Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The ‘Busy’ Trap

Brilliant column by Tim Kreider, author of We Learn Nothing.

Almost everyone I know is busy. They feel anxious and guilty when they aren’t either working or doing something to promote their work. They schedule in time with friends the way students with 4.0 G.P.A.’s  make sure to sign up for community service because it looks good on their college applications. I recently wrote a friend to ask if he wanted to do something this week, and he answered that he didn’t have a lot of time but if something was going on to let him know and maybe he could ditch work for a few hours. I wanted to clarify that my question had not been a preliminary heads-up to some future invitation; this was the invitation. But his busyness was like some vast churning noise through which he was shouting out at me, and I gave up trying to shout back over it.

and most importantly his gift of idleness probably is something we all envy:

I am not busy. I am the laziest ambitious person I know. Like most writers, I feel like a reprobate who does not deserve to live on any day that I do not write, but I also feel that four or five hours is enough to earn my stay on the planet for one more day. On the best ordinary days of my life, I write in the morning, go for a long bike ride and run errands in the afternoon, and in the evening I see friends, read or watch a movie. This, it seems to me, is a sane and pleasant pace for a day. And if you call me up and ask whether I won’t maybe blow off work and check out the new American Wing at the Met or ogle girls in Central Park or just drink chilled pink minty cocktails all day long, I will say, what time?

My own resolute idleness has mostly been a luxury rather than a virtue, but I did make a conscious decision, a long time ago, to choose time over money, since I’ve always understood that the best investment of my limited time on earth was to spend it with people I love. I suppose it’s possible I’ll lie on my deathbed regretting that I didn’t work harder and say everything I had to say, but I think what I’ll really wish is that I could have one more beer with Chris, another long talk with Megan, one last good hard laugh with Boyd. Life is too short to be busy.

Quote of the Day

Every young person one day will be entitled automatically to change his or her name on reaching adulthood in order to disown youthful hijinks stored on their friends' social media sites.

- Eric Schmidt

Monday, April 29, 2013

Quote of the Day

In the typical Western two men fight desperately for the possession of a gun that has been thrown to the ground: whoever reaches the weapon first shoots and lives; his adversary is shot and dies. In ordinary life, the struggle is not for guns but for words; whoever first defines the situation is the victor; his adversary, the victim. ... [the one] who first seizes the word imposes reality on the other; [the one] who defines thus dominates and lives; and [the one] who is defined is subjugated and may be killed.

In the animal kingdom, the rule is, eat or be eaten; in the human kingdom, define or be defined.

- Thomas Szasz

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Insights From Whales

How exactly the whales are learning from each other is not yet clear, but this study is another step towards a greater understanding of animal culture. As culture is something we consider such a key part of being human, it’s hard not to look at animal culture and compare it to our own. I asked Rendell about how comparable non-human animal culture was to our own, and what studies like his might be able to tell us about our own culture. He pointed out that there is a vast chasm between our own culture and what we see in non-human animals: ‘These differences [between humans and other animals] are so huge that it makes no sense to many perfectly reasonable anthropologists to even call anything non-humans do culture. To them, with their focus on symbols and meanings, they are just not the same.

However, evolutionary biologists tend to focus on culture as an alternative information stream from genes – a second inheritance system – and from this perspective the differences are more of degree than kind. There is no universally accepted right answer to this disagreement right now, but everyone accepts that human culture is unique (but then, so is whale culture, chimp culture, bird culture, just like flying, walking, slithering and swimming are all unique ways of locomoting)… understanding what nonhumans are and are not capable of with respect to culture helps us focus on what it is really that makes human culture unique.’ To take this a step further, by understanding what conditions lead to the culture we see in animals, we can better understand what conditions may have lead to the more primitive culture in our evolutionary past, and how our culture evolved to the point it is at today.

- More Here

Google Glass Review

  • I will never live a day of my life from now on without it (or a competitor). It's that significant. 
  • The success of this totally depends on price. Each audience I asked at the end of my presentations "who would buy this?" As the price got down to $200 literally every hand went up. At $500 a few hands went up. This was consistent, whether talking with students, or more mainstream, older audiences. I bet that +Larry Page is considering two price points: something around $500, which would be very profitable. Or $200, which is about what the bill of materials costs. When you tear apart the glasses, like someone else did (I posted that to my Flipboard "Glasshole" magazine) you see a bunch of parts that aren't expensive. This has been designed for mass production. In other words, millions of units. The only way Google will get there is to price them under $300.
  • Nearly everyone had an emotional outburst of "wow" or "amazing" or "that's crazy" or "stunning." 
  • At NextWeb 50 people surrounded me and wouldn't let me leave until they had a chance at trying them. I haven't seen that kind of product angst at a conference for a while. This happened to me all week long, it is just crazy.
  • Most of the privacy concerns I had before coming to Germany just didn't show up. I was shocked by how few negative reactions I got (only one, where an audience member said he wouldn't talk to me with them on). Funny, someone asked me to try them in a bathroom (I had them aimed up at that time and refused).
  • There is a total generational gap that I found. The older people said they would use them, probably, but were far more skeptical, or, at minimum, less passionate about the fact that these are the future, than the 13-21-year-olds I met.
- Robert Scoble

Quote of the Day

I was probably born with a desire for efficiency — the desire to get the most fun out of any possible situation, with no resources being wasted. This applied to money too, and by age 10, I was ironing my 20 dollar bills and keeping them in a photo album, just because they seemed like such powerful and intriguing little rectangles.

But I didn’t start saving and investing particularly early, I just maintained this desire not to waste anything. So I got through my engineering degree debt-free — by working a lot and not owning a car — and worked pretty hard early on to move up a bit in the career, relocating from Canada to the United States, attracted by the higher salaries and lower cost of living.

Then my future wife and I moved in together and DIY-renovated a junky house into a nice one, kept old cars while our friends drove fancy ones, biked to work instead of driving, cooked at home and went out to restaurants less, and it all just added up to saving more than half of what we earned. We invested this surplus as we went, never inflating our already-luxurious lives, and eventually the passive income from stock dividends and a rental house was more than enough to pay for our needs (about $25,000 per year for our family of three, with a paid-off house and no other debt).

- How to retire at 30

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Wisdom Of The Week

There just happen to be people like that. They’re blessed with this marvelous talent, but they can’t make the effort to systematize it. They end up squandering it in little bits and pieces. I’ve seen my share of people like that. At first you think they’re amazing. Like, they can sight-read some terrifically difficult piece and do a damn good job playing it all the way through. You see them do it, and you’re overwhelmed. You think, ‘I could never do that in a million years.’ But that’s as far as they go. They can’t take it any further. And why not? Because they won’t put in the effort. Because they haven’t had the discipline pounded into them. 
They’ve been spoiled. They have just enough talent so they’ve been able to play things well without any effort and they’ve had people telling them how great they are from the time they’re little, so hard work looks stupid to them. They’ll take some piece another kid has to work on for three weeks and polish it off in half the time, so the teacher figures they’ve put enough into it and lets them go to the next thing. And they do that in half the time and go on to the next piece. They never find out what it means to be hammered by the teacher; they lose out on a certain element required for character building. It’s a tragedy.

- FS excerpts from Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood

Quote of the Day

  • In development, people are different from other components.

  • People must be allowed room for errors.

  • Individuality must be respected and valued.

  • Contribution cannot be measured solely on technological yardsticks, but also on sociological ones.

