Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Art of Science Learning - STEM or STEAM ?

When we say STEM, do we simply mean any of the four subjects or do we mean those areas in which some of the four, ideally all four, overlap? My sense is that most people simply mean Science OR Technology OR Engineering OR Mathematics when referring to STEM, though there are some efforts under way, including some at the National Academies, that mean to explore whether education can benefit, just as research already does, when the four are somehow linked.

Now add the arts and you get STEAM. And since no one in his or her right mind would simply want to add "arts", believing that it belongs in the same space (for then, why not add history, philosophy etc. and end up including everything and anything), there is a specific theory of action that those who talk about STEAM have in mind when adding arts to science, technology, engineering and math. So, why or how does the A then fit into the STEM to form STEAM?

I see two major claims. The first one refers to art as a different way of perceiving and knowing and dealing with the world, as a means to expand the toolbox of science and engineering. In engineering, which some summarize as design under constraints, art can provide a useful tool to make the engineered world or object more appealing and thus acceptable and useful to people. In science it is seen as a different way of seeing the world, a heuristic that leads to a better, or at least different understanding of the world. One example for this perspective is visualization, which empowers science research just as it does science education (see the Gordon Research Conference on Visualization in Science and Education).

The second claim is based on the limitations of scientific research and of engineering design, which some see as lacking creativity and fun. Art, in this view, is a means to free the scientist's and engineer's mind. It should be noted that highly selective STEM specialty schools encourage their students to pursue the arts, be that poetry, music, theatre, or any other aspect of it.

- More here and More on

Quote of the Day

"First, it’s surprisingly common. In 1950, only 4 million Americans lived alone, and they accounted for 9 percent of all households. Back then, living alone was most prevalent in open, sprawling Northwestern states, such as Alaska, Wyoming, Montana. And the typical singleton was a man, likely on his way to a more conventional marriage.

Today, 32.7 million Americans are singletons; they represent 28 percent of all households; and they are primarily women (especially over the age of 45). Now, solo livers congregate in cities and in all parts of the country. Atlanta, Denver, Minneapolis, San Francisco, and Seattle are among the many cities where more than 40 percent of all households have just one resident. In Wahington D.C. and Manhattan, it’s closer to 50 percent.

Second, it’s not an American phenomenon, which means it’s not rooted in some unique cultural attachment to individualism and self-reliance. (Sorry, Mr. Thoreau!) Living alone is actually most common in the more socialist-leaning Scandinavian nations, where the government’s social programs and housing projects give people the security they need to go solo. It’s more prevalent in England, Germany, France, Canada, and Japan than it is in the United States. And it’s growing most rapidly in nations with the fastest growing economies, such as India, China, and Brazil."

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

What I've Been Reading

Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 by Charles Murray. This is probably the most talked about book of this year - raving reviews and criticism has been pouring non-stop all over the blogosphere. Yes, no question Murray is right of center and also right of just world theory. I don't agree with everything inferred by Murray (he includes "religion" but leaves out thrift) but the book was more or less bipartisan and phenomenally brutal in exposing the cognitive dissonance of everyone of in this country. The sad reality is people who should be reading this book probably will never read it.

A book that start's out with such a power packed words...
And so this book uses evidence based overwhelmingly on whites in the description of the new upper class in part 1 and based exclusively on whites in the description of the new lower class in part 2. My message: Don’t kid yourselves that we are looking at stresses that can be remedied by attacking the legacy of racism or by restricting immigration. The trends I describe exist independently of ethnic heritage. In the penultimate chapter, I broaden the picture to include everyone.

A book that is brutally honest sans any political correctness (sorta of.. may be that's why he picked just white American!!)...
From 1960 through the early 1980s, changes in Fishtown male dropout from the labor force moved roughly in tandem with the national unemployment rate. But after the mid-1980s, the argument that “there weren’t any jobs” loses force. Unemployment went down, but dropout from the labor force among white males with a Fishtown education continued to increase. During the fourteen years from 1995 through 2008, no year had higher than 6.0 percent unemployment, and the median was 5.0 percent. For mature economies, these are exceptionally low unemployment rates. But those who remember these years don’t need the numbers. “Help wanted” signs were everywhere, including for low-skill jobs, and the massive illegal immigration that occurred during those years was underwritten by a reality that everyone recognized: America had jobs for everyone who wanted to work.

When Aguiar and Hurst decomposed the ways that men spent their time, the overall pattern for men with no more than a high school diploma is clear. The men of Fishtown spent more time goofing around. Furthermore, the worst results were found among men without jobs. In 2003–5, men who were not employed spent less time on job search, education, and training, and doing useful things around the house than they had in 1985.13 They spent less time on civic and religious activities. They didn’t even spend their leisure time on active pastimes such as exercise, sports, hobbies, or reading. All of thos figures were were lower in 2003–5 than they had been in 1985. How did they spend that extra leisure time? Sleeping and watching television. The increase in television viewing was especially large—from 27.7 hours per week in 1985 to 36.7 hours in 2003–5. Employed men with no more than high school diplomas also goofed off more in 2003–5 than in 1985, but less consistently and with smaller differentials.

To sum up: There is no evidence that men without jobs in the 2000s before the 2008 recession hit were trying hard to find work but failing. It was undoubtedly true of some, but not true of the average jobless man. The simpler explanation is that white males of the 2000s were less industrious than they had been twenty, thirty, or fifty years ago, and that the decay in industriousness occurred overwhelmingly in Fishtown.

A better way to think about the new lower class is in terms of your own extended family or in terms of the stories your friends have told you about their families. At least a few relatives in those circles will be people who have never quite gotten their acts together and are the despair of the parents and siblings, even though they seem perfectly pleasant when you meet them. That’s mostly what the new lower class involves. Individually, they’re not much of a problem. Collectively, they can destroy the kind of civil society that America requires.

