Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easing Brain Fatigue With a Walk In The Park

When the volunteers made their way through the urbanized, busy areas, particularly the heavily trafficked commercial district at the end of their walk, their brain wave patterns consistently showed that they were more aroused, attentive and frustrated than when they walked through the parkland, where brain-wave readings became more meditative.

While traveling through the park, the walkers were mentally quieter.

Which is not to say that they weren’t paying attention, said Jenny Roe, a professor in the School of the Built Environment at Heriot-Watt University, who oversaw the study. “Natural environments still engage” the brain, she said, but the attention demanded “is effortless. It’s called involuntary attention in psychology. It holds our attention while at the same time allowing scope for reflection,” and providing a palliative to the nonstop attentional demands of typical, city streets.

The study suggests that, right about now, you should consider “taking a break from work,” Dr. Roe said, and “going for a walk in a green space or just sitting, or even viewing green spaces from your office window.” This is not unproductive lollygagging, Dr. Roe helpfully assured us. “It is likely to have a restorative effect and help with attention fatigue and stress recovery.”

- More Here

On Grit

Grit vs. Talent:
Grit and talent are either orthogonal or slightly negatively correlated. To the extent that talented people are, on average, less gritty, individuals who are both extremely talented and extremely gritty should be particularly rare. 

How grit could be intentionally cultivated?
One important behavioral mechanism is deliberate practice, defined as practice activities designed to improve specific aspects of performance. Consistent with the broader literature on deliberate practice and skill acquisition, practice activities rated by spellers as more pleasurable and less effortful were dramatically less predictive of spelling performance. Instead, it was the hardest, least pleasurable practice that really paid off — and the grittiest kids who were able to do more of it.

Grit & Growth Mindset:
At present, we are investigating the link between grit and growth mindset, which is conceptually related to optimistic explanatory style but more specifically refers to the implicit belief that intelligence is malleable rather than fixed. In as yet unpublished cross-sectional studies of school-age children, we have found moderate, positive associations between grit and growth mindset, suggesting that growth mindset, like optimistic explanatory style, may contribute to the tendency to sustain effort toward and commitment to goals.

Grit & Delayed Gratification:
To pursue very long-term goals, sustaining effort and interest even when progress is halting, would seem to require the capacity to delay gratification. Thus, one intriguing possibility is that grit later in life is augured by early individual differences in the ability to forgo immediate pleasure for the sake of greater, deferred benefit. It may also help to explain age-related increases in grit, since it is well-established that the capacity to delay gratification improves between childhood and adulthood.

- More Here

How Guys Will Use Google Glass

Quote of the Day

Fanaticism consists of redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim.

- George Santayana

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Wisdom Of The Week

One thing those of you who had secure or happy childhoods should understand about those of us who did not: we who control our feelings, who avoid conflicts at all costs or seem to seek them, who are hyper-sensitive, self-critical, compulsive, workaholic, and above all survivors – we’re not that way from perversity, and cannot just relax and let it go. We’ve learned to cope in ways you never had to.

Piers Anthony (via Andrew)

Quote of the Day

Many pundits today are in the habit of misquoting Santayana's epigram, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Maybe some people have come to grief this way, but they are probably fewer than those who have fallen into the opposite error. "One is apt to perish in politics from too much memory," Tocqueville wrote somewhere, with equal truth and greater insight.

- David Hackett Fischer, Historians' Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought

Friday, March 29, 2013

Quote of the Day

For a long time it puzzled me how something so expensive, so leading edge, could be so useless. And then it occurred to me that a computer is a stupid machine with the ability to do incredibly smart things, while computer programmers are smart people with the ability to do incredibly stupid things. They are, in short, a perfect match.

- Bill Bryson

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Big Data To Fight Traumatic Brain Injuries

UCLA's Neurosurgery Department is testing out big data software which can prevent complications in patients with traumatic brain injuries. The university publicly announced details this week of an ongoing study of brain injury patients where doctors use a system developed by IBM and Excel Medical Electronics to predict rising brain pressure before it occurs.

- More Here

On Animal Consciousness

If we put aside the self-awareness standard—and really, how arbitrary and arrogant is that, to take the attribute of consciousness we happen to possess over all creatures and set it atop the hierarchy, proclaiming it the very definition of consciousness (Georg Christoph Lichtenberg wrote something wise in his notebooks, to the effect of: only a man can draw a self-portrait, but only a man wants to)—it becomes possible to say at least the following: the overwhelming tendency of all this scientific work, of its results, has been toward more consciousness. More species having it, and species having more of it than assumed. This was made boldly clear when the “Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness” pointed out that those “neurological substrates” necessary for consciousness (whatever “consciousness” is) belong to “all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses.” 

The animal kingdom is symphonic with mental activity, and of its millions of wavelengths, we’re born able to understand the minutest sliver. The least we can do is have a proper respect for our ignorance.

- John Jeremiah Sullivan

Quote of the Day

Animals are such agreeable friends—they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms.

- George Eliot, 1857

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Using Python To Code by Voice

- via here

Quote of the Day

We all want explanations for why we behave as we do and for the ways the world around us functions. Even when our feeble explanations have little to do with reality. We’re storytelling creatures by nature, and we tell ourselves story after story until we come up with an explanation that we like and that sounds reasonable enough to believe. And when the story portrays us in a more glowing and positive light, so much the better.