  • Time spent thinking about work to be done may be worth more than time spent doing the work itself.

    - Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister

  • Friday, April 26, 2013

    How To Fine Tune System 2 - Daniel Kahneman

    It’s a complicated question, but what is the simplest, most straightforward advice you’d give to someone who wants to make sure their System 2 isn’t ceding certain important decisions and calculations to System 1?

    Not really a complicated question because the answers are not surprising. Slow down, sleep on it, and ask your most brutal and least empathetic close friends for their advice. Friends are sometimes a big help when they share your feelings. In the context of decisions, the friends who will serve you best are those who understand your feelings but are not overly impressed by them. For example, one important source of bad decisions is loss aversion, by which we put far more weight on what we may lose than on what we may gain. Advisors are likely to give us advice in which gains and losses are treated more neutrally—they are more likely to adopt a broad and long-term view of our problem, less likely than the affected individual to be swayed by the fears and hopes of the moment.

    - More Here

    Quote of the Day

    There’s people that say: “It’s not fair. You have all that stuff.” I wasn’t born with it. It was a horrible process to get to this. It took me my whole life. If you’re new at this — and by “new at it,” I mean 15 years in, or even 20 — you’re just starting to get traction. Young musicians believe they should be able to throw a band together and be famous, and anything that’s in their way is unfair and evil. What are you, in your 20s, you picked up a guitar? Give it a minute.

    - Louis C.K

    Thursday, April 25, 2013

    What I've Been Reading

    The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking by
    Oliver Burkeman.
    Ben in his review rightly wrote that Oliver is underrated. I think Oliver Burkeman is David Brooks of UK. I cannot think of any other book that distills Seneca's stoicism with Bruce Schneier's thoughts on security !! Oliver is a master synthesizer.
    • For one thing, who says happiness is a valid goal in the first place? Religions have never placed much explicit emphasis on it, at least as far as this world is concerned; philosophers have certainly not been unanimous in endorsing it, either. And any evolutionary psychologist will tell you that evolution has little interest in your being happy, beyond trying to make sure that you’re not so listless or miserable that you lose the will to reproduce.
    • I began to think that something united all those psychologists and philosophers – and even the occasional self-help guru – whose ideas seemed actually to hold water. The startling conclusion at which they had all arrived, in different ways, was this: that the effort to try to feel happy is often precisely the thing that makes us miserable. And that it is our constant efforts to eliminate the negative – insecurity, uncertainty, failure, or sadness – that is what causes us to feel so insecure, anxious, uncertain, or unhappy. They didn’t see this conclusion as depressing, though. Instead, they argued that it pointed to an alternative approach, a ‘negative path’ to happiness, that entailed taking a radically different stance towards those things that most of us spend our lives trying hard to avoid. It involved learning to enjoy uncertainty, embracing insecurity, stopping trying to think positively, becoming familiar with failure, even learning to value death. In short, all these people seemed to agree that in order to be truly happy, we might actually need to be willing to experience more negative emotions – or, at the very least, to learn to stop running quite so hard from them.
    • This view of how emotions work, as the leading Stoic scholar A. A. Long points out, is the underlying insight behind contemporary cognitive behavioural therapy, too. ‘It’s all there [in the work of the Stoics],’ he told me. ‘Particularly this idea that judgments are in our power, that our emotions are determined by our judgments, and that we can always step back and ask: “Is it other people that bother me? Or the judgment I make about other people?”’ It was a method of thinking he regularly employed himself, Long explained, to deal with everyday distresses, such as road rage. Were other drivers really behaving ‘badly’? Or was it more accurate to say that the cause of his anger was his belief that they ought to behave differently?
    • Uncertainty is where things happen. It is where the opportunities – for success, for happiness, for really living – are waiting.
    • ‘To be a good human,’ concludes the American philosopher Martha Nussbaum, applying this perspective to her own field of ethics, ‘is to have a kind of openness to the world, an ability to trust uncertain things beyond your own control, that can lead you to be shattered in very extreme circumstances for which you were not to blame. That says something very important about the ethical life: that it is based on a trust in the uncertainty, and on a willingness to be exposed. It’s based on being more like a plant than a jewel: something rather fragile, but whose very particular beauty is inseparable from that fragility.’
    • To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung, and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no-one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with your hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. - C.S Lewis
    • The point is not to ‘confront’ insecurity, but to appreciate that you are it. Watts writes: To understand that there is no security is far more than to agree with the theory that all things change, more even than to observe the transitoriness of life. The notion of security is based on the feeling that there is something within us which is permanent, something which endures through all the days and changes of life. We are struggling to make sure of the permanence, continuity, and safety of this enduring core, this center and soul of our being, which we call ‘I’. For this we think to be the real man – the thinker of our thoughts, the feeler of our feelings, the knower of our knowledge. We do not actually understand that there is no security until we realize that this ‘I’ does not exist.
    • ‘Downfall’, writes the American Zen Buddhist Natalie Goldberg, ‘brings us to the ground, facing the nitty-gritty, things as they are with no glitter. Success cannot last forever. Everyone’s time runs out.’ She goes on: ‘Achievement solidifies us. Believing we are invincible, we want more and more.’ To see and feel things as they really are, ‘we have to crash. Only then can we drop through to a more authentic self. Zen transmits its legacy from this deeper place. It is a different kind of failure: the Great Failure, a boundless surrender. Nothing to hold on to, and nothing to lose.’
    • At one point during the course of the 200,000-line Indian spiritual epic the Mahabharata, the warrior-prince Yudhisthira is being cross-questioned about the meaning of existence by a nature spirit on the banks of a lake, which is the sort of thing that happens in the Mahabharata all the time. ‘What is the most wondrous thing in the world?’, the spirit wants to know. Yudhisthira’s reply has become one of the poem’s best-known lines: ‘The most wondrous thing in the world is that although, every day, innumerable creatures go to the abode of Death, still man thinks that he is immortal.’
    • The sixteenth-century essayist Michel de Montaigne was fond of praising the ancient Egyptians – ‘who in the height of their feasting and mirth, caused a dried skeleton of a man to be brought into the room, to serve as a memento to their guests’. (A writer’s working space, Montaigne also believed, ought to have a good view of the cemetery; it tended to sharpen one’s thinking.)

    Quote of the Day

    At the heart of his innovation learning program is the belief that silence is the mother of all creativity, and each employee can play a role in the innovation process.

    - How Shell Is Fostering Innovation With Meditation

    Wednesday, April 24, 2013

    How To Grow A Mind - Statistics, Structure & Abstraction

    Children & Their Pets

    An old post from 2010 which is very very close to my heart (unfortunately the link is locked now but I had some excerpts saved). The effect of pets on children is not a vastly researched subject and that's very very bad news.

    When asked to name the 10 most important individuals in their lives, 7- and 10-year-olds on average included 2 pets. Melson offers two important functions of companion animals that might support social/emotional development.

    The first is social support. Dozens, if not hundreds, of studies demonstrate that lack of human social support is a risk factor for physical and psychological problems, especially for children.