A book that also includes that nauseating unfairness...
Some examples? Unseemliness is television producer Aaron Spelling building a house of 56,500 square feet and 123 rooms. Unseemliness is Henry McKinnell, the CEO of Pfizer, getting a $99 million golden parachute and an $82 million pension after a tenure that saw Pfizer’s share price plunge.15 They did nothing illegal. Spelling had the money to build his dream house, just as millions of others would like to do, and got zoning approval for his plans. McKinnell’s separation package was paid according to the contract he had signed with Pfizer when he became CEO. But the outcomes were inappropriate for time or place, not suited to the circumstances. They were unbecoming and unfitting. They were unseemly.

All I can say is - thank goodness for Charles Murray !!

For Benjamin Franklin, "only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”  
On the other hand, virtue makes government easy to sustain: “The expense of our civil government we have always borne, and can easily bear, because it is small. A virtuous and laborious people may be cheaply governed.”

Few years after I moved to this country, I realized this country was going the Indian route of class disparity but little did I know that we had already arrived at that destination. My only wish and hope is that this country should never embark on the other disastrous route - read the book Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, death, and hope in a Mumbai undercity (thanks Fareed) to get an idea of what I am talking about. That is one destination that any humans and animals should never arrive at.

Quote of the Day

"You can only become intellectually an adult, so to speak, if you break through domain dependence."

- Nassim Taleb

Monday, February 27, 2012

Alan Turing @ 100

Nature has a fascinating special on Turning Centenary - don't miss it.

"Alan Turing, born a century ago this year, is best known for his wartime code-breaking and for inventing the 'Turing machine' – the concept at the heart of every computer today. But his legacy extends much further: he founded the field of artificial intelligence, proposed a theory of biological pattern formation and speculated about the limits of computation in physics. In this collection of features and opinion pieces, Nature celebrates the mind that, in a handful of papers over a tragically short lifetime, shaped many of the hottest fields in science today."

Quote of the Day

'The touchstone of social capital is the principle of generalized reciprocity - I'll do this for you now, without expecting anything immediately in return and perhaps without even knowing you, confident that down the road you or someone else will return the favor."

- Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Stimulus Control Therapy for Insomnia

The main goal in stimulus control therapy is to reduce the anxiety or conditioned arousal individuals may feel when attempting to go to bed. Specifically, a set of instructions designed to reassociate the bed/bedroom with sleep and to re-establish a consistent sleep schedule are implimented. These include: 

  • Going to bed only when sleepy
  • Getting out of bed when unable to sleep
  • Using the bed/bedroom only for sleep and sex (i.e., no reading, watching TV, etc)
  • Arising at the same time every morning
  • Avoiding naps.

- More Here (never ever let that parasitic idiot box inside the bedroom)

Quote of the Day

"Men ... are easily induced to believe that in some wonderful manner everybody will become everybody's friend, especially when some one is heard denouncing the evils now existing in states, suits about contracts, convictions for perjury, flatteries of rich men and the like, which are said to arise out of the possession of private property. These evils, however, are due to a very different cause—the wickedness of human nature."

- Aristotle

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Wisdom Of The Week

"We Americans cherish our myths. One myth is that there is more social mobility in the United States than in Europe. That’s false. Another myth is that the government is smaller here than in Europe. That’s largely false, too.

The U.S. does not have a significantly smaller welfare state than the European nations. We’re just better at hiding it. The Europeans provide welfare provisions through direct government payments. We do it through the back door via tax breaks.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development recently calculated how much each affluent country spends on social programs. When you include both direct spending and tax expenditures, the U.S. has one of the biggest welfare states in the world. We rank behind Sweden and ahead of Italy, Austria, the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland and Canada. Social spending in the U.S. is far above the organization’s average.

You might say that a tax break isn’t the same as a spending program. You would be wrong."

- One of the most important article ever by David Brooks. Sadly, it would take a life time for ideologically driven citizens of this country to accept this fact as self-evident.

Quote of the Day

Friday, February 24, 2012

Steve Job's Buddism

This passage of Trungpa’s, from an essay on “dharma art,” could have been a blueprint for Jobs’ uncompromising vision for Apple: 
"Our attitude and integrity as artists are very important. We need to encourage and nourish the notion that we are not going to yield to the neurotic world. Inch by inch, step-by-step, our effort should wake people up through the world of art rather than please everyone and go along with the current. It might be painful for your clients or your audience to take the splinter out of their system, so to speak. It probably will be quite painful for them to accommodate such pressure coming from the artist’s vision. However, that should be done, and it is necessary. Otherwise, the world will go downhill, and the artist will go downhill also."

Another influence on Apple’s young founder was the book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki-roshi, the founding teacher of San Francisco Zen Center. It’s one of those rare books that can be read at many points in your life, and it always seems uncannily relevant. 

To indulge in a little Buddhist jargon, the best Apple products seem like they suddenly appeared in emptiness (Śūnyatā), unencumbered by previous notions of what a “computer” or “phone” or “MP3 player” or “tablet device” should be. They were cosmically clean; avatars of the new.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

"Pity the nation that has to silence its writers for speaking their minds. Pity the nation that needs to jail those who ask for justice, while communal killers, mass murderers, corporate scamsters, looters, rapists, and those who prey on the poorest of the poor roam free."

- Arundhati Roy

Thursday, February 23, 2012

"Foreign" Genes In GMO Crops

"The biggest difference between the foreign genes in GMO crops and the foreign genes that find their way into food by other mechanisms is that the GMO genes are much more of a known entity.  Unlike the cocktail of microbes that come along in an uncontrolled, unknown, and almost unknowable way with all food, the microbial genes and gene products in a GMO crop are very well understood. We know the exact sequence of the gene, its location in the plant’s chromosomes, what the gene does.

We know which proteins are made because of that gene and we have been able to study those proteins in detail to determine their safety. With most of the other microbial genes that we are eating we can’t say with certainty what is there, how much is there and what all the possible gene products are or what they do. The
foreign genes in GMO crops are different from all the other foreign genes mainly in that we know so much more about them.  So in reality, the genes in a GMO crop are the least creepy
of such elements in our food."

- More

George F. Kennan: An American Life

Biography of George Kennan (X, Long Telegram) by John Lewis Gaddis - George F. Kennan: An American Life (NYT review).

