons down into categories. 93 participants nominated a total of 132 reasons.

Interestingly, health was the number one reason. “Other” comprises lots of reasons including some that were rare (e.g. girlfriend pressure) and most that were vague (e.g. wanted more info; I don’t think I need animal products; get ideas). One reason health might have been such a big factor in this dataset is because  London Vegan Campaigns specifically advertised the pledge to help pledgers learn more about health and lose weight.

Only a couple of the nominated reasons appeared to have an effect on whether participants who showed up to the last meeting said they were going to stay vegan, which nearly 70% of participants said they would. Ethics was nearly significant with 84% of participants nominating this reason deciding to stay the course whereas those who viewed it as a challenge/experiment came out at only 33%."

Quote of the Day

"Others inspire us, information feeds us, practice improves our performance, but we need quite time to figure things out, to emerge with new discoveries, to unearth original answers."

- Ester Buchholz

Monday, January 23, 2012

Schlep Blindness - Paul Graham

There are great startup ideas lying around unexploited right under our noses. One reason we don't see them is a phenomenon I call schlep blindness. Schlep was originally a Yiddish word but has passed into general use in the US. It means a tedious, unpleasant task.

No one likes schleps, but hackers especially dislike them. Most hackers who start startups wish they could do it by just writing some clever software, putting it on a server somewhere, and watching the money roll in—without ever having to talk to users, or negotiate with other companies, or deal with other people's broken code. Maybe that's possible, but I haven't seen it.

One of the many things we do at Y Combinator is teach hackers about the inevitability of schleps. No, you can't start a startup by just writing code. I remember going through this realization myself. There was a point in 1995 when I was still trying to convince myself I could start a company by just writing code. But I soon learned from experience that schleps are not merely inevitable, but pretty much what business consists of. A company is defined by the schleps it will undertake. And schleps should be dealt with the same way you'd deal with a cold swimming pool: just jump in. Which is not to say you should seek out unpleasant work per se, but that you should never shrink from it if it's on the path to something great.

The most dangerous thing about our dislike of schleps is that much of it is unconscious. Your unconscious won't even let you see ideas that involve painful schleps. That's schlep blindness.

- Paul Graham

Quote of the Day

"How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it."

The Theory of Moral Sentiments by Adam Smith

Sunday, January 22, 2012

How Austerity Cured 1920-21 Depression

Great article in the Sunday Washington Post by James Grant on the depression of 1920-21 and how after President Warren G. Harding’s response, “the unemployment rate fell from 15.6 percent to 9 percent (on its way to 3.2 percent in 1923), while constant-dollar output leapt by 16 percent. After which the 1920s proverbially roared.”

And how did the administration of Warren G. Harding, in conjunction with the Federal Reserve, produce these astonishing results? Why, by raising interest rates, reducing the public debt and balancing the federal budget.

- More Here

On A Certain Blindness In Human Beings - William James

Our judgments concerning the worth of things, big or little, depend on the feelings the things arouse in us. Where we judge a thing to be precious in consequence of the idea we frame of it, this is only because the idea is itself associated already with a feeling. If we were radically feelingless, and if ideas were the only things our mind could entertain, we should lose all our likes and dislikes at a stroke, and be unable to point to any one situation or experience in life more valuable or significant than any other.

Now the blindness in human beings, of which this discourse will treat, is the blindness with which we all are afflicted in regard to the feelings of creatures and people different from ourselves.

We are practical beings, each of us with limited functions and duties to perform. Each is bound to feel intensely the importance of his own duties and the significance of the situations that call these forth. But this feeling is in each of us a vital secret, for sympathy with which we vainly look to others. The others are too much absorbed in their own vital secrets to take an interest in ours. Hence the stupidity and injustice of our opinions, so far as they deal with the significance of alien lives. Hence the falsity of our judgments, so far as they presume to decide in an absolute way on the value of other persons' conditions or ideals.