    There is evidence, though, that pet-owning children derive such emotional support from their pets. A 1985 study of 7- and 10-year-olds in California showed that pet owners were equally likely to talk to their pets about sad, angry, happy, and secret experiences as with their human siblings. 75% of Michigan 10 to 14 year olds reported that when upset, they turned to their pets. 42% of Indiana 5-year-olds spontaneously mentioned a pet when asked “who do you turn to when you are feeling sad, angry, happy, or wanting to share a secret?” Even more interesting: when comparing parents, friends, and pets, elementary school children considered their relationships with their pets as most likely to last “no matter what” and “even if you get mad at eachother.” Even among pet-owning children, those who did turn to their pets for support were rated by parents as less anxious and withdrawn than those who owned pets, but did not seek such social support from their pets.

    The second is nurturance. Melson argues that since pets are dependent on human care, pets provide children with the opportunity to learn about how to care for another being. Further, she argues that the development of nurturance underlies future effective parenting, nonfamily childcare, and caregiving for the elderly, sick, and disabled.

    Quote of the Day

    I grew up looking at my father as to how to behave. In watching him I grasped so many things. His own temperament was of a calm person. He was very composed and I never saw anger in him. To me, that was fascinating.

    - Sachin Tendulkar

    Happy 40th Birthday !!

    Tuesday, April 23, 2013

    The Eternal Mainframe

    A funny thing happened on the way to the future. The mainframe outlasted its replacements.

    Those lines made me giggle since I had been saying this for the past few years now; read the whole thing here

    The desktop computer won't completely disappear. Instead, the outward form of the personal computer will be retained, but the function — and the design — will change to a terminal connected to the cloud (which is another word for server farm, which is another word for mainrack, which converges on mainframes, as previously prophesied). True standalone personal computers may return to their roots: toys for hobbyists.

    Those who continue to do significant work offline will become the exception; meaning they will be an electoral minority. With so much effort being put into web apps, they may even be seen as eccentrics; meaning there may not be much sympathy for their needs in the halls of power.

    and he closes with these brilliant lines

    This is not a fight between Good Guys and Bad Guys. This is a balancing act. Some rule; others are ruled. This is a harsh truth. We can't change that. We can soften the edges. This will require a conversation to which we must invite philosophers, ethicists, theologians; people who have thought deeply on what it takes to make a just society. Otherwise, we will — yet again — find ourselves back where we started.

    Quote of the Day

    Anyone who believes that exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.

    Kenneth Boulding

    Monday, April 22, 2013

    A Brief, Opinionated History of Taxes in America


    - More Here

    The Importance Of Boredom - Scott Adams

    Lately I've started worrying that I'm not getting enough boredom in my life. If I'm watching TV, I can fast-forward through commercials. If I'm standing in line at the store, I can check email or play "Angry Birds." When I run on the treadmill, I listen to my iPod while reading the closed captions on the TV. I've eliminated boredom from my life.

    Now let's suppose that the people who are leaders and innovators around the world are experiencing a similar lack of boredom. I think it's fair to say they are. What change would you expect to see in a world that has declining levels of boredom and therefore declining creativity?

    To be fair, economics is to blame for some of the decrease in creativity. A movie studio can make more money with a sequel than a gamble on something creative. A similar dynamic is at work in every industry. And, to be fair, sometimes things seem to be getting worse when, in fact, you're only noticing it more. It seems as if folks are more dogmatic than ever, but maybe the pundits are creating that illusion.

    Still, it's worth keeping an eye on the link between our vanishing boredom and our lack of innovation. It's the sort of trend that could literally destroy the world without anyone realizing what the root problem is. A lack of creativity always looks like some other problem. If no one invents the next great thing, it will seem as if the problem is tax rates or government red tape or whatever we're blaming this week.

    - More Here

    Quote of the Day

    Dude, suckin' at something is the first step to being sorta good at something.

    - Jake the Dog (Adventure Time)

    Sunday, April 21, 2013

    Professor Works To Change Future Of Business Ethics

    Adam Grant, the youngest tenured professor at the University of Pennsylvania, is taking on the “greed is good” mentality of some CEOs and business executives, hoping to shape the leaders of tomorrow by teaching them it’s possible to give and still get ahead. NBC’s Willie Geist reports.

    Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

    - More Here

    Quote of the Day

    Don’t settle. Don’t finish crappy books. If you don’t like the menu, leave the restaurant. If you’re not on the right path, get off it.

    - Chris Brogan on the Sunk Cost Fallacy

    Saturday, April 20, 2013

    Wisdom Of The Week

    If I want to be secure, that is, protected from the flux of life, I am wanting to be separate from life. Which brings us to the crux of the matter: it is because we want to feel secure that we build up the fortifications of ego, in order to defend ourselves, but it is those very fortifications that create the feeling of insecurity:  To be secure means to isolate and fortify the “I”, but it is just this feeling of being an isolated “I” which makes me feel lonely and afraid. This is a strikingly counter-intuitive notion: appreciating it entails a mental shift similar to that moment when the famous optical illusion switches from resembling a beautiful young woman to an old witch. We build castle walls to keep out the enemy, but it is the building of the walls that causes the enemy to spring into existence in the first place.

    It’s only because there are castle walls that there is anything to attack. The desire for security and the feeling of insecurity are the same thing. To hold your breath is to lose your breath. A society based on the quest for security is nothing but a breath-retention contest, in which everyone is as taut as a drum and as purple as a beet. Even if we temporarily and partially achieve the feeling of security, he adds, it doesn’t feel good. Life inside the castle walls proves lonely and isolating. We discover [not only] that there is no safety, [and] that seeking it is painful, [but] that when we imagine we have found it, we don’t like it.

    -  Oliver Burkeman's in his brilliant new book The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking quotes Alan Watts from his book  The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety

    Quote of the Day

    People are free to give their opinions. Lots of people are giving opinions about me. Some have played the game and they were giving opinions. Some have not played the game and they are also giving opinions. But I don't worry about opinions.

    It's a package deal. You won't score a hundred every time you go out to bat. And like that you won't get positive comments all the time. So I can't control on what others say. What I can do is to just focus on the things I can handle, that is to play to the best of my ability.

    - Sachin Tendulkar

    Friday, April 19, 2013

    Quote of the Day

    Speaking is physically difficult for me. But my feelings are clear: I’m furious. I will not rest until we have righted the wrong these senators have done, and until we have changed our laws so we can look parents in the face and say: We are trying to keep your children safe. We cannot allow the status quo — desperately protected by the gun lobby so that they can make more money by spreading fear and misinformation — to go on.

    I am asking every reasonable American to help me tell the truth about the cowardice these senators demonstrated. I am asking for mothers to stop these lawmakers at the grocery store and tell them: You’ve lost my vote. I am asking activists to unsubscribe from these senators’ e-mail lists and to stop giving them money. I’m asking citizens to go to their offices and say: You’ve disappointed me, and there will be consequences.

    Gabrielle Giffords

    Thursday, April 18, 2013

    The Creative Brain - How Insight Works

    What Is Probabilistic Programming?

    A probabilistic programming language is a high-level language that makes it easy for a developer to define probability models and then “solve” these models automatically. These languages incorporate random events as primitives and their runtime environment handles inference. Now, it is a matter of programming that enables a clean separation between modeling and inference. This can vastly reduce the time and effort associated with implementing new models and understanding data. Just as high-level programming languages transformed developer productivity by abstracting away the details of the processor and memory architecture, probabilistic languages promise to free the developer from the complexities of high-performance probabilistic inference.