Kennan’s idea that the United States should seek to contain rather than appease or roll back the Soviet Union got noticed. (The words “contain” and “containment” did not appear in the Long Telegram.) As the official history of the Council of Foreign Relations, the publisher ofForeign Affairs, later summarized it:

"Perhaps no single essay of the twentieth century can match the X article for its impact upon the intellectual curiosity of a confused nation, upon the mindset of equally confused policymakers and scholars, upon national policy in at least seven presidential administrations to come.* It ran only 17 pages; its tone was scholarly, elegant but practical; only three sentences used the magic word that came to define American policy for half a century."

- More Here

Quote of the Day

"Civilization is a stream with banks. The stream is sometimes filled with blood from people killing, stealing, shouting and doing the things historians usually record, while on the banks, unnoticed, people build homes, make love, raise children, sing songs, write poetry and even whittle statues. The story of civilization is the story of what happened on the banks. Historians are pessimists because they ignore the banks for the river."

- Will Durant, The Life of Greece (The Story of Civilization)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Made In USA - Adam Davidson

He precisely sums up the current state of manufacturing jobs in this country:

"Joke in the textile world is that they only have two employees - A man and a dog. The man's there to feed the dog and the dog is there to keep the man away from the machines"

Quote of the Day

“…it [the Analytic Engine] might act upon other things besides number, were objects found whose mutual fundamental relations could be expressed by those of the abstract science of operation… Supposing, for instance, that the fundamental relations of pitched sounds in the science of harmony and of musical composition were susceptible of such expression and adaptations, the engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent.”

- Augusta Ada King, 1843 on Programming

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

India & Consequences Of Freer-Than-Free Market Capitalism

India's famed business-process outsourcing industry has expanded beyond call centers and software development to medicine, law, tax preparation, animation, and even music-video production. And, several IT giants have turned the tables on offshoring: No longer are jobs only "Bangalored." Today, Indian companies employ thousands of Americans on U.S. soil.

Thus, 800-900 million Indians live in conditions that most developed-world citizens would consider destitution.

The challenges for this vast, voiceless majority are multidimensional and stark. Discrimination by caste, religion, and gender remains pervasive. Low literacy blocks meaningful social mobility. India's rate of child malnutrition is greater than in any other country in the world. In many communities, the sick and the elderly are left to die for lack of means to support them, and bonded slavery is not unheard of.

The next ten years may hold a lesson for developed countries, as well. With the world's largest democracy in the embrace of a freer-than-free market capitalism, India may prove a bellwether for liberal societies everywhere.

- More Here

Meat Eaters Downplay Animal Minds

An interesting paper in the February, 2012 issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin by Brock Bastian, Steve Loughnan, Nick Haslam, and Helena Radke suggests that when people eat meat, they tend to downplay the minds of the animals that they eat.

In one simple study, the researchers asked (meat-eating) participants to rate how willing they were to eat a variety of animals ranging from houseflies, to fish, to chicken to elephants to gorillas.  They also rated the how strongly each of these animals had a number of mental abilities such as feeling
hunger, fear, and pain, and having self-control
and planning abilities.  There was a systematic relationship between the animals people choose to eat and their beliefs about the minds of the animals.  People were much less willing to eat animals that they believe have complex mental abilities than to eat animals that do not have complex minds.

Of course, this alone might just mean that the animals that people choose to eat are the ones that are not so smart.  In another study, meat eaters were asked to think about cows and sheep.  Some of them thought about these animals living an idyllic life on a farm.  Others thought specifically about these animals growing up on a farm and then being killed for food.  Later, they also rated the mental abilities of the animals.  When people thought about the animals as food, their ratings of the mental abilities of the animals were lower than when they thought about the animals living on a farm.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

"The disappearance of a sense of responsibility is the most far-reaching consequence of submission to authority."

- Stanley Milgram

Monday, February 20, 2012

On The Importance & Difficulty Of Learning Science

"What is true for science is also true for the other great human endeavors.

To engage with the world in search of any kind of Truth is an expression of the search for excellence. That, by its very nature, is desperately difficult. There will always be a price to be paid in time, sweat and tears. We should never sugarcoat that reality.

We want to teach students more than just how to get jobs, we also want to teach them how to live with depth and for purposes that stretch beyond their own immediate interests. We should never forget that connection. If we do, we are in danger of losing more than just the next generation of science majors."

- Adam Frank via Andrew

The Difficulty of Being Good

Gurcharan Das talks about his book (one the best books in the recent years from  India) - The Difficulty of Being Good: On the Subtle Art of Dharma. Dharma, if I am right is the indian equivalent of categorical imperative.

Story of Yudistra and his stray dog, Svana sums up the definition Dharma:

Long ago in India, there were five princes who left their kingdom to search for the kingdom of heaven. They took food and drink for their journey, and Prince Yudistira brought his dog, Svana. Yudistira was the eldest. His brothers were Sahadeva, the all-wise, who was learned beyond all men; Nakula, the all-handsome, famed for his grace and beauty; Arjuna, the all-powerful, who had never been defeated in any contest of arms; and Bhima, the all-joyful, known for his good humor and love of pleasure. After many days' journey, the brothers came to a fair where music was playing and people were feasting and dancing. Bhima, the all-joyful said to his brothers, "I will rest here today and be happy and seek the kingdom of heaven tomorrow."

Yudistira, his brothers, and the dog 
Svana went on without him. Several days later, the travelers arrived at a large plain where a great army was drawn up in ranks facing the enemy. When Arjuna, the all-powerful, saw this, he said to his brothers, "I will fight for my country today and seek the kingdom of heaven tomorrow."

Yudistira, his brothers, and the dog Svana continued without him. Many days and nights passed. The travelers came to a magnificent palace surrounded by a garden full of flowers and fountains. In this garden, a beautiful princess was walking with her attendants. When she saw Nakula, the all-handsome, she was seized with love and longing. Nakula, too, was struck with love. He said to his brothers, "I will stay with the princess today and seek the kingdom of heaven tomorrow." Nakula went into the garden and Yudistira, his brother Sahadeva, and the dog Svana continued without him.