Take our dogs and ourselves, connected as we are by a tie more intimate than most ties in this world; and yet, outside of that tie of friendly fondness, how insensible, each of us, to all that makes life significant for the other!—we to the rapture of bones under hedges, or smells of trees and lamp-posts, they to the delights of literature and art. As you sit reading the most moving romance you ever fell upon, what sort of a judge is your fox-terrier of your behavior? With all his good will toward you, the nature of your conduct is absolutely excluded from his comprehension. To sit there like a senseless statue, when you might be taking him to walk and throwing sticks for him to catch! What queer disease is this that comes over you every day, of holding things and staring at them like that for hours together, paralyzed of motion and vacant of all conscious life? The African savages came nearer the truth; but they, too, missed it, when they gathered wonderingly round one of our American travellers who, in the interior, had just come into possession of a stray copy of the New York Commercial Advertiser, and was devouring it column by column. When he got through, they offered him a high price for the mysterious object; and, being asked for what they wanted it, they said: "For an eye medicine,"—that being the only reason they could conceive of for the protracted bath which he had given his eyes upon its surface.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

“Lindsay Lohan is our competitor. We have to get her off the screen and get science there instead.”
Bora Zivkovic

Saturday, January 21, 2012

How Money Corrupts Congress & A Plan To Stop It

He said the type of corruption rampant in the US Congress is not the old type of bribery, where congressional representatives had safes in their offices to hold the cash they received for voting in certain directions. That is now illegal and eliminated. This new type of corruption is more subtle, indirect and harder to outlaw. Corporations legally donate money to the election campaigns of legislators, who in turn tend to vote in favor of the interests of those corporations. Non-profits like Maplight can graph the evidence that a representative voting in favor of a particular corporate-friendly law will receive 6 or 10 or 13 times the funding than someone who opposes the law. He cited studies that showed the ROI (return on investment) of lobbying to be 1,000%. It was one of the sanest expenses for a corporation.

None of this is illegal, but Lessig argues that we have a constitutional argument for eliminating it. The Constitution talks about the republic being "dependent on the people alone." But now it is dependent on corporate funders, and more and more JUST on corporate funders. His solution is to return the republic to being dependent on the people alone. His solution is an innovative kind of campaign finance reform. Give every voter a $50 campaign voucher. The $50 comes from the tax pool. It can be given to any candidate who accepts only money from the vouchers (and maybe a limit of an optional voluntary $100 per single voter). Thus all campaign money would come in very small amounts from The People. Lessig calculates that the total amount of money raised this public way would be 3 times the amount raised by private means in the last election cycles, and therefore more than adequate."

- More Here

A Brief History of Time - Stephen Hawking & Universe

via here

Wisdom Of The Week

Do You Have a World-Changing Idea?

My annual letter comes out on January 25. I hope it spurs a conversation about the key issues affecting the poorest people in the world. So I’m inviting students from around the world to write your own annual letter and submit it. I’ll highlight the most innovative and inspiring letters on our website.

If there’s one message I try to get across everywhere I go, it’s this: Through innovation and generosity, the world has made amazing progress in improving the lives of its poorest people over the past 50 years. Now we face a choice. If we keep investing a relatively modest amount, we will extend this progress, feed a billion hungry people, and save millions of lives. If we don’t, we will tolerate a world in which one in seven people lives in desperate poverty.

In your letter, I’d like to read your thoughts. What do you think are the most urgent choices the world faces? I’m optimistic that if we can get a great dialogue going on this topic, world leaders are more likely to make smart choices in the future.

- Bill Gates

Quote of the Day

"Perhaps the greatest mystery in the entire Cold War, is why the Soviet Union could not manage to produce a decent pair of blue jeans."

Civilization: The West And The Rest by Niall Ferguson

Friday, January 20, 2012

Marines Air-Lift Military Dog After Snake Bite

A big leap for enlarging that circle of morality - here:

For Dingo, a five-year-old Marine Corps working dog, the lethal enemy that almost got the better of him was a snake hiding in the grass of his own backyard.

The veterinarian at the air station quickly determined that Dingo had suffered two punctures and the rapid swelling told him that there was a great and lethal amount of venom in Dingo's system. Chester quickly called around but no antivenin could be found -- the nearest supply that they could find was in Norfolk, VA hundreds of miles away and the window of opportunity for treatment was closing fast.

