Sunday, June 30, 2013

World War Z

An amalgamation of I am Legend and Contagion ; this is the best movie of this summer so far - a non-stop 2 hour thrill ride.

Sequel next year would be prefect; Max Brooks already has a sequel sorta thing to the original World War Z

"Mother Nature is a serial killer. No one's better.. more creative. Like all serial killers, she can't help the urge to want to get caught. And what good are all those brilliant crimes, if no one takes the credit? So she leave crumbs. Now the hard part, why you spend a decade in school, is seeing the crumbs for the clues they are. Sometimes the things you thought were the most brutal aspect of the virus, turn out the be the chink in its armor, and she loves disguising her weaknesses as strengths."

“Most people don't believe something can happen until it already has. That's not stupidity or weakness, that's just human nature.” 

Malcolm Gladwell On "Proof"

I haven't seen Gladwell being so passionate; one of the best talks of the year!! Also, check out his brilliant 2009 New Yorker piece on college football

Quote of the Day

History is always written by the winners. When two cultures clash, the loser is obliterated, and the winner writes the history books-books which glorify their own cause and disparage the conquered foe. As Napoleon once said, 'What is history, but a fable agreed upon?

- Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code

Saturday, June 29, 2013

On Wonder

If wonder is found in all human beings and higher primates, why do science, art and religion appear to be recent developments in the history of our species? Anatomically modern humans have been around for 200,000 years, yet the earliest evidence for religious rituals appears about 70,000 years ago, in the Kalahari Desert, and the oldest cave paintings (at El Castillo in Spain) are only 40,000 years old. Science as we know it is much younger than that — perhaps only a few hundred years old. It is also noteworthy that these endeavours are not essential for survival, which means they probably aren’t direct products of natural selection. Art, science and religion are all forms of excess; they transcend the practical ends of daily life. Perhaps evolution never selected for wonder itself.

Art, science and religion reflect the cultural maturation of our species. Children at the circus are content to ogle at a spectacle. Adults might tire of it, craving wonders that are more profound, fertile, illuminating. For the mature mind, wondrous experience can be used to inspire a painting, a myth or a scientific hypothesis. These things take patience, and an audience equally eager to move beyond the initial state of bewilderment. The late arrival of the most human institutions suggests that our species took some time to reach this stage. We needed to master our environment enough to exceed the basic necessities of survival before we could make use of wonder.

- More Here

Wisdom Of The Week

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. Science and technology are cumulative, whereas ethics and politics deal with recurring dilemmas. Whatever they are called, torture and slavery are universal evils; but these evils cannot be consigned to the past like redundant theories in science. They return under different names: torture as enhanced interrogation techniques, slavery as human trafficking. Any reduction in universal evils is an advance in civilization. But, unlike scientific knowledge, the restraints of civilized life cannot be stored on a computer disc. They are habits of behaviour, which once broken are hard to mend. Civilization is natural for humans, but so is barbarism.

- John Gray, The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths

Quote of the Day

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.

- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust: A Tragedy

Friday, June 28, 2013

Execution - The Discipline of Getting Things Done

  • To execute well there must be accountability, clear goals, accurate methods to measure performance, and the right rewards for people who perform…
  • Follow-through is a constant and sequential part of execution.  It ensures that you have established closure in the dialogue about who will be responsible for what and the specific milestones for measurement.  The failure to establish this closure leaves the people who execute a decision or strategy without a clear picture of their role.  As events unfold rapidly amid much uncertainty, follow-through becomes a much more intense process…
  • When companies fail to deliver on their promises, the most frequent explanation is that the CEO’s strategy was wrong.  But the strategy by itself is not often the cause.  Strategies most often fail because they aren’t executed well.  Things that are supposed to happen don’t happen…
  • Typically the CEO and the senior leadership team allot less than half a day each year to review the plans – people, strategy, and operations.  Typically the reviews are not particularly interactive.  People sit passively watching PowerPoint presentations.  They don’t ask questions.  They don’t debate, and as a result they don’t get much useful outcome.  People leave with no commitments to the action plans they’ve helped create.  This is a formula for failure.  You need robust dialogue to surface the realities of the business.  You need accountability for results – discussed openly and agreed to by those responsible – to get things done and reward the best performers.  You need follow-through to ensure the plans are on track…
  • People engaged in the processes argue these questions, search out reality, and reach specific and practical conclusions.  Everybody agrees about their responsibilities for getting things done, and everybody commits to those responsibilities…
  • Furthermore, while stretch goals can be useful in forcing people to break old rules and do things better, they’re worse than useless if they’re totally unrealistic, or if the people who have to meet them aren’t given the chance to debate them beforehand and take ownership of them…
  • Clear, simple goals don’t mean much if nobody takes them seriously.  The failure to follow though is widespread in business, and a major cause of poor execution.  How many meetings have you attended where people left without firm conclusions about who would do what and when?  Everybody may have agreed the idea was good, but since nobody was named accountable for results, it doesn’t get done.  Other things come up that seem more important or people decide it wasn’t such a good idea after all.  (Maybe they even felt that way during the meeting, but didn’t speak up)…
  • How many meetings have you attended where everyone seemed to agree at the end about what actions would be taken but nothing much actually happened as a result?  These are the meetings where there’s no robust debate and therefore nobody states their misgivings.  Instead, they simply let the project they didn’t like die a quiet death over time…
  • Follow-through is the cornerstone of execution, and every leader who’s good at executing follows through religiously.  Following through ensures that people are doing the things they committed to do, according to the agreed timetable.  It exposes any lack of discipline and connection between ideas and actions, and forces the specificity that is essential to synchronize the moving parts of an organization.  If people can’t execute the plan because of changed circumstances, follow-through ensures they deal swiftly and creatively with the new conditions…
  • Finally, robust dialogue ends with closure.  At the end of the meeting, people agree about what each person has to do and when.  They’ve committed to it in an open forum; they are accountable for the outcomes.  The reason most companies don’t face reality very well is that their dialogues are ineffective.  And it shows in their results.  Think about the meetings you’ve attended – those that were a hopeless waste of time and those that produced energy and great results.  What was the difference?  It was not the agenda, not whether the meeting started on time or how disciplined it was, and certainly not the formal presentations.  No, the difference was in the quality of the dialogue.