Many weary days and nights later, the travelers came to a great temple where the holy men lived. Sahadeva, the all-wise desired to join them in prayer and study. He told his brother Yudistira, " I will stay here today and seek the kingdom of heaven tomorrow." Sahadeva went into the temple, and Yudistira and Svana continued without him.

At last, Yudistira reached Mount Meru, the doorway to heaven. Indra, the Lord of Past and Present, appeared before him and invited him to ascend. Yudistira bowed low and replied, "Very willingly I will do so if I may bring my dog, Svana. "That may not be," said Indra. "There is no place in heaven for dogs. Leave him and enter into eternal happiness."
"I cannot do that," said Yudistira. "I do not wish for any happiness for which I must leave so dear a companion."

"You traveled on without your four brothers," said Indra. "Why will you not ascend to heaven without your dog?"

"My lord," replied Yudistira, "my brothers left me to follow the desires of their hearts. Svana has given his heart to me. Rather than renounce him, I must renounce heaven."

"You have spoken well," said Indra. "Come in, and bring your dog with you." So Yudistira and Svana ascended into paradise. In recognition of their devotion to one another, Indra set in the sky the constellation of the Great Dog whose star Sirius is the brightest of them all.

Quote of the Day

"The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind."

- William James 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

IVF Hamburger By End Of 2012

Great news for animal morality (and I don't say hunger)... but I am pessimistic since if they fail to "deliver" in that cost vs taste battle then people will stigmatize it for a long time to come (via MR):

"Cultured or in-vitro meat may still be years away from our supermarkets, but scientists in The Netherlands say they will be able to grow a hamburger by the end of this year.

Professor Mark Post, who is refining the meat-making process at Maastricht University, says once perfected, the technology could slash the environmental footprint of growing food. He predicts in-vitro meat could reduce the requirement for livestock by a factor of one million."

Rest of IVF related stories here on this blog

Two Main Dimensions Of Theory Of Mind (ToM).

The social-perceptual component of ToM involves the ability to determine the mental states of others using immediately available non-verbal cues (e.g., eyes, face, hand gestures). This maps on to the cognitive empathy component, and is what is measured by the Reading the Mind in the Eyes test. This component of theory of mind shows up earlier in development and is related to the right hemisphere medial temporal and orbitofrontal regions of the brain.

In contrast, the social-cognitive component of ToM (not to be confused with cognitive empathy) involves the ability to reason about the mental state of others, and use that reasoning to predict or explain their behavior. This ability involves inferring what others know or believe to be true apart from what you know or believe to be true. This is a later developing skill and is more strongly dependent on linguistic capacities. This component of theory of mind draws on left hemisphere circuitry involving medial frontal areas and the temporoparietal junction.

Daniel Nettle and Bethany Liddle found a relationship between the social-cognitive component of theory of mind, but not the social-perceptual component. It appears that the agreeable, compassionate, altruistic aspect of our human nature is only associated with the higher-level, social-cognitive component of theory of mind.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

    - Emotional Equations: Simple Truths for Creating Happiness + Success by Chip Conley

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Gene Sequencing On A USB Stick < $900 !!

The latest development comes from a British company which will release a DNA sequencing device the size of a USB memory stick and plug into a laptop computer to deliver its sequencing results. The sequencer works by using a technique called nanopore sequencing, which analyzes a strand of DNA by pulling it through a microscopic hole. The device is expected to cost less than $900, allowing researchers greater access.

- More Here and the company is Oxford Nanopore Technologies Ltd

Hitchens On Conspiracy Theories

Hitchens was great with metaphors; he called conspiracy theories as:

- More Here

Wisdom Of The Week

"Liberal economists haven’t silenced conservatives, but they have completely eclipsed liberal sociologists and liberal psychologists. Even noneconomist commentators reduce the rich texture of how disadvantage is actually lived to a crude materialism that has little to do with reality.

I don’t care how many factory jobs have been lost, it still doesn’t make sense to drop out of high school. The influences that lead so many to do so are much deeper and more complicated than anything that can be grasped in an economic model or populist slogan.

This economic determinism would be bad enough if it was just making public debate dumber. But the amputation of sociologic, psychological and cognitive considerations makes good policy impossible"

- David Brooks - first round of Krugman vs Brooks in response to Charles Murray's new book Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010

Quote of the Day

"What is the aim of philosophy? To be clear-headed rather than confused; lucid rather than obscure; rational rather than otherwise; and to be neither more, nor less, sure of things than is justifiable by argument or evidence. That is worth trying for."

- Geoffrey Warnock

Friday, February 17, 2012

Lessons On The Art Of Cooperation From Montaigne & His Cat

Review of Richard Sennett's new book Together: The Rituals, Pleasures and Politics of Co-operation.

At the end of his life, the philosopher Michel de Montaigne (1533-92) inserted a question into an essay written many years before: "When I am playing with my cat, how do I know she is not playing with me?" The question summed up Montaigne's long-held conviction that we can never really plumb the inner life of others, be they cats or human beings. Montaigne's cat can serve as an emblem for co-operation. My premise about co-operation is that we frequently don't understand what's passing in the hearts and minds of people with whom we have to work. Yet just as Montaigne kept playing with his enigmatic cat, so too a lack of mutual understanding shouldn't keep us from engaging with others; we want to get something done together.

Montaigne's emblematic, enigmatic cat lay at the heart of this project. What passes in the minds of those with whom we co-operate? Around this question Montaigne associated other aspects of practising co-operation: dialogic practices which are skilled, informal and empathic. Blaise Pascal singled out Montaigne as "the incomparable author of 'the art of conversation'". The "art" of conversing for Montaigne is in fact the skill of being a good listener; in one essay he likens the skilled listener to a detective. He detested what the philosopher Bernard Williams called the "fetish of assertion" on a speaker's part. Fierce assertion directly suppresses the listener, Montaigne says; the debater demands only assent. In his essay, he observes that, in society more largely, the declaration of a speaker's superior knowledge and authority arouses doubt in a listener about his or her own powers of judgment; the evil of passive submission follows from feeling cowed.