When the higher-ups at the station heard of Dingo's dire situation word from top came through: "Do whatever it takes to get that dog treatment." The search and rescue team was contacted and they transported Dingo to the Norfolk naval station, saving his life. "If we had to drive him to get the antivenin I wouldn't have Dingo here with me right now," Chester said. "They saved my best friend." According to the pilot who flew Dingo to Norfolk, they were just saving one of their own.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Struggled With Reinhold Niebuhr's Pessimism

But my intellectual odyssey to nonviolence did not end here. During my last year in theological school, I began to read the works of Reinhold Niebuhr. The prophetic and realistic elements in Niebuhr's passionate style and profound thought were appealing to me, and I became so enamored of his social ethics that I almost fell into the trap of accepting uncritically everything he wrote.
About this time I read Niebuhr's critique of the pacifist position. Niebuhr had himself once been a member of the pacifist ranks. For several years, he had been national chairman of the Fellowship of Reconciliation.* His break with pacifism came in the early thirties, and the first full statement of his criticism of pacifism was in Moral Man and Immoral Society. Here he argued that there was no intrinsic moral difference between violent and nonviolent resistance. The social consequences of the two methods were different, he contended, but the differences were in degree rather than kind. Later Niebuhr began emphasizing the irresponsibility of relying on nonviolent resistance when there was no ground for believing that it would be successful in preventing the spread of totalitarian tyranny. It could only be successful, he argued, if the groups against whom the resistance was taking place had some degree of moral conscience, as was the case in Gandhi's struggle against the British. Niebuhr's ultimate rejection of pacifism was based primarily on the doctrine of man. He argued that pacifism failed to do justice to the reformation doctrine of justification by faith, substituting for it a sectarian perfectionism which believes "that divine grace actually lifts man out of the sinful contradictions of history and establishes him above the sins of the world."

At first, Niebuhr's critique of pacifism left me in a state of confusion. As I continued to read, however, I came to see more and more the shortcomings of his position. For instance, many of his statements revealed that he interpreted pacifism as a sort of passive nonresistance to evil expressing naive trust in the power of love. But this was a serious distortion. My study of Gandhi convinced me that true pacifism is not nonresistance to evil, but nonviolent resistance to evil. Between the two positions, there is a world of difference. Gandhi resisted evil with as much vigor and power as the violent resister, but he resisted with love instead of hate. True pacifism is not unrealistic submission to evil power, as Niebuhr contends. It is rather a courageous confrontation of evil by the power of love, in the faith that it is better to be the recipient of violence than the inflicter of it, since the latter only multiplies the existence of violence and bitterness in the universe, while the former may develop a sense of shame in the opponent, and thereby bring about a transformation and change of heart.
In spite of the fact that I found many things to be desired in Niebuhr's philosophy, there were several points at which he constructively influenced my thinking. Niebuhr's great contribution to contemporary theology is that he has refuted the false optimism characteristic of a great segment of Protestant liberalism, without falling into the anti-rationalism of the continental theologian Karl Barth, or the semi-fundamentalism of other dialectical theologians. Moreover, Niebuhr has extraordinary insight into human nature, especially the behavior of nations and social groups. He is keenly aware of the complexity of human motives and of the relation between morality and power. His theology is a persistent reminder of the reality of sin on every level of man's existence. These elements in Niebuhr's thinking helped me to recognize the illusions of a superficial optimism concerning human nature and the dangers of a false idealism. While I still believed in man's potential for good, Niebuhr made me realize his potential for evil as well. Moreover, Niebuhr helped me to recognize the complexity of man's social involvement and the glaring reality of collective evil.

Many pacifists, I felt, failed to see this. All too many had an unwarranted optimism concerning man and leaned unconsciously toward self-righteousness. It was my revolt against these attitudes under the influence of Niebuhr that accounts for the fact that in spite of my strong leaning toward pacifism, I never joined a pacifist organization. After reading Niebuhr, I tried to arrive at a realistic pacifism. In other words, I came to see the pacifist position not as sinless but as the lesser evil in the circumstances. I felt then, and I feel now, that the pacifist would have a greater appeal if he did not claim to be free from the moral dilemmas that the Christian nonpacifist confronts.