    - Ram Charan, Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done (via here)

  • Quote of the Day

    The trick to wooing people is to say an old truth in a new way.

    - Joseph J Romm, Language Intelligence: Lessons on persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln, and Lady Gaga

    Thursday, June 27, 2013

    Things That Might Have Been

    I think of things that weren’t, but might have been.
    The treatise on Saxon myths Bede never wrote.
    The inconceivable work Dante might have had a glimpse of,
    As soon as he’d corrected the Comedy’s last verse.
    History without the afternoons of the Cross and the hemlock.
    History without the face of Helen.
    Man without the eyes that gave us the moon.
    On Gettysburg’s three days, victory for the South.
    The love we never shared.
    The wide empire the Vikings chose not to found.
    The world without the wheel or the rose.
    The view John Donne held of Shakespeare.
    The other horn of the Unicorn.
    The fabled Irish bird that lights on two trees at once.
    The child I never had.

    - Jorge Luis Borges, Borges: Selected Poems

    Most Influential Public Intellectual In The Past 25 Years Is...

    Andrew Sullivan according to Tyler Cowen - I agree and I think Tyler would be easily in the top 5 !!

    Quote of the Day

    Fundamental ideas play the most essential role in forming a physical theory. Books on physics are full of complicated mathematical formulae. But thought and ideas, not formulae, are the beginning of every physical theory. The ideas must later take the mathematical form of a quantitative theory, to make possible the comparison with experiment.

    - Albert Einstein

    Wednesday, June 26, 2013

    Mathematics Of A Successful City

    A lot of ways we’ve viewed cities in the past have been through analogies to other complex systems, such as organisms. What this paper tries to do is create a shift in perspective from what cities look like and describe and formalize a city’s function. Trying to shift this perspective creates a new view of cities and allows us to say what cities are. Our conclusion is that cities are a kind of social reactor; they exist to solve the problem of putting lots of socializing people together and coordinate them in space and time in an open-ended, sustainable way.

    You want a balance between interactivity and the cost of creating those interactions, and that’s what this formula is about. That balance is what defines a city that is working well and can be achieved for cities of any size. Although people sort of knew that, this paper allows us to formalize that and put all these things in the same equation for the first time.

    Some interactions make you want to be in a city, like the exchange of innovative ideas. But others can deter people from cities. Social interactions have to give you an overall advantage in order for cities to exist. You have to take the advantageous social interactions, like measures of innovation and creativity, and subtract the negative interactions, like violence or crime. You also have to subtract the cost of these advantageous interactions, like transportation. When you subtract that cost, that gives the conditions for the city to exist in this balance between creating value through interactions and paying the price for that value.

    - Interview with Professor and theoretical physicist Luis Bettencourt

    Quote of the Day

    The democrats believe that, because they are equal as free citizens, they should also be equal in wealth and power. The oligarchs believe that, because they are unequal in wealth, they should also be unequal in power and the perquisites of citizenship. 'For the one party, if they are unequal in one respect, for example, wealth, consider themselves to be unequal in all; and the other party, if they are equal in one respect, for example free birth, consider themselves to be equal in all.

    Greek Search for Wisdom by Michael K. Kellogg

    Tuesday, June 25, 2013

    Sebastian Thrun On The New Online MS With Georgia Tech

    One recent article in particular caught my eye: an essay by Dr. Christopher Newfield from UC Santa Barbara, published in Inside Higher Education.

    Dr. Newfield suggests that "[t]he two entities together will spend about $3.1 million running a program for an estimated 200 students in the first semester. This comes to around $15,700 per year per enrolled student. The figure is close to what the University of California Office of the President says it spends educating all UC students averaged together."

    This analysis is misleading. The bulk of the initial costs arise from course digitization costs, and they are amortized over many years and a much larger number of students. The limited enrollment of 200 in Year 1 is a precautionary step so we can debug the program and improve it before opening it up more broadly. Even with just 2,000 students taking these classes, the amortized content costs will run a factor of ten lower than projected in the budget.

    The budget's up-front costs cover content digitization, not platform development, as the contract clearly states. In reference to the digitization costs, Dr. Newfield writes, "[b]ut Udacity is supposed to have already solved higher education’s 'cost disease' with its technology. We’ll note that Year 1 is not plug-and-play."