    What does it mean to perform inference automatically? Let’s compare a probabilistic program to a classical simulation such as a climate model. A simulation is a computer program that takes some initial conditions such as historical temperatures, estimates of energy input from the sun, and so on, as an input. Then it uses the programmer’s assumptions about the interactions between these variables that are captured in equations and code to produce forecasts about the climate in the future. Simulations are characterized by the fact that they only run in one direction: forward, from causes to hypothesized effects.

    A probabilistic program turns this around. Given a universe of possible interactions between different elements of the climate system and a collection of observed data, we could automatically learn which interactions are most effective in explaining the observations — even if these interactions are quite complex. How does this work? In a nutshell, the probabilistic language’s runtime environment runs the program both forward and backward. It runs forward from causes to effects (data) and backward from the data to the causes. Clever implementations will trade off between these directions to efficiently home in on the most likely explanations for the observations

    - More Here

    Quote of the Day

    We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

    - Aristotle

    Wednesday, April 17, 2013

    What I've Been Reading

    The Essays of Warren Buffett: Lessons for Corporate America by Warren Buffett and Lawrence A. Cunningham.
    George Orwell once said "To see what is in front of one's nose is a constant struggle". Buffett pretty much explains what is in front of our nose with great clarity and simplicity. Since our minds are clouded with mirages induced by those lords of the finance, one need has to re-read his essays a number of times to keep those unicorns at bay.
    • Contrary to textbook rules on organizational behavior, mapping an abstract chain of command on to a particular business situation, according to Buffett, does little good. What matters is selecting people who are able, honest, and hard-working. Having firstrate people on the team is more important than designing hierarchies and clarifying who reports to whom about what and at what times.
    • According to Buffett, one of the greatest problems among boards in corporate America is that members are selected for other reasons, such as adding diversity or prominence to a board— or, famously, independence.
    • The CEOs at Berkshire’s various operating companies enjoy a unique position in corporate America. They are given a simple set of commands: to run their business as if (1) they are its sole owner, (2) it is the only asset they hold, and (3) they can never sell or merge it for a hundred years. This enables Berkshire CEOs to manage with a long-term horizon ahead of them, something alien to the CEOs of public companies whose short-term short-term oriented shareholders obsess with meeting the latest quarterly earnings estimate. Short-term results matter, of course, but the Berkshire approach avoids any pressure to achieve them at the expense of strengthening long-term competitive advantages.
    • Buffett emphasizes that performance should be the basis for executive pay decisions. Executive performance should be measured by profitability, after profits are reduced by a charge for the capital employed in the relevant business or earnings retained by it. If stock options are used, they should be related to individual performance, rather than corporate performance, and priced based on business value. Better yet, as at Berkshire, stock options should simply not be part of an executive’s compensation. After all, exceptional managers who earn cash bonuses based on the performance of their own business can simply buy stock if they want to; if they do, they “truly walk in the shoes of owners,” Buffett says.
    • Buffett points out the absurdity of beta by observing that “a stock that has dropped very sharply compared to the market . . . becomes ‘riskier’ at the lower price than it was at the higher price”— that is how beta measures risk.
    • Another leading prudential legacy from Graham is his margin-of-safety principle. This principle holds that one should not make an investment in a security unless there is a sufficient basis for believing that the price being paid is substantially lower than the value being delivered. Buffett follows the principle devotedly, noting that Graham had said that if forced to distill the secret of sound investment into three words, they would be: margin of safety.
    • Unlike many CEOs, who desire their company’s stock to trade at the highest possible prices in the market, Buffett prefers Berkshire stock to trade at or around its intrinsic value— neither materially higher nor lower. Such linkage means that business results during one period will benefit the people who owned the company during that period. Maintaining the linkage requires a shareholder group with a collective long-term, business-oriented investment philosophy, rather than a short-term, market-oriented strategy.
    • Berkshire’s dividend policy also reflects Buffett’s conviction that a company’s earnings payout versus retention decision should be based on a single test: each dollar of earnings should be retained if retention will increase market value by at least a like amount; otherwise it should be paid out. Earnings retention is justified only when “capital retained produces incremental earnings equal to, or above, those generally available to investors.”
    • Stock splits have three consequences: they increase transaction costs by promoting high share turnover; they attract shareholders with short-term, market-oriented views who unduly focus on stock market prices; and, as a result of both of those effects, they lead to prices that depart materially from intrinsic business value. With no offsetting benefits, splitting Berkshire’s stock would be foolish.
    • Moreover, acquisitions paid for in stock are too often (almost always) described as “buyer buys seller” or “buyer acquires seller.” Buffett suggests clearer thinking would follow from saying “buyer sells part of itself to acquire seller,” or something of the sort. After all, that is what is happening; and it would enable one to evaluate what the buyer is giving up to make the acquisition.
    • Buffett emphasizes that useful financial statements must enable a user to answer three basic questions about a business: approximately how much a company is worth, its likely ability to meet its future obligations, and how good a job its managers are doing in operating the business.
    • It is common on Wall Street to value businesses using a calculation of cash flows equal to (a) operating earnings plus (b) depreciation expense and other non-cash charges. Buffett regards that calculation as incomplete. After taking (a) operating earnings and adding back (b) non-cash charges, Buffett argues that you must then subtract something else: (c) required reinvestment in the business. Buffett defines (c) as “the average amount of capitalized expenditures for plant and equipment, etc., that the business requires to fully maintain its long-term competitive position and its unit volume.” Buffett calls the result of (a) + (b) - (c) “owner earnings.”
    • Criticizing the view against treating stock options as expenses when granted, Buffett delivers this laconic argument: “If options aren’t a form of compensation, what are they? If compensation isn’t an expense, what is? And, if expenses shouldn’t go into the calculation of earnings, where in the world should they go?” So far, he has gotten no answers.
    • Three suggestions for investors: First, beware of companies displaying weak accounting. If a company still does not expense options, or if its pension assumptions are fanciful, watch out. When managements take the low road in aspects that are visible, it is likely they are following a similar path behind the scenes. There is seldom just one cockroach in the kitchen.
    • Charlie and I know that the right players will make almost any team manager look good. We subscribe to the philosophy of Ogilvy & Mather’s founding genius, David Ogilvy: “If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. But, if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants.”
    • To evaluate arbitrage situations you must answer four questions: (1) How likely is it that the promised event will indeed occur? (2) How long will your money be tied up? (3) What chance is there that something still better will transpire— a competing takeover bid, for example? and (4) What will happen if the event does not take place because of anti-trust action, financing glitches, etc.?
    • A further related lesson: Easy does it. After 25 years of buying and supervising a great variety of businesses, Charlie and I have not learned how to solve difficult business problems. What we have learned is to avoid them.
    • Except for token amounts, we shun debt, turning to it for only three purposes: (1) We occasionally use repos as a part of certain short-term investing strategies that incorporate ownership of U.S. government (or agency) securities. Purchases of this kind are highly opportunistic and involve only the most liquid of securities. (2) We borrow money against portfolios of interest-bearing receivables whose risk characteristics we understand. (3) [Subsidiaries, such as Mid-American, may incur debt that appears on Berkshire’s consolidated balance sheet, but Berkshire does not guarantee the obligation.]
    • Charlie and I are of one mind in how we feel about derivatives and the trading activities that go with them: We view them as time bombs, both for the parties that deal in them and the economic system.
    • The Black-Scholes formula has approached the status of holy writ in finance, and we use it when valuing our equity put options for financial statement purposes. Key inputs to the calculation include a contract’s maturity and strike price, as well as the analyst’s expectations for volatility, interest rates and dividends. If the formula is applied to extended time periods, however, it can produce absurd results. In fairness, Black and Scholes almost certainly understood this point well. But their devoted followers may be ignoring whatever caveats the two men attached when they first unveiled the formula.
    • Myron C. Taylor, Chairman of U.S. Steel Corporation, today announced the long awaited plan for completely modernizing the world’s largest industrial enterprise. Contrary to expectations, no changes will be made in the company’s manufacturing or selling policies. Instead, the bookkeeping system is to be entirely revamped. By adopting and further improving a number of modern accounting and financial devices the corporation’s earning power will be amazingly transformed.
    • Managers thinking about accounting issues should never forget one of Abraham Lincoln’s favorite riddles: “How many legs does a dog have if you call his tail a leg?” The answer: “Four, because calling a tail a leg does not make it a leg.” It behooves managers to remember that Abe’s right even if an auditor is willing to certify that the tail is a leg.
    • We will stick with the approach that got us here and try not to relax our standards. Ted Williams, in The Story of My Life, explains why: “My argument is, to be a good hitter, you’ve got to get a good ball to hit. It’s the first rule in the book. If I have to bite at stuff that is out of my happy zone, I’m not a .344 hitter. I might only be a .250 hitter.” Charlie and I agree and will try to wait for opportunities that are well within our own “happy zone.”