- Dan Ariely, The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone--Especially Ourselves

Monday, March 25, 2013

Increasing Telomerase To Save You From Stress

The more stressed behavior the rats showed, the more telomerase activity they had. Now, this doesn’t mean that stress directly causes telomerase activity or that telomerase activity causes stress. But it could mean that increased telomerase activity is one way for cells to deal with the difficulties of stress, increasing telomerase activity to protect the DNA from excessive destruction, and protect cells from senescence. It would be interesting to see if increasing telomerase activity prior to stress could protect animals from the effects of stress (like, say, the effects of stress on neurogenesis, where stress causes major decreases). But for now, it’s another role for telomeres, and for telomerase. Protecting your telomeres to save you from stress.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Who is far and away the greatest commentator on the works of Plato who has ever lived ?  The answer is obvious:  Aristotle.  Not only is Aristotle the most brilliant philosopher who ever wrote about Plato, he actually studied with the man for twenty years!  And yet, this fact has not stopped two thousand five hundred years of philosophers from puzzling over Plato's Dialogues, poking at them, prodding them, reinterpreting them, translating them into every imaginable language.  No one would ever say to a Plato scholar who has just brought out a new book on one of the Dialogues, "Why do you bother?  Aristotle already has told us what to think about that."

- Robert Paul Wolf on Why Do We Read The Great Philosophers?

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Colony Collapse Disorder - What's Killing Honey Bees?

Brilliant & educational post from Joe Ballenger - Read the whole thing.

For starters to state the obivous, biotech corps AREN'T responsible:

Neither Bt cotton nor Bt maize requires bees for pollination, but cotton nectar is attractive to them and produces a useful honey. Maize pollen may be collected when other pollen sources are scarce. Pre-release honey bee biosafety tests have been conducted for each Bt crop registered in the United States, including Cry9C maize and Cry3A potatoes. Each test involved feeding bee larvae and sometimes adults with purified Cry proteins in sucrose solutions at concentrations that greatly exceeded those recorded from the pollen or nectar of the GM plants in question. In each case, no effects were observed. The rationale for requiring larval and not adult bee tests is questionable, because adult bees ingest considerable quantities of pollen in their first few days post emergence. Larvae, particularly later instars, also consume pollen along with jelly secreted by nurse adult bees, but only recently have there been attempts to quantify pollen ingestion by individual larvae. Other studies with bees fed purified Bt proteins, or pollen from Bt plants, or bees allowed to forage on Bt plants in the field have confirmed the lack of effects noted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Post-release monitoring programs are now underway to assess impacts of North American GM crops on pollinators under commercial field conditions.

To summarize:

There are a lot of factors involved in colony collapse disorder, and it’s unlikely that there is ‘One True Cause of Colony Collapse’. There are a lot of things that correlate with the symptoms and timelines, but we have to start to separate these. Above, I’ve shown a lot of things that correlate with collapsing colonies… but at the same time, so did my high-school graduation. A correlation can shed light on some details of the problem, but this isn’t the same thing as causation. We know that similar incidents have happened before, but they were a lot more localized than the current set of events. Pesticides, pathogens and environmental factors are likely to be involved but we’ve really got no idea what role these factors play at the current time. There’s good progress being made, but it’s still too early to know why it’s happening this time around.

While we might not know exactly why honeybee colonies are dying, there are a lot of good entomologists trying to figure out what factors are involved in Colony Collapse.

Quote of the Day

Radical Muslims fly planes into buildings. Radical Christians kill abortion doctors. Radical Atheists write books.

- Hemant Mehta

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Gold Not ‘Antifragile’ Enough - Taleb

Given Taleb’s conviction that overgrown banks and rampant money creation are badly destabilizing the financial system, it’s natural to think he would take refuge in gold, which is why a conference attendee asked him whether gold represents part of his stable-value portfolio ballast.

He answered that he used to believe in this role for gold. But now, he says, “It’s too neat a narrative, gold.” He seems to mean that gold owners believe too avidly in the inviolability of the metal, and have constructed too elaborate a reassuring story about why it must perform as expected.

“Central banks own gold,” he notes, as if that is a self-evident indictment. And: “Something that doubles [in value] in no time can’t be a real store of value.”

- More Here from Taleb, author of Antifragile:Things That Again From Disorder

Wisdom Of The Week

Two BIG news (of-course not on TV) this week will probably will instigate lot changes (hopefully for good) in this planet.

First one - This image could be the first step toward mapping human thoughts

According to findings published in the latest issue of Nature Methods, microscopist Phillip Keller and neurobiologist Misha Ahrens have modified an existing imaging technique (called light sheet microscopy) in such a way that enables them to record neuronal activity from the entire volume of the zebrafish's brain. They did this while the embryo was alive, and with a temporal resolution of 0.8 Hz (meaning they were recording activity about once every second). All told, Keller and Ahrens were able to capture "more than 80% of all neurons at single-cell resolution.

Emphasis added, because that last bit is important. Imaging whole-brain activity isn't really new. Neither is mesauring the activity of single neurons. Doing both simultaneously, however, is really impressive, and hugely valuable from an experimental standpoint -- akin being able to see the individual dots of a pointillist masterpiece and the painting as a whole all at once.