    Think about what his statement entails. Should a top-notch Masters degree really be the result of throwing together and repackaging existing course content? Georgia Tech, Udacity, and AT&T are committed to the highest quality of education. Digitization of content incurs costs. This is not just about translating and putting an offline course online, but transforming existing course content such that is developed specifically for the medium and for the online learning experience.

    - More Here by Sebastian

    Quote of the Day

    The patterns are simple, but followed together, they make for a whole that is wiser than the sum of its parts. Go for a walk; cultivate hunches; write everything down, but keep your folders messy; embrace serendipity; make generative mistakes; take on multiple hobbies; frequent coffeehouses and other liquid networks; follow the links; let others build on your ideas; borrow, recycle; reinvent. Build a tangled bank.

    - Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation

    Monday, June 24, 2013

    Compassionate Meditation Can Help Turn You Into A Nicer & More Sensitive Person

    And the subjects who did compassionate meditation were more likely to spend their money to help than those who trained to just think more positively. The researchers also did brain scans of those who behaved most altruistically, before and after training. And people who were most altruistic after training showed the biggest increases in activity in brain areas involved in empathy and positive emotion. So empathy appears to be like a muscle—it can be built up by exercise that causes actual physiological changes.

    Christie Nicholson

    Quote of the Day

    If you put these five things together - you can't use money to attract talent, you can't advertise, you can't take risks, you can't invest in long-term results, and you don't have a stock market - then we have just put the humanitarian sector at the most extreme disadvantage to the for-profit sector on every level, and then we call the whole system charity, as if there is something incredibly sweet about it.

    - Dan Pallotta, Charity Case: How the Nonprofit Community Can Stand Up For Itself and Really Change the World

    Sunday, June 23, 2013

    Metamorphogenesis - How A Planet Can produce Minds, Mathematics & Music

    The universe is made up of matter, energy and information, interacting with each other and producing new kinds of matter, energy, information and interaction. How? How did all this come out of a cloud of dust? In order to find explanations we first need much better descriptions of what needs to be explained. This is a multi-disciplinary project attempting to describe and explain the variety of biological information-processing mechanisms involved in the production of new biological information-processing mechanisms, on many time scales, between the earliest days of the planet with no life, only physical and chemical structures, including volcanic eruptions, asteroid impacts, solar and stellar radiation, and many other physical/chemical processes (or perhaps starting even earlier, when there was only a dust cloud in this part of the solar system?).

    Evolution can be thought of as a (blind) Theorem Prover (or theorem discoverer). Proving (discovering) theorems about what is possible (possible types of information, possible types of information-processing, possible uses of information-processing) Proving (discovering) many theorems in parallel (including especially theorems about new types of information and new useful types of information-processing) Sharing partial results among proofs of different things (Very different biological phenomena may share origins, mechanisms, information, ...) Combining separately derived old theorems in constructions of new proofs (One way of thinking about symbiogenesis.)

    - More Here

    Researchers Disagree Over Dog Domestication.

    In recent months, three international teams have published papers comparing the genomes of dogs and wolves. “It’s a sexy field,” says Greger Larson, an archaeogeneticist at the University of Durham, UK. He has won a £950,000 (US$1.5-million) grant to study dog domestication starting in October. “You’ve got a lot of big personalities, a lot of money, and people who want to get their Nature paper first.”
    • First study in January, Erik Axelsson and Kerstin Lindblad-Toh, geneticists at Uppsala University in Sweden, and their colleagues reported in Nature1 that genes involved in the breaking down of starch seemed to set domestic dogs apart from wild wolves. In the paper and in media interviews, the researchers argued that dog domestication was catalysed by the dawn of agriculture around 10,000 years ago in the Middle East, as wolves began to loiter around human settlements and rubbish heaps (see Nature; 2013). But Larson, who has worked with Lindblad-Toh on other projects, says that their claim is dubious. He notes that bones that look similar to those of domestic dogs predate the Neolithic revolution by at least several thousand years, so domestication must have occurred before then.
    • A second study, published last month in Nature Communications, argues that dogs were domesticated 32,000 years ago when they began scavenging with Palaeolithic humans in southern China. A team led by Ya-ping Zhang at the Kunming Institute of Zoology in China drew that conclusion from studying the whole genomes of several grey wolves, modern European dog breeds and indigenous Chinese dogs. But Larson says that there is no evidence to suggest that wolves ever lived in southern China, “so how do you domesticate a wolf if there aren’t any?” And Jean-Denis Vigne, an archaeozoologist at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, agrees, noting that in earlier work, Zhang’s team “completely ignored what has been published, even in the frame of genetics”.
    • A third paper argues that a more probable date for domestication was 11,000–16,000 years ago. Posted to the arXiv preprint server on 31 May, the study, like Zhang’s, compares the whole genomes of wolves and dogs. But the paper paints an even murkier picture, suggesting that wolves and the ancestors of modern dogs continued to breed together long after domestication, and that the wolf population that gave rise to dogs is extinct. The authors, a team of geneticists co-led by John Novembre at the University of Chicago in Illinois, declined to comment on their work because it has not yet been published in a journal. But Larson and others say that the paper makes a strong point — that studying the genomes of long-dead dogs and wolves is the only way to settle the dispute.
    - More Here

    Quote of the Day

    Anyone who truly wants to escape human solipsism should not seek out empty places. Instead of fleeing to desert, where they will be thrown back into their own thoughts, they will be better to seek out the company of other animals.