    Quote of the Day

    Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works. The design of the Mac wasn’t what it looked like, although that was part of it. Primarily, it was how it worked. To design something really well, you have to get it. You have to really grok what it’s all about. It takes a passionate commitment to really thoroughly understand something, chew it up, not just quickly swallow it. Most people don’t take the time to do that.

    - Steve Jobs

    Tuesday, April 16, 2013

    On BIG Data

    This movement asks us to move from causation to correlation. People using big data are not like novelists, ministers, psychologists, memoirists or gossips, coming up with intuitive narratives to explain the causal chains of why things are happening. Contrary to conventional wisdom, such human intuiting of causality does not deepen our understanding of the world.

    Correlations are powerful not only because they offer insights, but also because the insights they offer are relatively clear. These insights often get obscured when we bring causality back into the picture.

    - David Brooks quotes from the new book Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think by Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier

    News Is Bad For You & Giving Up Reading It Will Make You Happier

    Take the following event borrowed from Nassim Taleb. A car drives over a bridge, and the bridge collapses. What does the news media focus on? The car. The person in the car. Where he came from. Where he planned to go. How he experienced the crash if he survived. But that is all irrelevant. What’s relevant? The structural stability of the bridge. That’s the underlying risk that has been lurking, and could lurk in other bridges. But the car is flashy, it’s dramatic, it’s a person non-abstract, and it’s news that’s cheap to produce. News leads us to walk around with the completely wrong risk map in our heads. So terrorism is over-rated. Chronic stress is under-rated.

    The collapse of Lehman Brothers is overrated. Fiscal irresponsibility is under-rated. Astronauts are over-rated. Nurses are under-rated.We are not rational enough to be exposed to the press. Watching an airplane crash on television is going to change your attitude toward that risk, regardless of its real probability. If you think you can compensate with the strength of your own inner contemplation, you are wrong. Bankers and economists – who have powerful incentives to compensate for news-borne hazards – have shown that they cannot. The only solution: cut yourself off from news consumption entirely.

    - More Here

    Quote of the Day

    We need sometimes to escape into open solitudes into aimlessness, into the moral holiday of running some pure hazard in order to sharpen the edge of life, to taste hardship, and to be compelled to work desperately for a moment at no matter what.

    - George Santayana

    Monday, April 15, 2013

    Bioengineered Kidney Transplanted Into Rat

    When a patient’s kidney stops functioning, the existing options are limited to transplant or continual dialysis. Now scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston are a little closer to having a third option: transplanting kidneys that have been “upcycled” from previously unusable tissue.

    To make these functioning and transplantable organs, the researchers begin with unusable donor organs. We’ll use the rat kidney in the film below as an example. Flushing the kidney of its natural cells leaves behind a structure of proteins, which the researchers repopulated with stem cells. In an oxygen- and nutrient-rich growth medium, these kidney and blood vessel cells multiplied and the regenerated rat organ eventually started to work like a normal organ.

    “The tissue became functional,” said Harald Ott, one of the team’s researchers, in the film. “These kidneys began to make rudimentary urine.”

    - More Here

    Quote of the Day

    The mere formulation of a problem is far more essential than its solution, which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experimental skills.

    - Albert Einstein

    Sunday, April 14, 2013

    Why Chemotherapy That Costs $70,000 In The U.S. Costs $2,500 In India

    It's seemingly simple. Gleevec is under patent in the U.S., but not in India. Accordingly, Novartis, its Swiss-based manufacturer, may prevent competitors from making and selling lower-cost versions of the drug in the U.S., but not in India.

    Last week, India's highest court rejected an application to patent Gleevec. While the legal issue in the case is important -- the patentability of modifications to existing drugs under Indian law -- the impact of the decision will likely be broader than just that issue, escalating a long-simmering fight over patented cancer medications in emerging markets.

    - More Here

    Quote of the Day

    It takes approximately 4,700 ounces, or 37 gallons, of water to make just one cup of coffee when you account for inputs needed to grow and process the beans.

    20 Things You Didn't Know About... Coffee

    Saturday, April 13, 2013

    Neuroplasticity & Intuitions

    What’s inside the human skull is the brain; it’s also the mind, in all its complexity. Everything you can say about people, you can say about the brain. If you want to know what brains can do, find a history book. If you want some pictures of brains, you could do worse than a portrait gallery.

    Somehow, human nature fits into a few pounds of tissue. That’s astonishing, but so long as we keep in mind that ‘the brain’ is a thing of astonishing richness, there are no more mysteries after that. The mind-body problem, for example, doesn’t arise; it was, I believe, all along really a rich-sparse problem.

    Here’s an example of what I mean: neuroplasticity is a celebrated concept and a buzzword because it contradicts the mental image of the static, dead ‘brain’. In fact, the brain’s ability to change is nothing remarkable because the brain is people, and we already know that people can change, learn, adapt, and remember.

    Neuroplasticity is an interesting biological phenomenon, but it’s nothing special, and if it seems counter-intuitive, that’s a problem with our intuitions.

    - More Here

    Wisdom Of The Week

    How to be a stoic in a Machiavellian planet?

    There is no easy way out; just keeping working on getting that 10,000 hours and more.

    Quote of the Day

    In a class I taught at Berkeley, I did an experiment where I wrote a simple little program that would let people type either "f" or "d" and would predict which key they were going to push next. It's actually very easy to write a program that will make the right prediction about 70% of the time. Most people don't really know how to type randomly. They'll have too many alternations and so on. There will be all sorts of patterns, so you just have to build some sort of probabilistic model. Even a very crude one will do well. I couldn't even beat my own program, knowing exactly how it worked. I challenged people to try this and the program was getting between 70% and 80% prediction rates. Then, we found one student that the program predicted exactly 50% of the time. We asked him what his secret was and he responded that he "just used his free will."

    Scott Aaronson

    Friday, April 12, 2013

    Transforming Education According to the Needs of the Human Soul

    My school of the future would be an institution which would transmit wisdom in the great challenges of everyday life and it would do this with rigor and intellectual seriousness. We need to reorder departments.  You know, why do we have a Literature Department?  This is a completely nonsensical demarcation.  The most interesting questions do not happen under the rubric of literature, or indeed, of history.  It’s time to rearrange departments and academic teaching according to the issues that they are dealing with.