Second one - Stewart Brand's talk on de-extiction of species and Carl Zimmer's followup column gave a fascinating insight to what to expect:

Early in January, Archer and his colleagues revealed that they were trying to revive two closely related species of Australian frog. Until their disappearance in the mid-1980s, the species shared a unique—and utterly astonishing—method of reproduction. The female frogs released a cloud of eggs, which the males fertilized, whereupon the females swallowed the eggs whole. A hormone in the eggs triggered the female to stop making stomach acid; her stomach, in effect, became a womb. A few weeks later the female opened her mouth and regurgitated her fully formed babies. This miraculous reproductive feat gave the frogs their common names: the northern (Rheobatrachus vitellinus) and southern (Rheobatrachus silus) gastric brooding frogs.

Unfortunately, not long after researchers began to study the species, they vanished. “The frogs were there one minute, and when scientists came back, they were gone,” says Andrew French, a cloning expert at the University of Melbourne and a member of the Lazarus Project.

To bring the frogs back, the project scientists are using state-of-the-art cloning methods to introduce gastric brooding frog nuclei into eggs of living Australian marsh frogs and barred frogs that have had their own genetic material removed. It’s slow going, because frog eggs begin to lose their potency after just a few hours and cannot be frozen and revived. The scientists need fresh eggs, which the frogs produce only once a year, during their short breeding season.

Nevertheless, they’ve made progress. “Suffice it to say, we actually have embryos now of this extinct animal,” says Archer. “We’re pretty far down this track.” The Lazarus Project scientists are confident that they just need to get more high-quality eggs to keep moving forward. “At this point it’s just a numbers game,” says French.

Quote of the Day

Before he died at eighty-six, my very Republican, very intolerant, and as best I can tell, very mentally healthy grandfather used to chaff me with his take on the old epigram: If you’re not a socialist before you’re thirty, you have no heart; and if you’re still a socialist afterward, you have no brains.

Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study by George E. Vaillant.

Friday, March 22, 2013

What I've Been Reading

Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study by George E. Vaillant. I agreed with David Brooks few weeks ago when he wrote what data cannot do but little did I know that George Vaillant's meticulous data would give me an answer to one of the many questions that had been bothering all my life:

"What goes right is more important than what does wrong."

With perseverance, persistence and patience, data can at-least lead us in the right path if not a precise answer.

There are two pillars of happiness revealed by the seventy-five-year-old Grant Study. One is love. The other is finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away.

This more important as we get old that I don't want you to think less of yourself  , I want you to think of yourself less and if you haven't learned that by the time you are my age,you are in for a lot of trouble. 

The Law of Futurology

- via here

Quote of the Day

There is no pleasure to me without communication: there is not so much as a sprightly thought comes into my mind that it does not grieve me to have produced alone, and that I have no one to tell it to.

- Michel de Montaigne

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Quote of the Day

Few places are more conducive to internal conversations than moving planes, ships, or trains…Introspective reflections that might otherwise be liable to stall are helped along by the flow of the landscape.

- Alain de Botton

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Quote of the Day

The world of the manager is one of problems and opportunities. Problems are to be managed; one must understand the nature of the problem, amass resources adequate to deal with it, and "work the problem" on an ongoing basis.[...] But what if the problem can be fixed? This is not the domain of the manager.

An engineer believes most problems have solutions. The engineer isn't interested in building an organisation to cope with the problem. [...] And yet the engineer's faith in fixes often blinds him to the fact that many problems, especially those involving people, don't have the kind of complete permanent solutions he seeks.

- John Walker, The Hacker's Diet

Monday, March 18, 2013

Brain Activity Illuminated In A Zebrafish

The scientists studied live zebrafish larvae that had been genetically encoded with a calcium indicator called GCaMP5G. They suspended the larva in a gel and then beamed it with lasers. Just before a neuron fires, its action potential is expressed via a spike in calcium ions, so when one of the genetically modified larva’s neurons reached its action potential, it glowed. This showed the researchers the firing of the neurons without them having to attach a bunch of electrodes to the fish.

Over the course of an hour the researchers used laser beams to scan the larva every 1.3 seconds, exciting the retina of the zebrafish with each scan. This microscopy method allowed the researchers to record up to 80 percent of the fish’s 100,000 neurons at single-cell resolution.  This is the first time scientists have recorded such a high percentage of an organism’s brain activity at such a high resolution.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

  • I don’t care about someone being intelligent; any situation between people, when they are really human with each other, produces “intelligence.” 
  •  “I don’t claim my opinions are right,” or “just because I have opinions doesn’t mean I’m right.”
  • Nothing is mysterious, no human relation. Except love.
  • Being in love a pathological variant of loving. Being in love = addiction, obsession, exclusion of others, insatiable demand for presence, paralysis of other interests and activities. A disease of love, a fever (therefore exalting). One “falls” in love. But this is one disease which, if one must have it, is better to have often rather than infrequently. It’s less mad to fall in love often (less inaccurate for there are many wonderful people in the world) than only two or three times in one’s life.
Excerpts from Susan Sontag's book As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980 (redux)

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Quote of the Day

I have found that many of life’s most useful insights are often quite simple.

- The Innovator's Dilemma by Clayton M. Christensen

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Wisdom Of The Week

Excerpts from the book Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study by George E. Vaillant. 

At age seventy-five, the College men were asked to define what they considered wisdom to be. Here are some of their definitions of wisdom:

  • Empathy through which one must synthesize both care and justice.
  • Tolerance and a capacity to appreciate paradox and irony even as one learns to manage uncertainty.
  • A seamless integration of affect and cognition. 
  • Self-awareness combined with an absence of self-absorption.
  • The capacity to ‘hear’ what others say.