    A zoo is a better window from which to look out of the human world than a monastery.

    - John Gray, Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals

    Saturday, June 22, 2013

    Spring 2013 - A Nest & 2 New Lives



    Wisdom Of The Week

    Malcolm Gladwell's Review of Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman by Jeremy Adelman:

    "Creativity always comes as a surprise to us; therefore we can never count on it and we dare not believe in it until it has happened. In other words, we would not consciously engage upon tasks whose success clearly requires that creativity be forthcoming. Hence, the only way in which we can bring our creative resources fully into play is by misjudging the nature of the task, by presenting it to ourselves as more routine, simple, undemanding of genuine creativity than it will turn out to be."

    And from there Hirschman’s analysis took flight. People don’t seek out challenges, he went on. They are “apt to take on and plunge into new tasks because of the erroneously presumed absence of a challenge—because the task looks easier and more manageable than it will turn out to be.” This was the Hiding Hand principle—a play on Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand. The entrepreneur takes risks but does not see himself as a risk-taker, because he operates under the useful delusion that what he’s attempting is not risky. Then, trapped in mid-mountain, people discover the truth—and, because it is too late to turn back, they’re forced to finish the job.

    "We have ended up here with an economic argument strikingly paralleling Christianity’s oft expressed preference for the repentant sinner over the righteous man who never strays from the path,” Hirschman wrote in this essay from 1967. Success grew from failure:
    And essentially the same idea, even though formulated, as one might expect, in a vastly different spirit, is found in Nietzsche’s famous maxim, “That which does not destroy me, makes me stronger.” This sentence admirably epitomizes several of the histories of economic development projects in recent decades.

    As was nearly always the case with Hirschman’s writing, he made his argument without mathematical formulas or complex models. His subject was economics, but his spirit was literary. He drew on Brecht, Kafka, Freud, Flaubert, La Rochefoucauld, Montesquieu, Montaigne, and Machiavelli, not to mention Homer—he had committed huge sections of the Odyssey to memory. The pleasure of reading Hirschman comes not only from the originality of his conclusions but also from the delightfully idiosyncratic path he took to them. Consider this, from the same essay (and, remember, this is an economist who’s writing):

    While we are rather willing and even eager and relieved to agree with a historian’s finding that we stumbled into the more shameful events of history, such as war, we are correspondingly unwilling to concede—in fact we find it intolerable to imagine—that our more lofty achievements, such as economic, social or political progress, could have come about by stumbling rather than through careful planning. . . . Language itself conspires toward this sort of asymmetry: we fall into error, but do not usually speak of falling into truth.

    Quote of the Day

    But what is equally important, and sobering, is how often we fool ourselves. And we fool ourselves not only individually but en masse. The tendency of a group of human beings to quickly come to believe something that its individual members will later see as obviously false is truly amazing. Some of the worst tragedies of the last century happened because well-meaning people fell for easy solutions proposed by bad leaders.

    - Lee Smolin, The Trouble with Physics: The Rise of String Theory, the Fall of a Science and What Comes Next

    Friday, June 21, 2013

    The Quickening Pace Of Modern Life?

    This is from William Smith's Morley: Ancient and Modern published in 1886.

    With the advent of cheap newspapers and superior means of locomotion... the dreamy quiet old days are over... for men now live think and work at express speed. They have their Mercury or Post laid on their breakfast table in the early morning, and if they are too hurried to snatch from it the news during that meal, they carry it off, to be sulkily read as they travel... leaving them no time to talk with the friend who may share the compartment with them... the hurry and bustle of modern life... lacks the quiet and repose of the period when our forefathers, the day's work done, took their ease...

    - More Here

    Quote of the Day

    ...give a great deal of attention to keeping his managers and his technical people as interchangeable as their talents allow. The barriers are sociological... To overcome this problem some laboratories, such as Bell Labs, abolish all job titles. Each professional employee is a "member of technical staff.

    - Frederick P. Brooks Jr., The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering

    Thursday, June 20, 2013

    Privacy Visor Glasses Block Facial Recognition System

    If you are an infrared camera with a facial recognition system, this is your worst nightmare. Researchers at Japan's National Institute of Informatics have developed goggles that jam facial recognition systems with a burst of light that is invisible to the human eye. 

    - More Here

    Quote of the Day

    If I had to define a major depression in a single sentence, I would describe it as a "genetic/neurochemical disorder requiring a strong environmental trigger whose characteristic manifestation is an inability to appreciate sunsets."

    - Robert M. Sapolsky, Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers

    Wednesday, June 19, 2013

    AMA Declares Obesity A Disease

    RESOLVED, That our American Medical Association recognize obesity as a disease state with multiple pathophysiological aspects requiring a range of interventions to advance obesity treatment and prevention.

    Similarly, a sensitive and clinically practical diagnostic indicator of obesity remains elusive. Obesity, measured by [body mass index], is clearly associated with a number of adverse health outcomes, with greater consistency across populations at the highest BMI levels. However, given the existing limitations of BMI to diagnose obesity in clinical practice, it is unclear that recognizing obesity as a disease, as opposed to a 'condition' or 'disorder,' will result in improved health outcomes. The disease label is likely to improve health outcomes for some individuals, but may worsen outcomes for others.

    - More Here

    What I've Been Reading

    Choose Yourself! by James Altucher. Altucher made an offer to his readers that if they read his book, he will pay them the cost of the book - immersed by that  confidence, I had to check out his book.