My favorite book from last year was How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at An Answer by Sarah Backwell and my confirmation bias from the book...

Perhaps some of the credit for Montaigne's last answer should therefore go to his cat - a specific sixteenth century individual, who had a rather pleasant life on a country estate with a doting master and not to much competition for his attention. She was the one who, by wanting to play with Montaigne at an inconvenient moment, reminded him what what is was to be alive. They looked at each other, and just for moment, he leaped across the gap in order to see himself through her eyes. Out of that moment - and countless others like it - came his whole philosophy."

Quote of the Day

"One mission of the Loom is to champion unjustly neglected forms of life."

- Carl Zimmer

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Facets Of Mindfulness As Predictors Of Gratitude

- More Here

US Approves Building New Nuclear Plants

The NRC voted 4-1 to allow Atlanta-based Southern Co to build and operate two new nuclear power reactors at its existing Vogtle nuclear power plant in Georgia. The units will cost Southern and partners about $14 billion and enter service as soon as 2016 and 2017.

The approval was cold comfort for nuclear industry officials who have touted a "renaissance" that has failed to materialize, undercut by high costs and the cheapest natural gas prices in about a decade.

No nuclear power plants have been licensed in the United States since the partial meltdown of the reactor core of the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania in 1979.

- More Here

I think, Long Now foundation and Stewart Brand played a huge part in this change of mindset. For the record, 
became pro-nuclear after reading Stewart Brand Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto.

Quote of the Day

The "right" answer, but the one you will never read on blogs or hear on any cable news network, is that we simply cannot know ahead of time, with any degree of certainty, what the optimal policy will turn out to be. Why? Even if forecasters could provide probabilities about the likelihood of a narrow, specific event, it is simply beyond the capacity of human foresight to make confident predictions about the short- and long-term global consequences of a military strike against Iran.

- via Andrew

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

On Status-quo Bias

"The lunchtime diner’s relationship with his chosen sandwich has outlasted several marriages. Taste notwithstanding, beer drinkers are loyal to their chosen brands. In each case, status quo bias appears to be operating."

- Read rest of this brilliant paper on FS

Inhumane Conditions In Some Iowa Chicken Farms

- More Here

Quote of the Day

"Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a purpose."

- Helen Keller

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Photos Of Love

"Marcos leads Monica, his wife of 65 years, into the living room of their Buenos Aires apartment. Monica was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2007 - and Marcos has devoted his life to her care.
This photo by Alejandro Kirchuk of Argentina is one a series called Never let you go featuring the couple. The series has won Kirchuk first prize in the Daily Life Stories category of the 2012 World Press Photo contest."

- More Here

What I've Been Reading

My Start-Up Life: What a (Very) Young CEO Learned on His Journey Through Silicon Valley by Ben Casnocha. If I remember correctly, started following Ben's blog couple of years ago via a link from Marginal Revolution. Although, I don't agree with all of Ben's life style choices but his optimism, hard work ethics, intellectual diversity and curiosity has always been very inspiring. This is a must read book in an era where the technological unemployment is slowly engulfing us and most are looking for someone else to blame while comfortably dwelling in Lake Wobegon. Yes, Ben was lucky enough to be born in a understanding, well to-do and malleable family but that doesn't take the credit way from him. He is what he is today because of his hard work, perseverance and his willingness to find and listen to mentors.

Importance of RQ:
If I can get up today, I can get up any day. During the perfect storm, you must have a high resilience quotient. Prepare for it.

Learning from failure:
When you are controlling your own destiny, as most entrepre- neurs are, it is easy to place all the blame on yourself. Don’t. Circumstances matter and not all circumstances are within your control. For failure due to circumstances out of your control, try to learn from it and then embrace the mantra, “Shit happens.” Instead, figure out what you can control and constantly reinvent it. If it ain’t broke, fix it anyway, because you won’t know when it’s broke to begin with—so preempt failure caused by complacency.
The best way to overcome the fear of failure: fail. Fail at little things. Get good at it. Laugh at yourself. Fail with 100 percent effort—don’t engage in the kind of self-protection that 75 percent effort affords (“Well, if I had given it my all I would have succeeded”). Then when the stakes get higher, you’ll have practice. There will still be fear. Fear of embarrassment, maybe. But with practice you’ll learn to see failure as just feedback for improvement. For me, more often than not, failure means success got stuck in traffic.

Intellectual diversity:
Expose yourself to as much randomness as possible. Attend con- ferences no one else is attending. Read books no one else is reading. Talk to people no one else is talking to. Who would have thought that giving a speech at a funeral at age twelve would introduce me to a man who would intro- duce me to my first business contact who would introduce me to several other important people in my life? That’s luck. That’s randomness.

Fueling the Brain & Body:
Three small things are necessary for a successful and sustainable entrepreneurial lifestyle:
Sleep. Overwhelming scientific research shows we need at least seven to eight hours of sleep each night for peak performance. Fully rested, my one hour will be more effective than your three sleep-deprived hours. 
Nutrition. There’s nothing worse than running to a meet- ing feeling hungry, or worse yet, trying to catch a flight with no time for dinner. Schedule time for meals. Travel with a healthy supply of energy bars. Also, eating break- fast has been proven time after time to be essential for top performance all day long. Don’t skip it! 
Exercise. I work out one hour a day, six days a week. I immediately feel the downer when I go a few days with no treadmill or weights. Many moderately successful, mildly interesting entrepreneurs work long hours and swear they have no time to get to a gym. But the very best people in the business world, I have found, always find time to get their one hour in. If they can find time for it, so can you. 

Find meaning:
Find meaning in your work and your passions, rather than seeking it in golf or other hobbies. There just isn’t much room for frivolity when you’re committed to a twenty- eight-hour schedule in a twenty-four-hour day. But that doesn’t mean you can’t recharge your batteries. Your work and personal life should be rewarding enough that you don’t need to sneak off to the golf course or a bar to derive enjoyment.
If you want to start a business, think about judging its worthiness and ultimate success by metrics other than simple financial gain. The experience you gain developing critical life skills should certainly be high on the list. 