Quote of the Day

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

- Corinthians

Friday, March 15, 2013

Wallace & Depression

I’ve been on antidepressants for, what, about a year now, and I suppose I feel as if I’m pretty qualified to tell what they’re like. They’re fine, really, but they’re fine in the same way that, say, living on another planet that was warm and comfortable and had food and fresh water would be fine: it would be fine, but it wouldn’t be good old Earth, obviously. I haven’t been on Earth now for almost a year, because I wasn’t doing very well on Earth. I’ve been doing somewhat better here where I am now, on the planet Trillaphon, which I suppose is good news for everyone involved.

- From The Planet Trillaphon as it Stands in Relation to the Bad Thing

In dark times, the definition of good art would seem to be art that locates and applies CPR to those elements of what’s human and magical that still live and glow despite the times’ darkness.

All this business about people committing suicide when they’re ‘severely depressed;’ we say, ‘Holy cow, we must do something to stop them from killing themselves!’ That’s wrong. Because all these people have, you see, by this time already killed themselves, where it really counts. By the time these people swallow entire medicine cabinets or take naps in the garage or whatever, they’ve already been killing themselves for ever so long. When they ‘commit suicide,’ they’re just being orderly.

- From The Planet Trillaphon as it Stands in Relation to the Bad Thing

Read this whole piece on Wallace by Thomas Meaney - it's brilliant !!

Quote of the Day

Whenever I ask a certain acquaintance of mine to tell me what he knows about anything, he wants to show me a book: he would not venture to tell me that he has scabs on his arse without studying his lexicon to find out the meaning of scab and arse.

All we do is to look after the opinions and learning of others: we ought to make them our own. We closely resemble a man who, needing a fire, goes next door to get a light, finds a great big blaze there and stays to warm himself, forgetting to take a brand back home. What use is it to us to have a belly full of meat if we do not digest it, if we do not transmute it into ourselves, if it does not make us grow in size and strength?

- Montaigne: Essays by Michel de Montaigne

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Things I Didn't Learn In Graduate School

  • Giving depositions and court testimony -  We have a keen interest in finding a way for all parties involved in a dispute to come out of the resolution process feeling heard and valued. Of course, that is precisely the wrong approach to take in depositions or court testimony. I'm not a lawyer, but I have found that there are four acceptable answers to legal questions in those settings: "Yes." "No." "I don't have knowledge about that." And "Would you repeat the question?"
  • Handling internal politics -  It has not been uncommon over the years for me to hear from new professionals who seem surprised by how political our work settings can be. They feel under-prepared or overwhelmed in trying to gain competence in, if not mastery of, internal politics.
  • Moving up the ranks - Simply put, as you move up, you have fewer and fewer peers at your institution (or in the field) with whom it is appropriate to share a conversation about how things are going on the campus or in your professional life. Those are not conversations you should have either down or up the ladder, for the most part, though there may be some circumstances in which doing so is appropriate and possible.
  • Loss and grieving -  You may need a somewhat different set of skills if you are called upon to help grieving colleagues who are struggling with the death of a student, a fellow student-affairs professional, or a family member. What if the grief and loss are your own? How much do you share in the workplace? How much time are you willing to take for healing when the "to do" stack is growing every day?
- More Here

Quote of the Day

I think this is argument for "diversity" at our education institutions. Humanism in theory isn't enough. You need to be confronted with actual humans to really feel it. It has become increasingly clear to me that I am not a member of any "black race." That there is no such thing. I am, very much, a black person. This describes my history, my culture, my dialect, my community, my family, my collective experience with America. But there is nothing in my bones that makes me more like other "black persons" than like anyone else. 

Perhaps this seems basic and elementary. But somehow in seeing more of the world--in being around people of another "race"--I've begun to really feel the absurdity of it all

- Ta-Nehisi Coates

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Life At Home In The Twenty-First Century

  • Managing the volume of possessions was such a crushing problem in many homes that it actually elevated levels of stress hormones for mothers.
  • Only 25 percent of garages could be used to store cars because they were so packed with stuff. 
  • The rise of big-box stores such as Costco and Sam's Club has increased the tendency to stockpile food and cleaning supplies, making clutter that much harder to contain. 
  • The addition of costly "master suites" for parents proved the most common renovation in the homes that were studied, yet the spaces were hardly used.
  • Consistent and troublesome bottlenecks emerged in the homes, yet families rarely devoted renovation dollars to remedying these obvious problems.
  • Even in a region with clement year-round weather, the families hardly used their yards, and this was the case even among those who had invested in outdoor improvements and furnishings.
  • Most of the families relied heavily on convenience foods like frozen meals and par-baked bread, yet they saved an average of only 10 to 12 minutes per meal in doing so. 
  • Fragmented dinners — those in which family members eat sequentially or in different rooms — threaten to undermine a sacrosanct American tradition: the family dinner. 
-  That's from the book Life at Home in the Twenty-first Century: 32 Families Open their Doors by Jeanne E. Arnold, Anthony P. Graesch & Elinor Ochs

E.U. Bans Cosmetics With Animal-Tested Ingredients

Even before the new rule was officially announced, the cosmetics company L’Oréal, which is based in France, said it would respect the ban and “no longer sell in Europe any finished product with an ingredient that was tested on animals” after Monday.