    This is modern version of self help books; very sensible than those "How To Win" series or the nonsense of "The Secret". Of-course, I was disappointed with massive distillation (he covers most of the labels on this blog) and no mention of stoicism and meditation.

    There are always few things one can learn from a writer; it helps especially when the author is genuine and brutally honest (and for that reason I am not going to ask him to pay me):
    • The key is to make money off the grid, to make money outside the imprisonment of corporate America and out of the reach of the powers that choose or reject us. To be able to work from any location. As we move toward the employee-less society, where ideas become currency and innovation gets rewarded more than manual or managerial services, you will have the opportunity to live a life you want to.
    • Male a lot of money. A lot of money. Let’s be real. That’s the main reason to be an entrepreneur. “But the economy?” someone might say. There is more money floating around than ever before. And a lot of that money is buried and hidden from you. Time to reach out and touch it. The stock market has a capitalization of several trillion dollars. There’s another $2 trillion in private equity funds. There’s $50 trillion in transactions in the global economy every year. If you make money, someone will buy your company. Or, even better, you’ll make so much money so fast you don’t have time to sell your company.
    • Corporations don’t like you. This is not a surprise to capitalists and entrepreneurs or even artists. The entire idea behind a corporation is to set up a legal structure that takes advantage of cheap labor. The cheap labor makes something for you for less than you sell it. I’m not saying this isn’t unfair. It is what it is. But you have to make sure if you are being exploited that you learn how to exploit back. You use the corporate job as a rest stop on the way toward being healthy, on the way toward figuring out how to innovate and take advantage of the mythical safety net to move onto bigger and better things.
    • This is not true. Everyone is an entrepreneur. The only skills you need to be an entrepreneur are the ability to fail, to have ideas, to sell those ideas, to execute on them, and to be persistent so even as you fail you learn and move onto the next adventure.
    • If you can’t start a business, then you end up being a temp staffer somewhere. Don’t say this is heartless. This is the way the world is going. That’s why the middle class is disappearing. Robots are the new middle class. And everyone else will either be an entrepreneur or a temp staffer. Don’t shoot the messenger here. It’s already happening. I’m just trying to figure out a way that we can actually accept the 40 percent unemployment or “underemployment” (already at 20 percent) that is coming.
    If you have an idea, don’t focus on the money. Don’t focus on how you will make a living. Do this: 
    1. Build your product 
    2. Sell it to a customer 
    3. Start shipping 
    4. Then quit your job

    Quote of the Day

    In Mongolia, when a dog dies, he is buried high in the hills so people cannot walk on his grave. The dog’s master whispers in the dog’s ear his wishes that the dog will return as a man in his next life. Then his tail is cut off and put beneath his head, and a piece of meat of fat is cut off and placed in his mouth to sustain his soul for its journey; before he is reincarnated, the dog’s soul is freed to travel the land, to run across the high desert plains for as long as it would like.

    I learned that from a program on the National Geographic Channel, so I believe it is true. Not all dogs return as men, they say; only those who are ready.

    I am ready.

    Garth Stein, The Art of Racing in the Rain


    Tuesday, June 18, 2013

    The Best Philosophy Is Doubt

    Science—the method that underpins what we know most reliably about the world and ourselves—rests on uncertainty. The late, great Karl Popper argued that the only thing that can be definitively proved by an experiment is that a hypothesis is wrong.  Scientists always express, or should express, their ideas in terms of uncertainty. Remember the historic announcement last year that CERN had discovered the Higgs Boson? What they said was: "We observe in our data clear signs of a new particle, at the level of 5 sigma". What’s that 5 sigma business? It’s a statistical measure: it means that there’s a 1 in 3.5m chance that the most important discovery in particle physics in the past 50 years is wrong.

    I’m not saying that scientists wake up each morning driven by the passion to prove that their ideas are flawed. We all hope that our theories are 5 sigma. But we have to live with the only certainty—that our opinions could be wrong.

    Contrast that with the expectation that most people have of their leaders. The hallmark of charismatic politicians is that they have absolute confidence in their opinions. Politicians who change their minds on the basis of evidence are accused of U-turns, rather than being hailed for their wisdom. But unwillingness to doubt has given the world most of its political disasters—from Darius’s invasion of Greece to the present adventures in Iraq.

    Doubt is the engine of intelligence. We suffer from a surfeit of certainty. The most powerful philosophy is always to ask whether there is a possibility that you are wrong.

    Colin Blakemore

    What Is The Best Philosophy?

    At the time Intelligent Life went to press, the psychotherapist Susie Orbach had gained more than a quarter of the votes with her defence of self-knowledge. Personal ethics, she wrote, comes from knowing your own feelings and capabilities. Hard on her heels was the journalist turned philosopher Anthony Gottlieb, who urged readers to adopt Hume’s scepticism. A combination of doubt, caution and modesty, thought Hume, would cure people of their "haughtiness and obstinacy". Gottlieb convinced 22%.