    So really, you know, literature is primarily dealing with relationships, so let’s have a Department of Relationships in which the literature people can dominate, but will also have help from psychologists and we’ll have some help from the historians, etc.  Or rearrange the university according to the needs of the human soul not according to the needs of academic tradition.

    - Alan De Botton

    Quote of the Day

    People think I can teach them style. What stuff it all is! Have something to say, and say it as clearly as you can. That is the only secret of style.

    - Matthew Arnold

    Thursday, April 11, 2013

    Pay To Get Kidnapped

    Romeo slapped me hard across the face, much harder than I had been slapped all night. Then he shocked me with a stun gun. Then Cody doused me with cold water, which was the worst part by far. When you get hit with a stun gun, it lasts a second. When someone throws cold water on you, it makes you miserable for hours. I hadn't thought about cold water before this. I had thought about guns and billy clubs and knives. It never occurred to me how desperately I would want to stay dry. Now I would have gladly taken another jolt from the stun gun in exchange for a fresh T-shirt.

    "I know this was originally meant to be a fake kidnapping," the voice said.

    That's right.

    "And I know that you guys did your homework on me, and that you know I went to prison for a while."

    I do know that.

    "But there are other things about me that you don't know, Drew. And the reason you don't know them is because you never asked."

    Oh shit.

    That was the moment it felt real. That was the moment I was paying for.

    - More Here and Adam Thick, founded Extreme Kidnapping in 2002 after being inspired by the old David Fincher movie The Game

    Eerie Human-Like Primate Calls Entrance Researchers

    Quote of the Day

    Because so many scientific theories from bygone eras have turned out to be wrong, we must assume that most of today’s theories will eventually prove incorrect as well. And what goes for science goes in general. Politics, economics, technology, law, religion, medicine, child-rearing, education: no matter the domain of life, one generation’s verities so often become the next generation’s falsehoods that we might as well have a Pessimistic Meta-Induction from the History of Everything.

    Good scientists understand this. They recognize that they are part of a long process of approximation. They know that they are constructing models rather than revealing reality…

    - Kathryn Schulz, author of Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error

    Wednesday, April 10, 2013

    Why Red Meat Puts Steak Lovers’ Hearts At Risk

    Researchers had come to believe that what damaged hearts was not just the thick edge of fat on steaks, or the delectable marbling of their tender interiors. In fact, these scientists suspected that saturated fat and cholesterol made only a minor contribution to the increased amount of heart disease seen in red-meat eaters. The real culprit, they proposed, was a little-studied chemical that is burped out by bacteria in the intestines after people eat red meat. It is quickly converted by the liver into yet another little-studied chemical called TMAO that gets into the blood and increases the risk of heart disease.

    TMAO levels turned out to predict heart attack risk in humans, the researchers found. The researchers also found that TMAO actually caused heart disease in mice.

    “It’s really a beautiful combination of mouse studies and human studies to tell a story I find quite plausible,” said Dr. Daniel J. Rader, a heart disease researcher at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, who was not involved in the research.

    - More Here

    Is There A Secret To A Happy Marriage?

    It dawned on me when I was brooding on the marriage of Charles Darwin and Emma Wedgwood, his cousin, for a book I was writing that was in part about the Darwins.

    In 1838, when Darwin was first thinking of marriage, he made an irresistible series of notes on the subject - a scientific-seeming list of marriage pros and cons.

    Against the idea, he listed "the expense and anxiety of children" and the odd truth that a married man could never "go up in a balloon".

    In favour of marriage, he included the acquisition of a "constant companion and friend in old age" and, memorably and conclusively, decided that a wife would be "better than a dog, anyhow".

    Marriages are made of lust, laughter and loyalty - but the three have to be kept in constant passage, so that as one subsides for a time, the others rise”

    And the Darwins went on to have something close to an ideal marriage. As he lay dying in 1882, the distinguished scientist, who had irrevocably altered the consciousness of the world, and knew it, said simply: "My love, my precious love."

    What made it work? My theory is that happy marriages, from the Darwins on down, are made up of a steady, unchanging formula of lust, laughter and loyalty.

    The Darwins had lust, certainly - 10 children in 17 years suggests as much anyway - and they had laughter. Emma loved to tease Charles about his passion, already evident in youth, for obsessive theorising.

    "After our marriage," she wrote to him early on, "you will be forming theories about me, and if I am cross or out of temper you will only consider: 'What does that prove?' which will be a very philosophical way of considering it."

    And loyalty? Well, despite Emma's Christian faith, she stood by him through all the evolutionary wars, and did for him the one thing only a loyal spouse can do - pretend he wasn't in when German journalists came calling.

    So, marriages are made of lust, laughter and loyalty - but the three have to be kept in constant passage, transitively, back and forth, so that as one subsides for a time, the others rise.

    - More Here

    Quote of the Day

    If there is anything unique about the human animal it is that it has the ability to grow knowledge at an accelerating rate while being chronically incapable of learning from experience.

    - John Gray

    Tuesday, April 9, 2013

    Simpler: The Future of Government - Cass Sunstein

    An excerpt from Cass Sunstein’s new book Simpler: The Future of Government: 

    This is a book about making things simpler. In particular, it is about how governments can be much better, and do much better, if they make people’s lives easier and get rid of unnecessary complexity. Think, for a moment, about the best computers and tablets. They have all sorts of complicated machinery—machinery that is so complicated, in fact, that it would have been barely imaginable just a decade before. But for users, they are simple and intuitive. They don’t require manuals. You can work with them on the basis of what you already know. Government should be a lot more like that.
    I am not saying that government should be much smaller. I do believe that in some domains, smaller is better, and government should shrink. But that is not my topic here. To have a simpler government, you need to have a government. The term user-friendly isn’t exactly user-friendly, but simplicity is friendly, and complexity is not. True, complexity has its place, but in the future, governments, whatever their size, have to get simpler. 

    In this book I describe the large-scale transformation in American government that took place while I was OIRA administrator. I explore initiatives designed to increase simplicity—some now in effect, others on the horizon, still others for the distant future. As we will see, initiatives of this kind can be used not only by governments all over the world but by countless private organizations as well, including businesses large and small, and indeed by all of us in our daily lives. Each of us can benefit from simplicity, and all of us can make things simpler.


    How The Google Glass UI Really Works


    The Glass screen sits out of view, and it’s usually off, just like your cellphone screen. Its frame is essentially a trackpad with three main gestures. Tap once with a finger to select. Slide your finger along the temples to scroll. Swipe down to dismiss a screen.

    To start things off, tap the frame with a finger (or nod your head), and you end up at Glass’s home screen. From the home screen, you can do a few things:

    1. Swipe your finger down on the frame to dismiss the screen and go about your day--it’s basically the same thing as the Android’s back button.
    2. Tap again and say “OK Glass” to issue a command, like “take a picture” or “Google how to use Glass”
    3. Slide your finger back along the frame to view a few Google Now-esque “cards”--like the weather report.
    4. Slide your finger forward along the frame--and this is the heart of the experience--which takes you through a “timeline” of everything. From the photo you just took, to a search you just made, to a video you were sent to a notification you received earlier from the NYT. This is how Glass is much like Twitter, or may be, assuming you subscribe to several services for updates.