But other representatives of the European industry, worth about €70 billion, or $91 billion, annually, criticized the commission for putting the ban into effect before alternatives existed for some of the most complex tests.

“Europe’s idea is to put more pressure on other parts of the world to end animal testing, but the science doesn’t match that political timetable,” said Colin Mackay, a spokesman for Cosmetics Europe, a trade association.

And there were warnings on Monday that the ban still left a loophole. Shortly after the announcement, Dagmar Roth-Behrendt, a Socialist lawmaker from Germany who a decade ago helped to steer a measure through the European Parliament that resulted in the 2004 ban, said companies still could use ingredients from tests on animals as long as the tests were carried out for non-cosmetic products like pharmaceuticals or chemicals.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

The suppliers will increase prices when they improve conditions and the cost will decrease the quantity demanded. But the effect is there. Decreasing demand in whatever way you can will send the message to the suppliers that we don’t want their product the way they make it. They need to change their practices or they don’t get our business.

- Why I became a vegetarian

Monday, March 11, 2013

Futuristic Fixes That Could Help the Blind See Again

The first and only retinal implant approved for human use, the Argus II was developed over nearly 25 years by biomedical engineer and ophthalmologist Mark Humayun of the University of Southern California. A tiny camera in a pair of goggles worn by the user transmits the visual scene to a small video-processing unit worn on the belt. The processor sends signals back up to the goggles, which beam them wirelessly to the retinal implant. The implant's 60 electrodes stimulate neurons in the retina in a pattern that roughly matches the visual scene.

The current version enables a blind user to recognize a doorway, follow a sidewalk, or find a dropped set of keys, Humayun says. The next step will be a software upgrade that adds digital zoom capabilities to allow users to see nearby objects better. With 8x zoom, Humayun says, plates and silverware at the dinner table would become recognizable and wearers could begin to read large text.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

The most important Google Glass experience is not the user experience – it’s the experience of everyone else. The experience of being a citizen, in public, is about to change.

Just think: if a million Google Glasses go out into the world and start storing audio and video of the world around them, the scope of Google search suddenly gets much, much bigger, and that search index will include you. Let me paint a picture. Ten years from now, someone, some company, or some organization, takes an interest in you, wants to know if you’ve ever said anything they consider offensive, or threatening, or just includes a mention of a certain word or phrase they find interesting. A single search query within Google’s cloud – whether initiated by a publicly available search, or a federal subpoena, or anything in between – will instantly bring up documentation of every word you’ve ever spoken within earshot of a Google Glass device.

This is the discussion we should have about Google Glass. The tech community, by all rights, should be leading this discussion. Yet most techies today are still chattering about whether they’ll look cool wearing the device.

- The Google Glass feature that no one is talking about

Sunday, March 10, 2013

We Are Best When We Love

Humans are many things; we are users, choosers, planners, dreamers, and so much more. No one of these roles defines us on its own. We are a multitude of different potentials.

And many of these roles reveal us to be cruel and selfish. We are entropy’s agents—we undermine stability in pursuit of shallow, myopic things. Perhaps worse still, we hide our ugliness from each other (and ourselves) behind shabby delusions. For example: we tell ourselves that our selfishness is magically, even invisibly, conducive to the good of others. Or alternatively, we tell ourselves that our best intentions are sufficient to justify any number of ill-considered plans. Or alternatively once more, we assume that we know those close to us better than they know themselves. And so on and so forth. We are ingenious justifiers of our basest instincts. We are destructive dissemblers, though we rarely recognize it.

But—and now I’m finally getting back to you—we are best when we are creators. We have strange, unpredictable capacities for transcending our own petty selves and their concerns. From time to time, we astonish ourselves by making something that is unquestionably good. From time to time, we produce beauty that is almost wholly illuminated by the wild possibilities therein contained. From time to time we produce such shining potential that the daily grind of human life becomes not just tolerable, but comprehensible. From time to time, we produce miracles.

It is no accident that our most sublime moments usually burst forth from partnership. Human love is the only antidote to our selfishness. It forms the other option of our lives. We flit through time, living at turns for ourselves or for others…but our greatest triumphs always come with the latter. We are best when we love. Again, forgive me the cliché, when two people love each other very, very much…they create astonishing things. These aren’t always babies—love’s creations are more varied than that—but children are among the most profound things we can make.

- Conor P. Williams writes to his new born child (via Andrew)

The Death Of The NFL

In 2001 I represented the second pick in the First Round of the Draft, Leonard Davis, Offensive Tackle from Texas taken by the Arizona Cardinals. He weighed in at 375 and could break five seconds in a forty-yard dash. When an offensive lineman hits a defensive lineman to begin the play in football a low level concussive hit occurs and the brain of each player is impacted. The definition of a concussion does not require a player to be unconscious and motored off the field. It is a blow to the head or body, which causes a change in brain function. Each one of these blows jars the brain.

Simply multiply the number of plays and collisions and it is possible that a player will retire from football with 10,000 or more low-level concussive hits. What is the long term impact of this damage to the brain. Players who are not lying motionless on the field post-concussion have been left out of the discussion. And yet damage is occurring steadily. This is why I have called the concussion damage in football and other collision sports a ticking time bomb and undiagnosed health epidemic.