    For the neuroscientist Colin Blakemore, scepticism didn’t take it far enough. He argued for outright doubt, putting his faith in the only certainty there is, "that our opinions could be wrong". He managed to persuade 16% of voters. Studying "the actual world as it is" appealed to the philosopher turned MP Jesse Norman. His belief in Aristotle, mashed up with others, got 13% of votes. The philosopher Angie Hobbs preferred Aristotle’s old tutor Plato and his idea of flourishing. She recommended that we learn how to think, rather than what to think, and 12% of voters agreed. Our apps editor (and resident philosophy graduate), Simon Willis, picked the lesser-known school of particularism, which believes practice should be valued above principle. Rules, Willis explained, "don’t in themselves tell you how to apportion blame, or to whom, or how much." It won 6% of votes.

    But the philosophical spirit had clearly been embraced by our readers. In his article on doubt, Colin Blakemore had written that "the most powerful philosophy is always to ask whether there is a possibility that you are wrong". Sure enough, in the two weeks between the magazine going to press and the online poll closing, a new leader emerged.

    - More Here

    Quote of the Day

    There was never any evolutionary selection pressure to make us like exercise. If you are a Neanderthal or Homo erectus or an early modern human, you didn't think, "Gee, I'm going to go for a run so that I'm not going to get depressed." They had to go long distances every day in order to survive. Not exercising was never an option, so there was never any selection pressure to make people like exercise. On the contrary, there was probably selection to help people avoid needless exercise when they could. Some hunter-gatherers had diets of about 2,200 calories a day. When your energy intake is that low, you can't afford to go for a jog just for fun.

    Daniel Lieberman

    Monday, June 17, 2013

    Droning For Rhinos

    Marcel Norman launched a campaign on Indiegogo to build UAS kits and supply them to Nature Reserves in and around Southern Africa to fight the war against poachers. Please support and contribute here:

    There is currently a Rhino poaching epidemic with more than 370 Rhino being slaughtered for their horns since the beginning of 2013. In a continent where an average wage per day is no more $1 per day, the incentive of bringing in $12000 for one horn is very attractive.

    The nature reserves in Southern Africa are very big, and keeping track of the Rhino with a limited number of staff can be time consuming and very expensive.

    Our Solution
    The solution is simple – research, develop and produce a UAS of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle kit that that is very cost effective and very easy to use, and we have developed a kit that will do just that.
    The kit consists of:

      M.A Hawk – The Hawk is a lightweight UAS, designed for mid to long range flights for surveillance and reconnaissance. The Hawk can be operated manually or programmed for full autonomous flight, utilizing its advanced avionics and accurate GPS navigation. With a wingspan of 1.7m and a weight of 3kg, the hand-launched Hawk provides aerial observation with ranges of 20km or more and endurance of up to 90mins. The high quality camera on board the Hawk provides real time video feedback to the GCS (Ground Control Station).

    M.A 400 – The 400 is a Multi-Rotor UAS, designed for rapid deployment and short to mid-range flights. It is built for agility and speed, and can be carried in a back pack to track down any poacher or rhino in a matter of seconds. As with the Hawk, the 400 can be manually operated or programmed using the same advanced avionics and GPS as the Hawk.

      M.A GSC – The GSC, or Ground Control Station, is your link to the aerial systems. It contains two HD LCD screens for mission planning and live video feedback, battery charging station, and spares for the systems all in a tough pelican case. The GCS is light weight and portable and can run off the 12 volt battery inside the GCS or from mains.

    The next step
    The first phase is to get 5 UAS kits ready to be donated to the top 5 serves that gets hit the most in Southern Africa. Our aim is not to make money, but more to help the endangered Rhino.
    Now, the Hawk and its technology on its own can cost up to $50 000, but we want to produce them at a fraction of that cost, and that is where you come in.

    For Phase One, we need $20 000 to get the equipment we need to build the first 5 UAS’s in-house and save cost
    If you give more than our initial goal, we kick of Phase Two. In this phase we want to increase the video feed distance as well as add infrared and night vision cameras to the drones.
    And with Phase Three, we would like every nature reserve and farm to have a UAS kit and never loose Rhino through poaching again.

    A Different River Every Time - What Is "Smart'?

    In 1994, Bill Gates, surely one of the smartest men on the planet, spent $30.8 million to acquire what was essentially a loose sheaf of papers scrawled densely all over in mirror  image writing—a haphazard mixture of stray thoughts, speculations, observations and theories on topics ranging from astronomy, the nature of light, why fossils are sometimes found on tops of mountains, and why the moon shines at night. These 18 pages, each folded in half and written on both sides—formed a 72-page document which Gates has said he turns to often for inspiration. They form the Codex Leicester (named after the Earl of Leicester, one-time owner of the papers), an idea diary maintained by Leonardo da Vinci, one of the smartest men who ever lived.

    The 500-year journey of the Codex Leicester from Da Vinci to Gates is also somehow emblematic of the sheer width of what we consider and acknowledge as ‘smart’. Da Vinci was the ultimate polymath: painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, writer—a man whose curiosity and imagination seemed to be truly boundless. Gates, on the other hand, has invented nothing; his company Microsoft has always been behind the curve with every new software application, from word processors and spreadsheets to the internet browser.

    And there’s one question that can’t be brushed under the carpet. Are smart people happier people? “Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know,” wrote Ernest Hemingway famously, and he was a super-smart man who did more to change the style of English prose than any other 20th century writer. He committed suicide. One should be wary of generalisations, especially in the case of super-bright people, who, by definition, are at the edge of any societal normal distribution curve. One should also remember that clinching evidence of high intelligence is often—though certainly not in all cases—discomfort with the status quo, a refusal to accept conventional wisdom and handed-down norms, mores and codes of conduct, both in terms of their work and their ‘morality’. Most importantly, the truly intelligent mind is a questioning mind. And as any autocrat in any field knows instinctively, too many questions are not a good thing. The number of clear answers available in life is less than the number of urgent questions one can ask.