The next stage of my intellectual pilgrimage to nonviolence came during my doctoral studies at Boston University. Here I had the opportunity to talk to many exponents of nonviolence, both students and visitors to the campus. Boston University School of Theology, under the influence of Dean Walter Muelder and Professor Allen Knight Chalmers, had a deep sympathy for pacifism. Both Dean Muelder and Dr. Chalmers had a passion for social justice that stemmed, not from a superficial optimism, but from a deep faith in the possibilities of human beings when they allowed themselves to become co-workers with God. It was at Boston University that I came to see that Niebuhr had overemphasized the corruption of human nature. His pessimism concerning human nature was not balanced by an optimism concerning divine nature. He was so involved in diagnosing man's sickness of sin that he overlooked the cure of grace.

More Here

Quote of the Day

You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, “Look at that, you son of a bitch.”

Edgar Mitchell, Apollo 14 astronaut - on epiphanies astronauts tend to have when staring at Planet Earth, People magazine, 8 April 1974.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Zakaria Interviews Obama - Why Won’t You Embrace Simpson-Bowles?

"Why won’t you embrace Simpson-Bowles?

I’ve got to say, most of the people who say that, if you asked them what’s in Simpson-Bowles, they couldn’t tell you. So first of all, I did embrace Simpson-Bowles. I’m the one who created the commission. If I hadn’t pushed it, it wouldn’t have happened, because congressional sponsors, including a whole bunch of Republicans, walked away from it.

The basic premise of Simpson-Bowles was, we have to take a balanced approach in which we have spending cuts and we have revenues, increased revenues, in order to close our deficits and deal with our debt. And although I did not agree with every particular that was proposed in Simpson-Bowles — which, by the way, if you asked most of the folks who were on Simpson-Bowles, did they agree with every provision in there?, they’d say no as well.

So this notion that the reason that it hasn’t happened is we didn’t embrace Simpson-Bowles is just nonsense. And by the way, if you talk to some of these same business leaders who say, Well, he shouldn’t have walked away from Simpson-Bowles, and you said, Well, are you prepared to kick capital gains and dividends taxation up to ordinary income — which is what Simpson-Bowles called for, they would gag. There’s not one of those business leaders who would accept a bet. They’d say, Well, we embrace Simpson-Bowles except for that part that would cause us to pay a lot more.

And in terms of the defense cuts that were called for in Simpson-Bowles, they were far deeper than even what would have been required if the sequester goes through, and so would have not been a responsible pathway for us to reduce our deficit spending. Now, that’s not the fault of Simpson-Bowles. What they were trying to do was provide us a basic framework, and we took that framework, and we have pushed it forward.

And so there should be clarity here. There’s no equivalence between Democratic and Republican positions when it comes to deficit reduction. We’ve shown ourselves to be serious. We’ve made a trillion dollars worth of cuts already. We’ve got another $1.5 trillion worth of cuts on the chopping blocks. But what we’ve also said is, in order for us to seriously reduce the deficit, there’s got to be increased revenue. There’s no way of getting around it. It’s basic math. And if we can get any Republicans to show any serious commitment — not vague commitments, not “We’ll get revenues because of tax reform somewhere in the future, but we don’t know exactly what that looks like and we can’t identify a single tax that we would allow to go up” — but if we can get any of them who are still in office, as opposed to retired, to commit to that, we’ll be able to reduce our deficit.

Now, to your larger point, you’re absolutely right. Our whole foreign policy has to be anchored in economic strength here at home. And if we are not strong, stable, growing, making stuff, training our workforce so that it’s the most skilled in the world, maintaining our lead in innovation, in basic research, in basic science, in the quality of our universities, in the transparency of our financial sector, if we don’t maintain the upward mobility and equality of opportunity that underwrites our political stability and makes us a beacon for the world, then our foreign policy leadership will diminish as well."