    - More Here

    Quote of the Day

    A remarkable aspect of your mental life is that you are rarely stumped. True, you occasionally face a question such as 17 × 24 = ? to which no answer comes immediately to mind, but these dumbfounded moments are rare. The normal state of your mind is that you have intuitive feelings and opinions about almost everything that comes your way. You like or dislike people long before you know much about them; you trust or distrust strangers without knowing why; you feel that an enterprise is bound to succeed without analyzing it. Whether you state them or not, you often have answers to questions that you do not completely understand, relying on evidence that you can neither explain nor defend.

    - Daniel Kahneman,Thinking, Fast and Slow

    Monday, April 8, 2013

    PETA Getting Their Own Drones

    PETA has decided to use a remote-controlled aircraft to collect and publicize footage of hunters shooting animals and allowing them to escape, only to die slowly and in agony, among other common violations. PETA has contacted Australia-based drone manufacturer Aerobot, maker of the state-of-the-art, remote-controlled helicopters that can be outfitted with a video camera, to discuss which of its products would best fit the purpose. The drones can also be used to fly over factory farms and other areas that are hotbeds of abuse.

    - More Here

    Great Scientist ≠ Good at Math

    Over the years, I have co-written many papers with mathematicians and statisticians, so I can offer the following principle with confidence. Call it Wilson's Principle No. 1: It is far easier for scientists to acquire needed collaboration from mathematicians and statisticians than it is for mathematicians and statisticians to find scientists able to make use of their equations.

    If your level of mathematical competence is low, plan to raise it, but meanwhile, know that you can do outstanding scientific work with what you have. Think twice, though, about specializing in fields that require a close alternation of experiment and quantitative analysis. These include most of physics and chemistry, as well as a few specialties in molecular biology.

    Newton invented calculus in order to give substance to his imagination. Darwin had little or no mathematical ability, but with the masses of information he had accumulated, he was able to conceive a process to which mathematics was later applied.

    For aspiring scientists, a key first step is to find a subject that interests them deeply and focus on it. In doing so, they should keep in mind Wilson's Principle No. 2: For every scientist, there exists a discipline for which his or her level of mathematical competence is enough to achieve excellence.

    - Adapted from E.O.Wilson's new book Letters to a Young Scientist

    Quote of the Day

    One of the rewards of growing old is that you can truthfully say you lived in the past. … In these years after my illness, when I can no longer speak and am set aside from the daily flow, I live more in my memory and discover that a great many things are safely stored away. It all seems still to be in there somewhere. … You find a moment from your past, undisturbed ever since, still vivid, surprising you. In high school I fell under the spell of Thomas Wolfe: ‘A stone, a leaf, an unfound door; of a stone, a leaf, a door. And of all the forgotten faces.’ Now I feel all the faces returning to memory.

    I remember everything. All my life I’ve been visited by unexpected flashes of memory unrelated to anything taking place at the moment. These retrieved moments I consider and replace on the shelf. When I began writing this book, memories came flooding to the surface, not because of any conscious effort but simply in the stream of writing. I started in a direction and the memories were waiting there, sometimes of things I hadn’t consciously thought about since.

    - Roger Ebert in his memoir, Life Itself (via here)

    Sunday, April 7, 2013

    Stretching Before Exercise Results In Less Strength, Power & Performance

    The numbers, especially for competitive athletes, are sobering. According to their calculations, static stretching reduces strength in the stretched muscles by almost 5.5 percent, with the impact increasing in people who hold individual stretches for 90 seconds or more. While the effect is reduced somewhat when people's stretches last less than 45 seconds, stretched muscles are, in general, substantially less strong.

    They also are less powerful, with power being a measure of the muscle's ability to produce force during contractions, according to Goran Markovic, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Zagreb and the study's senior author. In Dr. Markovic and his colleagues' re-analysis of past data, they determined that muscle power generally falls by about 2 percent after stretching.

    And as a result, they found, explosive muscular performance also drops off significantly, by as much as 2.8 percent. That means that someone trying to burst from the starting blocks, blast out a ballistic first tennis serve, clean and jerk a laden barbell, block a basketball shot, or even tick off a fleet opening mile in a marathon will be ill served by stretching first. Their performance after warming up with stretching is likely to be worse than if they hadn't warmed up at all.

    - More Here

    Paying for the Party - How College Maintains Inequality

    Fareed on the new book Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality by Elizabeth Armstrong and Laura Hamilton:

    Some state schools have established a "party pathway," admitting more and more rich out-of-state kids who can afford hefty tuition bills but are middling students. These cash cows are given special attention through easy majors, lax grading, social opportunities and luxurious dorms. That's bad for the bright low-income students, who are on what the book's authors, call the mobility pathway. They are neglected and burdened by college debt and fail in significant numbers.

    The Country's best colleges and universities do admit lower-income students. But the competition has become so intense and the percentage admitted so small that the whole process seems arbitrary. When you throw in special preferences for various categories--legacies, underrepresented minorities and athletes--it also looks less merit-based than it pretends to be.

    Quote of the Day

    Unless we colonise other planets, you are destined to be the ancestor of either everyone a million years hence or of none. No half measures.

    - Richard Dawkins

    Saturday, April 6, 2013

    Stress & Neurodegeneration - Robert Sapolsky

    Few years ago after I read his book Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers; I developed this habit - every time I go through a stressful phase, I just watch a random lecture by Sapolsky and I cannot explain how and why but it helps me handle stress better. 

    Wisdom Of The Week

    This is better description of meditation I have ever read, period (via Ben):

    Meditation is basically a training method for your mind. When certain things happen to you, your mind generates a certain response whether it be happiness, frustration, anger ect. The way your mind has been inculcated is the path of least resistance and the path it wants to take, and will take unless you know how to mitigate it. Meditation teaches you how and makes it easier to override the process. Who is doing the overriding of this process? Well, that’s the million dollar question. But I digress.

    So here’s what I’m getting at: if meditation is too easy, you’re doing something wrong. You might be getting yourself really relaxed, but is it possible that’s all you’re doing? Not saying it is. I don’t know, just throwing some ideas out there and it’s up to you to see if any seem to fit your situation.

    But as you meditate, your mind wants to grab onto the thoughts and not your breath. The course of least resistance is away from your breath and back into whatever thoughts are vying for your attention. Every time you go back to the breath, you train or teach yourself even, to take the opposite of the path of least resistance. This is coupled with the fact that half the time when you meditate, your mind says, “I’m tired. Stop concentrating on the breath and just kick back and let a guided meditation do most of the work.” But every time this comes up you learn to drop it by returning to the breath and not listening to the thought no matter how loud and powerful it can get.

    When you first start meditating you have this thought and then come back to the breath. But there’s still a trace of this thought floating around in your mind and eventually it pulls you in again. As soon as you realize your back in that thought again, you turn your awareness back to the breath and away from the thought. But then it pulls you in again. And then you drop it again. You do this over and over and over. But as you practice you get better and better and faster and faster at recognizing it. You start to figure out how to do it most efficiently and quickly, seeing and dropping thoughts before they even become thoughts at all.

    After doing this hour after hour, you gain a skill. One day you realize that you don’t have to be sitting on a cushion to use this skill. I can’t really explain how it’s done, but it’s just something you learn from continually focusing, coming back to, and holding your attention on the breath. It’s like if you ever do a lot of push-ups, eventually you will realize, “I can flex my pecs.” You couldn’t flex them before, and you don’t really know how you learned to do it, but now you can just do it.