    An art historian once told me Da Vinci spent the last years of his life sketching and studying water. It was a challenge that nearly turned into an obsession. How do you get a firm grip on the ever-changing state of a lake or a river on paper or canvas? After all, every time you put your foot in a river, it’s a different river. Every ripple changes the lake. The grea­test creative genius in reco­r­ded history was fascinated and woul­dn’t give up. Some of his musings on the flow and nature of water are in Gates’ prized Codex Leicester.

    In Greek mythology, Rhea was the mother of all the Olympian gods and goddesses. She is the goddess of flow. Obviously, the Greeks, who created a really smart civilisation, recognised something very basic about the ways of the universe—the constant impermanence and complex cause-and-effect linkages in service of some unfathomable grand pattern. Truly smart people are compelled to either move against the flow, or try to master the flow and direct it towards where they will it. That is their hallmark, the destiny they choose for themselves.

    - More Here

    Quote of the Day

    But the Turing test cuts both ways. You can't tell if a machine has gotten smarter or if you've just lowered your own standards of intelligence to such a degree that the machine seems smart. If you can have a conversation with a simulated person presented by an AI program, can you tell how far you've let your sense of personhood degrade in order to make the illusion work for you?

    People degrade themselves in order to make machines seem smart all the time. Before the crash, bankers believed in supposedly intelligent algorithms that could calculate credit risks before making bad loans. We ask teachers to teach to standardized tests so a student will look good to an algorithm. We have repeatedly demonstrated our species' bottomless ability to lower our standards to make information technology look good. Every instance of intelligence in a machine is ambiguous.

    The same ambiguity that motivated dubious academic AI projects in the past has been repackaged as mass culture today. Did that search engine really know what you want, or are you playing along, lowering your standards to make it seem clever? While it's to be expected that the human perspective will be changed by encounters with profound new technologies, the exercise of treating machine intelligence as real requires people to reduce their mooring to reality.

    - Jaron Lanier, You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto

    Sunday, June 16, 2013

    The "Emotionary" For Unspeakable Emotions

    You know that feeling where you experience an emotion, but you don't have a word to describe it, so you resort to awkward phrases such as "You know that feeling" instead? If so, you'll be pleased to learn about The Emotionary, a new website dedicated to finding names for those feelings that don't yet have one. Thus, for example, "emptication": the "sad, useless triumph of getting what you want, long after you've accepted you're not going to get it, and no longer want it". Or "incredulation", the surprise when something you've been dreading goes unbelievably well.

    The site, created by the American actor Eden Sher, is plainly tongue in cheek. ("Floptimism": the futile encouragement you offer someone even though you realise they'll probably fail.) But it's a joke with a point. "We need words to label our otherwise incomprehensible feelings, in order to understand each other and relate to one another," Sher argues on the site. Research into the effects of meditation suggests that even naming your emotions to yourself – never mind discussing them with others – can partially release you from their grip. Moreover, the problem of unnamed feelings is a reminder of how baffled psychologists remain about what an emotion actually is. Some basic ones seem to be universal. But who gets to define the boundaries between them? What role does culture play? Can there really be new, distinctively modern emotions, or are we just relabelling and reinterpreting the old ones?

    If you're tempted to conclude that none of this matters, look no further than the current barroom brawl over the "bible" of psychiatry, the Diagnostic And Statistical Manual, which sets out the symptoms one must exhibit to qualify as depressed, autistic, a narcissist and so forth.

    - Oliver Burkeman

    IRS Tracks Your Digital Footprint via "ROBO-AUDITS"

    The agency declined to comment on how it will use its new technology. But agency officials have been outlining plans at industry conferences, working with IBM, EMC and other private-sector specialists. In presentations, officials have said they may use the big data for:

    • Charting and analyzing social media such as Facebook.
    • Targeting audits by matching tax filings to social media or electronic payments.
    • Tracking individual Internet addresses and emailing patterns.
    • Sorting data in 32,000 categories of metadata and 1 million unique "attributes."
    • Machine learning across "neural" networks.
    • Statistical and agent-based modeling.
    • Relationship analysis based on Social Security numbers and other personal identifiers.
    Officials have said much of the data will be used only for research. The agency's economic forecasts and data are a key part of Washington's budget infrastructure. Former commissioner Douglas Shulman said in an IRS statement that the technology will employ "billions of pieces of data" to target enforcement and to "detect and combat noncompliance."

    The IRS last year used a profiling test model to study 1,500 tax preparers with histories of reporting deficiencies and managed to recover $200 million. It cited the experience as proof that its data analysis works.

    - More Here

    Happy Father's Day - Let's Heed To Tony Porter's Call To Get Rid Of The "Man Box"

    Tony Porter's TED talk is one my all time favorites; over the past few centuries we have a changed and have been changing a lot as a civilization. But yet there are few powerful and visceral reminiscences of our evolution which we cling on to as leaches. Let's work towards eradicating at-least one of them - Break free of the "man box."'