What to ask:
The timeless start-up aphorism goes, “Never ask for money. Ask for advice instead, and you are more likely to get money. Never ask for free advice. Ask for money instead, and you’ll get free advice.” Sometimes, to get what you want, you have to ask for something different.

On Optimism:
Have you ever met a pessimistic entrepreneur? I haven’t. Great entrepreneurs are what I call “cold water optimists.” They’re upbeat about the future, they believe they can create a better tomorrow, they believe that people are basically good, they believe hope inspires. But they are also practical—hence the “cold water” on their face that forces them to confront reality. They convert their optimism into tangible actions. Newspaper headlines scream pessimism. Politicians and pundits can make a living off negativity. Cocktail parties are full of doomsayers, with optimists (especially young ones) written off as uneducated in the rough and unfair real world. It’s important for entrepreneurs to avoid these stains. Optimism opens the creative process for seeing the invisi- ble. Optimism is the entrepreneur’s flute—sweet and some-times the lone voice, but it’s what makes us different.

Quote of the Day

"A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life l saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth--that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way--an honorable way--in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, 'The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.'
- Victor Frankl, Man's Search For Meaning

Monday, February 13, 2012

Animal Friendship - Carl Zimmer

Carl Zimmer hits the Bulls-eye - Times cover story, no less.

Since 1995, John Mitani, a primatologist at the University of Michigan, has been going to Uganda to study 160 chimpanzees that live in the forests of Kibale National Park. Seventeen years is a long time to spend watching wild animals, and after a while it’s rare to see truly new behavior. That’s why Mitani loves to tell the tale of a pair of older males in the Kibale group that the researchers named Hare and Ellington.

Hare and Ellington weren’t related, yet when they went on hunting trips with other males, they’d share prey with each other rather than compete for it. If Ellington reached out a hand, Hare would give him a piece of meat. If one of them got into a fight, the other would back him up. Hare and Ellington would spend entire days traveling through the forest together. Sometimes they’d be side by side. Other times, they’d be 100 yards apart, staying in touch through the foliage with loud, hooting calls. “They’d always be yakking at each other,” says Mitani.

Their friendship—for that’s what Mitani calls it—lasted until Ellington’s death in 2002. What happened next was striking and sad. For all the years that Mitani had followed him, Hare had been a sociable, high-ranking ape. But when Ellington died, Hare went through a sudden change. “He dropped out,” says Mitani. “He just didn’t want to be with anybody for several weeks. He seemed to go into mourning.”

Taleb On Manner Of Speaking

"One trick when giving lectures. I have been told by conference organizers and other rationalistic, empirically challenged fellows that one needs to be clear, deliver a crisp message, maybe even dance on the stage to get the attention of the crowd. Or speak with the fake articulations of T.V. announcers. Charlatans try sending authors to “speech school”. None of that. I find it better to whisper, not shout. Better to slightly unaudible, less clear. Acquire a strange accent. One should make the audience work to listen, and switch to intellectual overdrive. (In spite of these rules of thumb by the conference industry, there is no evidence that demand for a speaker is linked to the TV-announcer quality of his lecturing). And the most powerful, at a large gathering, tends to be the one with enough self-control to avoid raising his voice to be noticed, and make others listen to him."

- Taleb via FB

Quote of the Day

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

- Thomas Alva Edison

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Precognition Of Arthur C. Clarke

Nicholas Carr gets a "nod" from Arthur C. Clarke (thanks to Profiles of the Future: An Inquiry into the Limits of the Possible) to back his Theory of Shallows.

"How mankind will cope with the avalanche of information and entertainment about to descend upon it from the skies, only the future can show. Once again science, with its usual cheerful irresponsibility, has left another squalling infant on civilization's doorstep. It may grow up to be as big a problem child as the one born amid the clicking of Geiger counters beneath the Chicago University squash court, back in 1942."

Gifted But... Goodbye

Quote of the Day

“When we are so busy in daily life, we are not conscious of the other messages we get, particularly from our hearts and souls and bodies. Retreats allow us to access and strengthen subtle capacities and to hear ourselves and others on a different level.”

Trails of Tears, and Hope

Saturday, February 11, 2012

What I've Been Reading

The Wild Life of Our Bodies: Predators, Parasites, and Partners That Shape Who We Are Today by Rob Dunn. I started reading this book assuming it to be just another book on microbes and was expecting more Toxo stories. But in addition to those stories, this book provides grandeur to the bigger story of how our interaction with other species helped us become who we are today and more importantly, what we will become without these species. This is not a typical book on biophilia wrote by a tree-hugger. This is one the most fascinating book I have ever read on this topic - power packed with brilliant theories and facts and is a very easy read.

Once upon a time, we lived life in nature’s tangled bank. Five hundred million years ago, our hearts evolved to pump blood. Their beating was physiological, but nearly every subsequent elaboration on our bodies related to interacting with the rest of life. Four hundred and ninety million years ago, the first eyes evolved in order to detect prey. Later, the first taste buds evolved in order to help us find our food species and avoid toxic species, to urge us toward what we needed and away from what we did not. Our immune systems evolved to detect microscopic creatures and distinguish among them, favoring some and disfavoring others. All of this we share with most of the rest of animal life. In this way, our bodies unite us.

Right now, our biggest barriers remain our brains and their biases, brains that still tell us that a green pesticide-treated lawn is more healthy than one abounding with species, brains that still tell us the same things they told us when we lived in caves and when mammoths still walked along the horizon. 