- More Here

Big Miracle

Big Miracle is based on the 1989 book Freeing the Whales: How the Media Created the World's Greatest Non-Event by Tom Rose. Excerpts from the book:
  • More than 150 journalists from four continents representing at least 26 TV networks converged on the tiny Eskimo outpost of Barrow, Alaska, where on a chilly day the wind- whipped temperature can drop to 150 degrees below zero. Total cost of the media coverage and rescue - more than $5,795,000.
  • Millions of people watched while the President of the United States and the General Secretary of the Soviet Union joined in the rescue of the three imprisoned whales.
  • All because the struggle of the three trapped whales could be shown on global television, a democratic government a half a world away nearly collapsed.
  • The media paid up to $200 to Eskimo entrepreneurs for a one-way 5-mile dog sled ride to the whale site, and if they didn't have enough cash for the return trip, they would have to wait until they were saved by rescue helicopters.
  • The most remarkable bond produced by the rescue connected a decorated combat Colonel in the Alaska National Guard and a lovely White House aide 7000 miles away. The two met, over the phone, fell in love and married - all because of three hapless whales.
  • Until recently the Russians operated the largest commercial whaling industry in the world. Then, as the result of just one phone call the Soviet Union sent two huge icebreakers to free the whales. Overnight the Soviets became instant environmentalists. Today, the Russians remain the world's largest killers of Gray whales.
  • Yet, through the miracle of modern technology, the rescue of three whales caught in the Arctic ice captured the imaginations of hundreds of millions of people who for a brief moment in time felt that the world had become a better place for ourselves and the creatures who share it with us.

Quote of the Day

"When opportunity abounds, people are free to pursue more narrow selection criteria, but when fewer choices are available, they must find satisfaction using broader criteria. Our findings reveal an irony – greater human diversity within an environment leads to less personal diversity."

- via Jonah Lehrer

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

I Oppose SOPA

Congress is about to vote on the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). If passed, this bill will allow the United States government to censor the Internet.

Join the fight against it!

Taleb On Stoicism

"Most people don't understand what Stoic is. They think that a stoic wants to sort of be robust, no positive nor negative emotions, get rid of. The attachment from the world. Exactly. Become a vegetable. That's the impression that for a long time, about 2000 years, of the Stoics, because nobody really read them. People kept commenting on comments. But when I read the best expository of Stoicism, the best two expositors, Marcus Aurelius and Seneca--and probably also to some extent, Cicero--I realized these are not that type of people. Very different. And now, recently I saw some papers confirming my idea. That was what Seneca was, was about being long in options. He wanted to keep the upside and not be hurt by the downside. That's it. It's just how to set up his method. Seneca was the wealthiest man in the world. He had 500 desks, on which he wrote his letters talking about how good it was to be poor. And people found inconsistency.
But they didn't realize what Seneca said. He was not against wealth. And he proved effectively that one philosopher can have wealth and be a philosopher. What he was about is dependence on wealth. He wanted the upside of wealth without its downside. And what he would do is--he had been in a shipwreck before. He would fake like he was a shipwreck and travel like he was a shipwreck once in a while. And then he would go back to his villas and feel rich. He would write off every night before going to bed his entire wealth. As a mental exercise. And then wakes up rich. So, he kept the upside. In fact, what he had, my summary of what Stoics were about is a people who really had, like Buddhists, an attitude. One was to have the last word with. And my definition is a Stoic is someone who transforms fear into prudence, pain into transformation, mistakes into initiation, and desire into undertaking. Very different than the Buddhist idea of someone who is completely separated from worldly sentiments and possessions and thrills. Very different. Someone who wanted the upside without the downside. And Seneca proved it. And the way you get there, Seneca is suggesting, is through mental exertion. Through renunciation--some of it's action, but some of it is the way you look at your life and what you prepare yourself for and how you affect your expectations. Exactly. He understood the hedonic treadmill that Daniel Kahneman rediscovered 2000 years later. He understood it very well. And he understood wealth, debt from others or from fortune. And he wanted to write off debt from fortune and he wanted to remove his dependence on fate, on randomness. He wanted to have the last word--was randomness. And he did. Not a bad goal."