Parents and athletes have accepted the fact that playing football breaks down the structure of many joints in the human body–the neck, hip, elbow, knee, ankle and back. But are parents willing to accept the reality that prominent neurologists like Dr. Julian Bailes, Dr. Bob Cantu, Dr. Mark Lovell, Dr. Mickey Collins and Dr. Tony Strickland are predicting. Our conferences showed that multiple concussions trigger an exponentially higher rate of premature senility and dementia, Parkinson’s, ALS, Alzheimer’s, depression and chronic traumatic encephalopathy. It is one thing to know that years of football will make it harder for an athlete to bend down and pick up his child when the athlete is forty. What if he can’t recognize the child because of concussion related dementia?

Leigh Steinberg

Quote of the Day

I insist on a lot of time being spent, almost every day, to just sit and think. That is very uncommon in American business. I read and think. So I do more reading and thinking, and make less impulse decisions than most people in business. I do it because I like this kind of life.

The Essays of Warren Buffett: Lessons for Corporate America

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Plants Use Caffeine To Lure Bees

A new study shows that the naturally caffeine-laced nectar of some plants enhances the learning process for bees, so that they are more likely to return to those flowers. The plant is using this as a drug to change a pollinator’s behavior for its own benefit,” said Geraldine Wright, a honeybee brain specialist at Newcastle University in England, who, with her colleagues, reported those findings in Science on Thursday.

The effect of caffeine was not obvious at first, but as Dr. Wright refined her experiments, it became more clear that the chemical had a profound effect on memory. “If you put a low dose of caffeine in the reward when you teach them this task, and the amount is similar to what we drink when we have weak coffee, they just don’t forget that the odor is associated with the reward,” she said.

After 24 hours, three times as many bees remembered the connection between odor and reward if the reward contained caffeine. After 72 hours, twice as many remembered. They then tested the effect of caffeine on neurons in the bee brain and found that its action could lead to more sensitivity in neurons called Kenyon cells, which are involved in learning and memory. Dr. Wright said that this was one plausible route for enhancing memory, but was not definitive.

- More Here

Wisdom Of The Week

How can I hold that all men are created equal when here before me stands stinking the moral carcass of the gentleman from Ohio? Proof that some men are inferior. Endowed by their maker with dim wits, impermeable to reason, with cold pallid slime in their veins instead of hot red blood. You are more reptile than man George, so low and flat that the foot of man is incapable of crushing you.

That's Thaddeus Stevens (Tom Lee Jones played his character brilliantly in the movie Lincoln).
Every since I saw the movie last year, those lines stood out more than anything else - it captures essence of that movie brilliantly. I don't think Stevens was debating nature vs nurture but it was just a blatant portrayal of who we are. So now read the quote again with one alteration:

How can I hold that all men are created equal when here before me stands stinking the moral carcass of the gentleman from Ohio? Proof that some men are inferior. Endowed by their maker with dim wits, impermeable to reason, with cold pallid slime in their veins instead of hot red blood. You are more reptile than man George, so low and flat that the foot of man is incapable of crushing you.

I am sure we all have come across those gentlemen.

Quote of the Day

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

- T.S. Elliot

Friday, March 8, 2013

Rising Atheism Among Rwanda Genocide Survivors

"I read what happened in Ntarama, Bugesera. Killers were smashing babies on the walls in the house of God. Why couldn't that omnipotent God cut off the hands of those genocidaires to rescue the babies who were innocently smiling at the killers? Why? I wouldn't be surprised when someone reputed to kill infants chose to close his arms."

Like him, many other people converted to Islam en masse after the Genocide. He renounced it during the American invasion in Afghanistan. He said that he was tired of being indoctrinated. They were always asked to pray for the souls of brothers and sisters who lost lives when fighting the enemy in Iraq and Palestine.

"I kept on wondering whether those Iraqis and Palestinians prayed for us when the Genocide was happening at our doorsteps. I can't generalize, but I think they - like most of the world - didn't care. Maybe they were busy watching the World Cup (USA)."

They both argue that there's something hidden in religions but people don't see that. According to them, if you free yourself from religion's dogma, the world's abundances open doors for you.

So, what is atheism? "It's is not a religion. Becoming an atheist is more of a journey than a choice. It is a gradual quest for answers about life and the universe as a whole," said Kamugisha Ndahiro, a successful businessman. "Curiosity is paramount, and the need to escape all the dogma we were taught back in school."

Having a conversation with an atheist makes you realise how little you know about your own religion.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

You will find scientists who will tell you — and they deeply believe it — that we’re quantifiable. We are knowable. That if I can take a high enough resolution picture of all of you — not just your outsides, but your genes, your DNA, all the way down to your atoms — I can know everything about you and everything that you will be. There are people who believe this. And what this tells me is, no. No! All the way down, to the bottom of our thoughts, there’s just more mystery.

Jad Abumrad

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Survival Of The Friendliest

Tell me about the similarities between dogs and human infants.
Dogs are the only species that have been identified to date that learn words in the same way as human children – by using inferences. Show a child a red block and a green block, for example. If you then ask for "the chromium block, not the red block", most children will give you the green block, despite not knowing that "chromium" can refer to a shade of green. The child infers the name of the object. Dogs have been found to learn in the same way.

The second thing is that they make use of human gestures at a similar level of flexibility to young infants. Obviously older infants quickly outstrip what dogs can do, but the fact that there is any overlap at all is remarkable.