The Pronghorn Principle (The "ghosts" we chase):
The exceptional speed of pronghorn was evolved for escaping from the American cheetahs that were their predators, but in a way the pronghorn may now suffer without their longtime foe present to give chase. They run for no reason. They waste energy, when they might do just as well to stand still. They run from ghosts. The pronghorn principle has two elements: First, all species have physical characteristics and genes that relate to the ways in which they interact with other species. Second, when those other species are removed, such features become anachronistic or worse. Plants have evolved toxins to defend their leaves, nectar to entice animals to carry their pollen, and fruits to attract other animals to carry their seeds. Pick any organism on Earth and as much of its biology is defined by how it interacts with other species as is influenced by the basics of living, eating, breathing, and mating. Interactions among species (what ecologists call interspecific interactions) are part of the tangled bank to which Darwin referred. The loss of other species can make key elements of any organism’s body as anachronistic as the giant fruits left sitting in the dirt, waiting for the megafauna that never come to pick them up. Time would tell for Joel Weinstock. He imagined that the problem with our modern guts was our immune system, and that the problem with our immune system was that it was missing the parasites with which it had evolved. Crohn’s and other inflammatory bowel diseases, he would come to argue, are the consequence of our body still running to escape its ancient assailant. When a pronghorn runs fast to outpace a long-gone predator, it wastes energy. When our bodies run fast to escape nonexistent worms, they trip, he believed, or maybe they never learn to run properly in the first place. It is worth being reminded here that this question is similar to the one that John Byers asked about the pronghorn: What happens when you take away the predators? It is the same question that Weinstock would come to ask about the worms: What happens when you take them away? It is the same question repeated with different life-forms, by different scientists, as they look at each of the many parts of our bodies.

Isbell on how Snakes "helped" our vision:
If Isbell was right that the particulars of primate vision evolved in response to the presence or absence of venomous snakes, she would expect better vision with greater exposure to venomous snakes. That is just what she found. Venomous snakes evolved in the Old World, and were relatively recent arrivals (10–20 million years ago) in the New. This matched the differences in primate vision. It fit her theory. But what about Madagascar, where prosimian-present primates have relatively poor vision? From the beginning, Isbell had hoped, in a way, that she was wrong. If she was wrong, she could get back to the life she was living before her idea. Maybe she would find that there are venomous snakes in Madagascar, but just as she predicted, there are not. Madagascar has no venomous snakes, and Madagascar’s primates, the lemurs, have the worst vision of all the primates. They are as likely to find their way by taste, smell, or touch as by sight. In this, they are like Vermeij.
Isbell has elaborated her theory in detail in her book The Fruit, the Tree, and the Serpent: Why We See So Well, and at least two things have emerged as undeniable. 

On our hairlessness, disease et al.,:
This theory has been independently suggested by three waves of scientists across more than a century. Each of them has argued that hairlessness evolved because our ancestors were unusually tick, louse, fly, and, more generally, parasite-ridden. This idea was first suggested in the 1800s by the jack-of-all-trades Thomas Belt in his book The Naturalist in Nicaragua. 
Fincher compared the individuality scores of people around the world. What they found was that in regions where deadly diseases are more common, people consistently think more about the tribe and less about their own individual fate and decisions. They are also more xenophobic. Separately, Mark Schaller also found that where diseases are more prevalent, individuals are less culturally and sexually open and less extroverted.What Fincher, Schaller, and others observed were correlations. Just because two things, such as disease prevalence and personalities, show the same patterns of variation from one place to another does not mean that one causes the other. But at the very least, the patterns these scientists observed do not rule out their ideas.

Honing the Biophilia Theory:
It is sometimes suggested that what we need to do in cities is to restore “nature.” A body of literature and theory often referred to as “biophilia” posits that we have an innate fondness for nature, and so restoring nature to our lives makes us happier and healthier. I disagree for what might seem to be (but is not) a subtle reason. Namely, by any reasonable definition, the species that have filled in around us in cities are nature. The species that live on our bodies are also nature, as are both smallpox and toucans. What is missing from our lives is not nature, but instead a kind of nature that most benefits us. By that same token, the life we love to have in our neighborhoods and daily lives (bio = life, philia = to love) is not all life, but the life that benefits us in some way. When tigers chased us, we had no innate love for them. When diseases killed our families, we had no love for them either. And so what we need in our cities and suburbs as we move forward is not simply “more nature.” More rats would be more nature, as would more roaches and mosquito-vectored diseases. No, what we need are more of some aspects of nature, its richness and variety and, more pointedly, its benefits.
When we think about benefits, we cannot think simply about what our eyes tell us. The species that benefit us in the future may well include worms, ants, and our gut microbes. They may include, in other words, a much more burgeoning ark of life than we tend to consider when we plan parks and gardens. In our guts, we may really need to give ourselves worms. That we hesitate at this point is largely a function of what our eyes tell us, not of clinical results. We do not yet understand the way worms work as a treatment, but neither do we understand the ways in which most of our modern medicines work. Ask a researcher how Ritalin or pain medication works. In most cases, no one knows. We just know that when taken, a symptom or even a disease goes away. So it is, for now, with the worms.

On Cliff's and Caves:
Larson’s theory was a coming to terms with the similarities between his one life in an office on a campus and his other life, dangling off ledges. It was also the coming together of minds. He formed the theory along with a group of five other scientists* whose thoughts had begun to converge on his own and they wrote an entire book about the idea, The Urban Cliff Revolution: Origins and Evolution of Human Habitats. In the first and most often discussed part of the book, Larson and team argue that the cities we build are like cliffs, populated with cavelike rooms and balconies. We build these clifflike environments even though they are marginal and unproductive, they argue, because through the long years of early human evolution, caves and cliff sides were our refuges from the elements and from predators. We build cities out of cement and up into the sky because they remind us of cliffs and caves. 
In addition to their big idea about our fondness for caves, the team offered an explanation for the origins of the species—whether dandelions or pigeons—that live with us in our cities. They noticed that the species that make it unbeckoned into our cities tend to be the very same species that originally lived with us in caves or on cliffs. In cities all over the world, we have created a vast network of caves and cliffs into which species that evolved to live under such conditions have moved, as content and successful as they have ever been.