- More Taleb on Econ-Talk

Quote of the Day

"We have nothing to fear and a great deal to learn from trees, that vigorous and pacific tribe which without stint produces strengthening essences for us, soothing balms, and in whose gracious company we spend so many cool, silent and intimate hours."

- Marcel Proust

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Apple's Vision For Educational Technology on January 19th

Aimed primarily at the textbook industry, which Steve Jobs called an "$8 billion a year industry ripe for digital destruction".
As textbooks go digital, they will also go social, changing the way students interact with each other and their professors while they learn. "Digital texts would let students interact with information in visual ways, such as 3D models, graphs, and videos. They would also allow students to create links to additional texts, audio, and other supporting materials. Furthermore, students could share those connections with classmates and colleagues." Students will be able to manipulate the data they are given and share it with the class.

- More Here

Andrew On Obama

Andrew's Newsweek cover story - How Obama's Long Game Will Outsmart His Critics

"The first is the simple scale of what has been accomplished on issues liberals say they care about. A depression was averted. The bail-out of the auto industry was—amazingly—successful. Even the bank bailouts have been repaid to a great extent by a recovering banking sector. The Iraq War—the issue that made Obama the nominee—has been ended on time and, vitally, with no troops left behind. Defense is being cut steadily, even as Obama has moved his own party away from a Pelosi-style reflexive defense of all federal entitlements. Under Obama, support for marriage equality and marijuana legalization has crested to record levels. Under Obama, a crucial state, New York, made marriage equality for gays an irreversible fact of American life. Gays now openly serve in the military, and the Defense of Marriage Act is dying in the courts, undefended by the Obama Justice Department. Vast government money has been poured into noncarbon energy investments, via the stimulus. Fuel-emission standards have been drastically increased. Torture was ended. Two moderately liberal women replaced men on the Supreme Court. Oh, yes, and the liberal holy grail that eluded Johnson and Carter and Clinton, nearly universal health care, has been set into law. Politifact recently noted that of 508 specific promises, a third had been fulfilled and only two have not had some action taken on them. To have done all this while simultaneously battling an economic hurricane makes Obama about as honest a follow-through artist as anyone can expect from a politician.

What liberals have never understood about Obama is that he practices a show-don’t-tell, long-game form of domestic politics. What matters to him is what he can get done, not what he can immediately take credit for.

If I sound biased, that’s because I am. Biased toward the actual record, not the spin; biased toward a president who has conducted himself with grace and calm under incredible pressure, who has had to manage crises not seen since the Second World War and the Depression, and who as yet has not had a single significant scandal to his name. “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle,” George Orwell once wrote. What I see in front of my nose is a president whose character, record, and promise remain as grotesquely underappreciated now as they were absurdly hyped in 2008."

Quote of the Day

"He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men. We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals."

- Immanuel Kant

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Death Of Honesty

Our serious problem today is not simply that many people routinely tell lies. As I have noted, people have departed from the truth for one reason or another all throughout human history. The problem now is that we seem to be reaching a dysfunctional tipping point in which an essential commitment to truthfulness no longer seems to be assumed in our society. If this is indeed the case, the danger is that the bonds of trust important in any society, and essential for a free and democratic one, will dissolve so that the kinds of discourse required to self-govern will become impossible.

What are the signs of this in contemporary society? In professional and business circles, a now-familiar complaint is, “It used to be your word was good, but those days are gone.” In print, broadcast, and online news coverage, journalism has lost credibility with much of the public for its perceived biases in representing the facts. In civic affairs, political discourse is no longer considered to be a source of genuine information. Rather, it is assumed that leaders make statements merely to posture for effect, and not to engage in discussion or debate. In such an environment, facts may be manipulated or made up in service of a predetermined interest, not presented accurately and then examined in good faith. This is troubling, because civic leaders set the tone for communications throughout the public sphere.