    Quote to the Day

    Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites. ... Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.

    - Edmund Burke 

    Friday, April 5, 2013

    Chimpanzee Metacognition

    Psychological scientist Michael Beran of Georgia State University and colleagues tested metacognition in three language-trained chimpanzees. All three chimpanzees had been trained from an early age to use symbols to request and label objects, actions, locations, and individuals. And they could respond to requests by humans using those symbols.

    The researchers placed various treats — such as bananas, M&Ms, apples, peanuts, and raisins — in a container. Then they either titled the container toward or away from the chimpanzee. If the chimpanzees saw a raisin in the container, they could press the symbol for raisin and it would be delivered. But, if the researchers did not show the contents of the container, the chimpanzees would have to make an extra effort to walk to the container to identify the item before going back to answer on the keyboard. Only correct responses were rewarded with the food item.

    The data, gathered over many trials, indicated that chimpanzees tended to answer right away when they had seen the treat in the container. But if they hadn’t been shown the food item, they were much more likely to investigate rather than taking a guess on the keyboard.

    According to the researchers, these findings suggest that chimps know what they know and what they don’t know. The study provides evidence that chimpanzees have metacognitive abilities that are closely related to those of humans.

    - More Here

    Quote of the Day

    If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.

    - E.B. White

    Thursday, April 4, 2013

    5 Reasons to Bring Back Extinct Animals (And 5 Reasons Not To)

    • Scientific knowledge: De-extinction could offer insights into evolution and natural resources that are currently unavailable to us.
    • Technological advancement: De-extinction could be a big step forward for genetic engineering.
    • Environmental benefits: Threatened or damaged ecosystems could be restored with the help of certain now-extinct species.
    • Justice: If people pushed plant and animals species into extinction, perhaps we owe it to these species to try and bring them back.
    • Wonder: How cool would it be to see extinct species alive and kicking again?
    • Animal welfare: People could be exploiting animals for solely human purposes, and may cause individuals of the de-extinct species harm.
    • Health: Species could carry retroviruses or pathogens when brought back to life.
    • Environment: De-extinct species would be alien and potentially invasive; their habitats and food sources have changed, so their roles in these changed ecosystems could be too.
    • Political: De-extinction may change priorities in other fields of science, such as medical research and the conservation of currently endangered species.
    • Moral: Is de-extinction playing god, or just plain wrong? It may also have unforeseen consequences.

    - More Here

    Believing Bull Shit

    Check out the complete Conspiracy Theory Poll Results by Public policy polling:
    • 9% of voters think the government adds fluoride to our water supply for sinister reasons (not just dental health)
    • 20% of voters believe there is a link between childhood vaccines and autism, 51% do not
    • 21% of voters say a UFO crashed in Roswell, NM in 1947 and the US government covered it up.
    • 4% of voters say they believe “lizard people” control our societies by gaining political power

    Quote of the Day

    The book is a technology so pervasive, so frequently iterated and innovated upon, so worn and polished by centuries of human contact, that it reaches the status of Nature.

    - Richard Nash

    Wednesday, April 3, 2013

    Will Programmers Rule?

    Marc Andreessen made his first fortune writing the code that became Netscape, the Internet browser. He is now a venture capitalist who evangelizes about the growing importance of software in business today. Indeed, he proclaims that software is eating the world – that it will be the primary source of added value – and offers the following prediction: the world will one day be divided between people who tell computers what to do and people who are told by computers what to do.

    Andreessen’s aim is to shock his listeners – not just for effect, but to get them to do something about it. To stop the world from being divided between a few alpha programmers and many drones, he wants the potential drones to stop taking easy liberal arts courses in college. Instead, he wants them to focus on courses in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), where the good jobs will be. But will this solve the problem that he poses? 

    Perhaps not.

    Put differently, in a winner-take-all world, bringing up the average level of skills or education does nothing to alter the skewed distribution of income. So, will anything prevent inequality from widening?

    The obvious answer is yes. But how society responds will mean the difference between a prosperous world and a world torn apart by slow growth and resentment.

    Property rights are ultimately sanctioned by society, and, to the extent that they seem to be unfair, society has an incentive to change them. But will society see the software billionaire as having come by her wealth unfairly, or will it see her wealth as a fair reward for cleverness?

    - More Here

    Quote of the Day

    I believe in the discipline of mastering the best that other people have ever figured out. I don’t believe in just sitting down and trying to dream it all up yourself. Nobody’s that smart…

    - Charlie Munger

    Tuesday, April 2, 2013

    Computers Made Out of DNA & Other Strange Stuff

    It's hard to keep up with the accomplishments of synthetic biologists, who every week seem to announce some new method of turning life's building blocks into pieces for cellular computers. Yet even in this crowded field, last week's announcement by Stanford University researchers of a protein-based transistor stood out.

    Responsible for conducting logic operations, the transistor, dubbed a "transcriptor," is the last of three components -- the others, already developed, are rewritable memory and information transmission -- necessary to program cells as computers. Synthetic biologist Drew Endy, the latest study's lead author, envisions plant-based environmental monitors, programmed tissues and even medical devices that "make Fantastic Voyage come true," he said.

    - More Here

    Quote of the Day

    It's not that clean energy will never happen -- it totally will. It's just that it won't come from a wild-haired scientist running out of his basement screaming, "Eureka! I've discovered how to get limitless clean energy from common seawater!" Instead, it will come from thousands of scientists publishing unreadable studies with titles like "Assessing Effectiveness and Costs of Asymmetrical Methods of Beryllium Containment in Gen 4 Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors When Factoring for Cromulence Decay." The world will be saved by a series of boring, incremental advances that chip away at those technical challenges one tedious step at a time.

    But nobody wants to read about that in their morning Web browsing. We want to read that while we were sleeping, some unlikely hero saved the world. Or at least cured cancer.

    David Wong — 5 Easy Ways to Spot a BS News Story on the Internet

    Monday, April 1, 2013

    Machines of Laughter and Forgetting

    The hidden truth about many attempts to “bury” technology is that they embody an amoral and unsustainable vision. Pick any electrical appliance in your kitchen. The odds are that you have no idea how much electricity it consumes, let alone how it compares to other appliances and households. This ignorance is neither natural nor inevitable; it stems from a conscious decision by the designer of that kitchen appliance to free up your “cognitive resources” so that you can unleash your inner Oscar Wilde on “contemplating” other things. Multiply such ignorance by a few billion, and global warming no longer looks like a mystery.

    Recently, designers in Germany built devices — “transformational products,” they call them — that engage users in “conversations without words.” My favorite is a caterpillar-shaped extension cord. If any of the devices plugged into it are left in standby mode, the “caterpillar” starts twisting as if it were in pain.

    Does it do what normal extension cords do? Yes. But it also awakens users to the fact that the cord is simply the endpoint of a complex socio-technical system with its own politics and ethics. Before, designers have tried to conceal that system. In the future, designers will be obliged to make it visible.

    - More Here

    Quote of the Day

    The only thing that I see that is distinctly different about me is I’m not afraid to die on a treadmill. I will not be outworked, period. You might have more talent than me, you might be smarter than me, you might be sexier than me, you might be all of those things — you got it on me in nine categories. But if we get on the treadmill together, there’s two things: You’re getting off first, or I’m going to die. It’s really that simple…

    - Will Smith