The endurance of the most social, bold dogs is what you call "survival of the friendliest"...

Exactly. Since Herbert Spencer coined the phrase "survival of the fittest", people often think of the Hobbesian notion of nature as red in tooth and claw. And, of course, many species do use aggression to stay on top. But nature is also replete with examples of species evolving to be friendlier, more tolerant and social. In those cases, the ones which are able to survive by being friendly can outcompete those which are less friendly.
Dogs as a species became more tolerant and as a result are one of the most successful mammals in the history of the planet – in terms of quality of life, numbers, distribution. I don't think there's any place where humans have gone that dogs have not also gone – even space! If you compare dogs with wolves, that population that decided to eat garbage, boy did they make the right decision.

- Interview with Brian Hare

Wright’s law (Economies Of Scale) Also Follow Moore's Law

Aeronautical engineer Theodore Wright, who pointed out that the cost of airplanes fell as the number of planes manufactured rose. Specifically, he said that the cost was proportional to the inverse of the number of planes manufactured raised to some power. This theory has since been put forward as a more general law that governs the costs of technological products, and is often explained on the basis that, the more we make, the better and more efficient we get at making.

Costs fall purely because of economies of scale. All these ‘laws’ predict that costs will fall over time, but each suggests a slightly different rate. “These hypotheses haven’t really been tested against data before,” says MIT's Jessika Trancik. She and her collaborators collected data for 62 technologies, ranging from chemicals production to energy devices (such as photovoltaic cells) and information technologies, spanning periods of between 10 and 39 years. “Assembling a large enough data set was a big challenge,” says Trancik.

The researchers evaluated the performance of each six such ‘laws’ using hindcasts — use of earlier data to predict later costs — and then looked at how these compared with the actual figures.

In fact, the laws didn't differ much at all. The most accurate was Wright’s law, but Moore’s law was close behind, at least for a relatively modest time horizon of a few decades. The predictions were so similar for these two laws, in fact, that the researchers suspected they might be related.

A link seems quite likely. In 1979, political scientist Devendra Sahal pointed out that if production of an item grows at an exponential rate, then Wright’s law and Moore’s law are equivalent. The data confirm that production does indeed grow exponentially for a wide range of products. “You wouldn’t necessarily expect that,” says Trancik.

That Moore’s law applies at all to so many different industries is a surprise, since computing has often been regarded as a special case. “It’s a much more general thing,” says author Doyne Farmer, currently at the University of Oxford, UK.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

A man who has committed a mistake and doesn't correct it, is committing another mistake.

- Confucius

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

1.5 Acres Of Land To Feed Family

Amar Singh Patel, a small-scale farmer in Chhattisgarh, India, explains the impact of using the System of Rice Intensification on his crops. Although a Chinese scientist has questioned claims of record harvests in the neighbouring state of Bihar, Amar Singh says he now produces enough rice to feed his family from only 1.5 acres of land

- More Here

Quote of the Day

You know something is important when you're willing to let someone else take the credit if that's what it takes to get it done.

- Seth Godin

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Quantified Self Tools At The Apple Store

The full list - via here

Quote of the Day

Remember the exercises in critical reading you did in school, where you had to look at a piece of writing and step back and ask whether the author was telling the whole truth? If you really want to be a critical reader, it turns out you have to step back one step further, and ask not just whether the author is telling the truth, but why he's writing about this subject at all.

- Paul Graham

Monday, March 4, 2013

Meditation Study Shows Changes Associated With Awareness & Stress

Participating in an eight-week mindfulness meditation program appears to make measurable changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress. In a study that will appear in the Jan. 30 issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, a team led by Harvard-affiliated researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) reported the results of their study, the first to document meditation-produced changes over time in the brain’s gray matter.

For the current study, magnetic resonance (MR) images were taken of the brain structure of 16 study participants two weeks before and after they took part in the eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program at the University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness. In addition to weekly meetings that included practice of mindfulness meditation — which focuses on nonjudgmental awareness of sensations, feelings, and state of mind — participants received audio recordings for guided meditation practice and were asked to keep track of how much time they practiced each day. A set of MR brain images was also taken of a control group of nonmeditators over a similar time interval.

Meditation group participants reported spending an average of 27 minutes each day practicing mindfulness exercises, and their responses to a mindfulness questionnaire indicated significant improvements compared with pre-participation responses. The analysis of MR images, which focused on areas where meditation-associated differences were seen in earlier studies, found increased gray-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection.

- More Here

Incentive & Lack of Skin In The Game In Washington !!

It is impossible to make a man understand something if his livelihood depends on not understanding it.

- Upton Sinclair

This is Running for Your Life

Raving review of Michelle Orange’s new essay collection, This is Running for Your Life:

Sometimes while reading, I have visions of certain writers flexing their biceps at their desks; sometimes I hear the sound of chests bumping in midair. When they get lost in Beirut, it is the crux of their experience, and they fucking tell that story, like it's just that easy. But I like that Michelle Orange questions herself. I like that the things she experiences aren't inevitable. The unspooling of Orange's thoughts is what I loved most about reading This Is Running for Your Life, even if it did made her writing less muscular. A (female) friend of mine who'd also read the book said that it was like "listening to a good friend tell a story."