Most troubling of all is that honesty is no longer a priority in many of the settings where young people are educated. The future of every society depends upon the character development of its young. It is in the early years of life—the first two decades especially—when basic virtues that shape character are acquired. Although people can learn, grow, and reform themselves at any age, this kind of learning becomes increasingly difficult as habits solidify over time. Honesty is a prime example of a virtue that becomes habitual over the years if practiced consistently—and the same can be said about dishonesty.

- More Here

C.A.L.M Method & More For Taming Things At Work

“One of the things I’d recommend for the employee who thinks, ‘I don’t want to be here,’ health and wellness is critical to happiness and being able to deal with stress,” Mallett said. “Getting plenty of exercise to get those endorphins moving, eating right, getting enough sleep.

On your daily commute, listen to an audio book. After work, take an art class, start a new hobby and make sure you’re spending time with your friends.

“The things you do outside of work help you decrease how much you rely on work for your happiness,” she said. And when you’re at work, Mallett said, try to stay positive.

“We need to remember that we attract what we are, and the more negativity we put out, the more we attract,” Mallett said. “Criticizing doesn’t really help; those words get back to people and you’re looked at as a complainer rather than someone who has an open, honest dialogue.”

The result of focusing your energy on improving yourself, Taylor said, is increased job security.

- Lynn Taylor

Quote of the Day

"Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books."

- C.S. Lewis, Introduction to a translation of, Athanasius: On the Incarnation

Sunday, January 15, 2012

War Horse

One the best movies I have ever seen, period. I am against anthropomorphizing  animals but we are generations away from bringing animals into that circle of morality and comprehending that human-animal bond. So we need more Joey's (albeit anthropomorphizing) to make sense on this bond.
Check out how horses born in USA were sent to slaughter in Mexico and last year President signed a bill(rather restored) to slaughter them in USA. So much for moving forward... and yeah God bless American.

The Edge Question 2012 - What Is Your Deep, Elegant Or Beautiful Explanation?

Another year and yet another "deep" question from Edge - What Is Your Deep, Elegant Or Beautiful Explanation?. My favorite two responses:

Why Programs Have Bugs by Marti Hearst

"When espousing the joys of programming, the programmer, like the poet, works only slightly removed from pure thought-stuff. He builds his castles in the air, from air, creating by exertion of the imagination. Few media of creation are so flexible, so easy to polish and rework, so readily capable of realizing grand conceptual structures. ... Yet the program construct, unlike the poet's words, is real in the sense that it moves and works, producing visible outputs separate from the construct itself. It prints results, draws pictures, produces sounds, moves arms. The magic of myth and legend has come true in our time.

In many creative activities the medium of execution is intractable. Lumber splits; paints smear; electrical circuits ring. These physical limitations of the medium constrain the ideas that may be expressed, and they also create unexpected difficulties in the implementation.

... Computer programming, however, creates with an exceedingly tractable medium. The programmer builds from pure thought-stuff: concepts and very flexible representations thereof. Because the medium is tractable, we expect few difficulties in implementation; hence our pervasive optimism. Because our ideas are faulty, we have bugs; henour optimism is unjustified."

The Mythical Man-Month:: Essays on Software Engineering by Fred Brooks

How To Have a Good Idea by Marcel Kinsbourne

"To have a good idea, stop having a bad one. The trick was to inhibit the easy, obvious but ineffective attempts, permitting a better solution to come to mind. To the novice the Good Idea seems magical, a leap of intellectual lightning. More likely, however, it resulted from an iterative process as outlined above, with enough experience in back to help reject seductive but misleading premises. Thus the extraordinary actually arises step by step out of the ordinary.

When the finest minds fail to resolve a classical problem, during decades, or centuries of trying, they were probably trapped by a premise that was so culturally "given", that it did not even occur to them to challenge it, or they did not even notice it at all. But cultural context changes and what seemed totally obvious yesterday becomes dubious at best today or tomorrow. Sooner or later someone who may be no more gifted than his/her predecessors, but is unshackled from some very basic and very incorrect assumption, may hit upon the solution with relative ease. Alternatively, one can be a fish, wait a million years or two, and see what comes up."