Adventures In Quantum Entanglement

Wisdom Of The Week

Three Laws Of Future Employment:
  • Law #1: People will get jobs doing things that computers can’t do. 
  • Law #2: A global market place will result in lower pay and fewer opportunities for many careers. (But also in cheaper and better products and a higher standard of living for American consumers.) 
  • Law #3: Professional people will more likely be freelancers and less likely to have a steady job.
So here is my career advice to today’s students:
  • If you passionately like something and are good at it, then do that. STEM, for example, will always have a place for smart, hardworking people. Likewise, good writing can’t be computerized, but you need both talent and passion to be successful.
  • Start work on the 10,000 hours. Your education may help, but very little you do in school contributes to the total. Be it car detailing, truck driving, computer programming, drawing, writing – acquire an expert skill in something. Write a novel.
  • Empathize if you can. Computers can’t do that. Jobs that involve empathy (along with other skills) will always be in demand.
  • If you got it, flaunt it. That’s something else computers can’t do. Beauty has value, especially for women but also for men. This is wonderfully described in Catherine Hakim’s book, Erotic Capital. Even if you don’t got it, take advantage of youth. Acquire a fashion sense, take care of yourself, look as good as you can.
Daniel Jelski (via the highest commented post this year on MR; I concur with Tyler on the excess supply on the psychology front)

Quote of the Day

"The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing."

- John Powell

Friday, February 10, 2012

Today's Welfare State = Gold Standard In Calamitous 1930

Brilliant analogy and educational article from Robert J.Samuelson; A MUST READ.

After World War I, countries sought to restore the gold standard, which had been widely suspended during the fighting. Because the reliance on gold had delivered prosperity, this was understandable. But there were daunting problems: Prices had exploded during the war; gold was relatively scarce; exchange rates had shifted; countries were saddled with large debts. As a result, the restored gold standard was unstable. Skewed exchange rates meant that two countries, the United States and France, ran large trade surpluses and accumulated disproportionately large gold stocks. By 1930, they owned nearly 60 percent of the world’s gold.

The resulting gold scarcity—for most countries—created a fatal interdependence. If one country raised interest rates, it might drain gold from others. Depositors and investors, foreign and domestic, would withdraw their money or sell their bonds, convert the receipts into gold, and transfer the gold to the country with higher interest rates. There, the process would be reversed: Gold would be converted into local currency and invested at the higher rates. The gold standard created a potential domino effect of tighter credit that would make the Depression feed on itself. While credit was plentiful, the danger was theoretical. Once economies turned downward, the scramble for gold intensified the slump.

Casting the welfare state in this role will strike many as outrageous. After all, the welfare state—what Americans blandly call “social spending”—didn’t cause the 2007–09 financial crisis. This dubious distinction belongs to the huge credit bubble that formed in the United States and elsewhere, symbolized by inflated real estate prices and large losses on mortgage-related securities. But neither did the gold standard directly cause the 1929 stock market crash. Wall Street’s collapse stemmed, most simply, from speculative excesses. Stock prices were too high for an economy that was already (we now know) entering recession. But once the slump started, the gold standard spread and perpetuated it. Today, the weakened welfare state is perpetuating and spreading the slump. What has brought the welfare state to grief is not an excess of compassion, but an excess of debt.

Quote of the Day

"Martial artists are often slow to appreciate how their beliefs about human violence can be distorted by their adherence to tradition, as well as by a natural desire to avoid injury during the course of training. It is, in fact, possible to master an ancient fighting system, and to attract students who will spend years trying to emulate your skills, without ever discovering that you have no ability to defend yourself in the real world. Delusions of martial prowess have much in common with religious faith. A crucial difference, however, is that while people of faith can always rationalize apparent contradictions between their beliefs and the data of their senses, an inability to fight is very easy to detect and, once revealed, very difficult to explain away."

- Sam Harris

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A 33,000-Year-Old Fossil Holds Cues To Dog Domestication

It's a complete skull with both of the lower jaws. Most of the teeth are there. The skull was found in a cave in Siberia, in the Altai Mountains, in about 1975. The Altai Mountains are in, sort of, southern Siberia. If you look on a map, it's where the confluence of Mongolia, Siberia and Afghanistan, just to sort of place it. 
And the original archaeologist who found the specimen thought that it really didn't look like a typical wolf, and so he pulled it out for some re-analysis. And that's what we've been doing now, is going back and doing - did some radiocarbon dating to put it in proper chronological context, and also looked at measuring it and that sort of thing to see how it compared to both more recent dogs and also to wolves of that time period.

And so is there still this big gap between 12,000 and 33,000 years of knowledge of what happened there?
Yes. There are several more specimens similar to this one that we found that were found in Belgium, the Czech Republic and around the Caucasus in Southern Europe and - that are similar to this and about the same - from the same time period. But still this big gap.

We've been told over the years that the common belief about how dogs were domesticated is that ancient people tamed wolf pups. They tamed them and created them, brought them in, and they morphed into dogs, so to speak. Does this back that up, or is there a better theory?
Well, I would say not. One of the things that has come to light is that - that idea that taming actually leads to the changes we see between wolves and dogs really has no evidence to back it up. It doesn't mean that it couldn't have happened. It just means that, really, there are - is no evidence to suppose that that's true. So what anthropologists and biologists have been looking at is what kind of process might be a better explanation for how that transition would have occurred.
And what we're coming up with is the idea that actually the wolves domesticated themselves, that when people settled down into permanent villages that some wolves chose to come and live with those people, and as a result of that colonization of the new habitat, that they naturally became this new species that we call a dog.
- Rest of the interview with evolutionary biologist Susan Crockford Here

I, Robopsychologist

In I, Robot, the blockbuster movie adapted from Asimov’s robot stories, Calvin sums up her job description by saying, “I make robots seem more human.” If I had to sum up my main goal as a robopsychologist, it would be “to make machines think and learn like humans,” and ultimately, replicate creative cognition in AI. Lofty goal? Perhaps. Possible? I believe it is. I’ll be honest, though—I haven’t always thought this way.

The main reason for my past disbelief is because most of the people working on AI discounted the input of psychology. They erroneously thought they could replicate humanity in a machine without actually understanding human psychology. Seems like a no-brainer to me: If you want to replicate human-like thinking, collaborate with someone who understands human thinking on a fundamental and psychological level, and knows how to create a lesson plan to teach it. But things are changing. The field of AI is finally, slowly starting to appreciate the important role psychology needs to play in their research

- More Here