Quote of the Day

The brain and the eye may have a contractual relationship in which the brain has agreed to believe what they eye sees, but in return the eye has agreed to look for what the brain wants.

- Daniel Gilbert

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Kai Po Che !

Brilliant adaptation of Chetan Bhagat's novel The 3 Mistakes of My Life
Hindi movies can still be deliver without Aamir Khan !!

The Sartre Fallacy

Sam McNerney brilliantly distills how philosophy, psychology and neuroscience helped him "examine" his thinking in this three part series:

Part 1 - Being Irrational About Reason:
Only later did I realize that learning about decision-making gives rise to what I term the confirmation bias bias, or the tendency for people to generate a narrow (and pessimistic) conception of the mind after reading literature on how the mind thinks narrowly. Biases restrict our thinking but learning about them should do the opposite. Yet you’d be surprised how many decision-making graduate students and overzealous Kahneman, Ariely and Gilbert enthusiasts do not understand this. Knowledge of cognitive biases, perhaps the most important thing to learn for good thinking, actually increases ignorance in some cases. This is the Sartre Fallacy – we think worse after learning how to think better.

Part 2 - Is It Inevitable?:
Learning about change blindness caused participants in one study to overestimate their vulnerability to the visual mistake. They suffered from change blindness blindness. The planning fallacy provides another example. When planners notice poor projections made in similar projects they become more confident instead of making appropriate adjustments (“We’ll never be that over budget and that late”). This was my problem. When I imagined the worst-case scenario my confidence in the best-case scenario increased. The idea, simply, is that we tend to read about biases and conclude that we are immune from them because we know they exist. This is of course itself a bias and as we’ve seen it quickly leads to an ad infinitum problem.

Part 3 - The (Real) Socratic Problem:
The Socratic problem usually refers to the fact that our accounts of Socrates are second hand, a problem exacerbated by his stubborn refusal to document, with pen and papyrus, his philosophy. I want to rebrand the Socratic problem to describe his false belief – a belief that pervades the Western world today – that knowledge is necessarily a panacea.

Why is the Sartre Fallacy difficult to avoid?
We’ve seen that humans did not evolve to be philosophers, which is fine except when we act like it.There are no guarantees that acquiring more knowledge – reading more self-help, diet, business, or decision-making books – will improve life. We’re cognitive misers; we only use System 2 if we have to, and even then we’re reluctant. The intellect is, evolutionarily speaking, the youngest addition to the human condition. We don’t know how to use it very well.
This is why the Sartre Fallacy is difficult to avoid: we don’t “do” knowledge well. Natural selection focused on the body, not the mind.

Quote of the Day

It is, as history attests, a grave error to conclude that because our vices are social rather than natural, they will be easier to cure.

- Alan Ryan

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Wisdom Of The Week

Last night I started reading George E Vaillant's book Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study and the lessons so far has been life altering to say the least...
  • First lesson is that positive mental health does exist, and to some degree can be understood independent of moral and cultural biases.
  • The second lesson is that once we leave the study of psychopathology for positive mental health, an understanding of adaptive coping is crucial.
  • The third lesson is that the most important influence by far on a flourishing life is love.
  • The fourth lesson is that — people really can change, and people really can grow. Childhood need be neither destiny nor doom.
  • A fifth lesson is that what goes right is more important than what goes wrong, and that it is the quality of a child’s total experience, not any particular trauma or any particular relationship, that exerts the clearest influence on adult psychopathology. Let me repeat myself: what goes right is more important than what goes wrong.
  • A sixth lesson is that if you follow lives long enough, they change, and so do the factors that affect healthy adjustment. Our journeys through this world are filled with discontinuities. Nobody in the Study was doomed at the outset, but nobody had it made, either. Inheriting the genes for alcoholism can turn the most otherwise blessed golden boy into a trainwreck. Conversely, an encounter with a very dangerous disease liberated the pitiful young Dr. Camille from a life of dependency and loneliness.
Persuading twenty-first-century Wall Street types that love is all you need was going to be a hard sell.

There are two pillars of happiness revealed by the seventy-five-year-old Grant Study. One is love. The other is finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away.

Quote of the Day

No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man.

- Heraclitus

Friday, March 1, 2013

Why Humans Like To Cry

Review of new book Why Humans Like to Cry: Tragedy, Evolution, and the Brain by Michael Trimble:

Weeping may have been one of the earliest forms of hominid communication. Initially a method to keep the eye lubricated and a response to pain, Trimble argues that crying became a way for early humans to share feelings of sorrow, joy and compassion and to empathize with others long before we developed language.

Human emotions arise from a network of interconnected brain regions. Trimble discusses research findings that show our brain's emotionally driven limbic system is deeply connected with other areas of the nervous system, such as the sensory cortex, which helps us process our surroundings. As a result, our feelings are integrated with our environment and bodily responses, a different paradigm than occurs in other species. In fact, he suggests that one possible reason we feel better after crying is that weeping stimulates our cranial nerves, which in turn appears to soothe our overactive amygdala.

Trimble ambitiously cracks the surface of a complex human process. Crying, then, does not indicate weakness; rather it highlights our advancement.

Quote of the Day

In the life of every successful physician there comes the temptation to toy with the Delilah of the Press – daily and otherwise. There are times when she may be courted with satisfaction, but beware! Sooner or later she is sure to play the harlot and has left many a man shorn of his strength, namely the confidence of his professional brethren.

- William Osler