    At A Call to Men we work with boys from the age of eight.  Unfortunately, even at that early age, they have been socialized to prescribe to the tenants of the Man Box.  When asked by men and women how soon should they began to have these discussions with their sons, we say, “Five is the age they get on the school bus.” It’s at that age that others begin to teach and influence our sons. So we say don’t wait, if you do, what you’re actually doing is giving others permission to teach and influence your sons. It’s not whether they will learn, it’s more about who will be their primary teachers.

    We believe the conversation (teaching) does not change that much between boys and young men, we just use age appropriate examples to have the discussion. We believe it’s essential that discussions on manhood become part of the education process. A large percentage of the trauma and ills of men are a direct result of the aspects of manhood requiring change.

    - More Here

    Quote of the Day

    There’s much to take from the group’s work, and I encourage you to read the study and, more important, a series of questions and answers written by Benjamin and his colleagues. But perhaps the most important lesson for the public is this: There will never be a “gene for educational success” or a “gene for entrepreneurship,” just as there will never be a “gene for intelligence” or a “gene for personality.”

    “You just shouldn’t believe anything that says it’s the ‘gene for education,’” Benjamin says. That’s true for pretty much any human trait, down to height and weight, but it applies doubly so for socioeconomic outcomes. “The effect for any gene is going to be vanishingly small.”

    - There Is No Gene for Finishing College

    Saturday, June 15, 2013

    Wisdom Of The Week

    Sorry to say that I have this pathological aversion towards Descartes (of-course because of Max). Although he was wrong, I do realize now that it not right to hate someone especially when that someone was born during very different times, 400 years ago.
    This review of new biography of Descartes - The Philosopher, the Priest, and the Painter: A Portrait of Descartes by Steven Nadler has subdued me and planning to read this book soon.

    While he is remembered today as the philosopher who said, “I think, therefore I am,” Descartes’ work extended much further. He was a brilliant mathematician and he wrote extensively on biology, optics, and cosmology. In science, his grand project was to replace the abstractions of Aristotelianism with a mechanistic picture of the universe that could be explained solely in terms of matter, motion, and impact. In philosophy his quest was for a point of absolute certainty, the solid foundation upon which he could build a new system of thought. The cliché about Descartes is that he asked the right questions (What can we know for sure, and by what method can we find it out?) but gave the wrong answers. That might not sound like much, but when they were first published Descartes’ ideas landed like an explosion. Today we’re still feeling the ripples.

    In his epic intellectual history, The Sources of the Self, the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor identifies Descartes as “a founder of modern individualism, because his theory throws the individual thinker back on his own responsibility, requires him to build an order of thought for himself, in the first person singular.” As Descartes writes in his preface to the reader, “I would not encourage anyone to read these pages unless they are willing and able to meditate with me seriously …” By daring us to think for ourselves, Descartes became one of the fathers of the Enlightenment and, in turn, one of the architects of our everyday assumptions and habits of thought, even today. (To take one tiny example, when Nate Silver writes, in the introduction to The Signal and the Noise, “My preference is for topics where you can check out the results for yourself rather than having to take my word for it.”— he is thinking in a way that echoes Taylor’s insight about Descartes.)

    Quote of the Day

    Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.

    - Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self Reliance

    Friday, June 14, 2013

    Akin's Laws of Spacecraft Design

    • Engineering is done with numbers. Analysis without numbers is only an opinion.
    • To design a spacecraft right takes an infinite amount of effort. This is why it's a good idea to design them to operate when some things are wrong .
    • Design is an iterative process. The necessary number of iterations is one more than the number you have currently done. This is true at any point in time.
    • Your best design efforts will inevitably wind up being useless in the final design. Learn to live with the disappointment.
    • (Miller's Law) Three points determine a curve.
    • (Mar's Law) Everything is linear if plotted log-log with a fat magic marker.
    • At the start of any design effort, the person who most wants to be team leader is least likely to be capable of it.
    • In nature, the optimum is almost always in the middle somewhere. Distrust assertions that the optimum is at an extreme point.
    • Not having all the information you need is never a satisfactory excuse for not starting the analysis.
    • When in doubt, estimate. In an emergency, guess. But be sure to go back and clean up the mess when the real numbers come along.
    • Sometimes, the fastest way to get to the end is to throw everything out and start over.
    • There is never a single right solution. There are always multiple wrong ones, though.
    • Design is based on requirements. There's no justification for designing something one bit "better" than the requirements dictate.
    • (Edison's Law) "Better" is the enemy of "good".
    • (Shea's Law) The ability to improve a design occurs primarily at the interfaces. This is also the prime location for screwing it up.
    • The previous people who did a similar analysis did not have a direct pipeline to the wisdom of the ages. There is therefore no reason to believe their analysis over yours. There is especially no reason to present their analysis as yours.
    • The fact that an analysis appears in print has no relationship to the likelihood of its being correct.
    • Past experience is excellent for providing a reality check. Too much reality can doom an otherwise worthwhile design, though.
    • The odds are greatly against you being immensely smarter than everyone else in the field. If your analysis says your terminal velocity is twice the speed of light, you may have invented warp drive, but the chances are a lot better that you've screwed up.
    • A bad design with a good presentation is doomed eventually. A good design with a bad presentation is doomed immediately.
    • (Larrabee's Law) Half of everything you hear in a classroom is crap. Education is figuring out which half is which.
    • When in doubt, document. (Documentation requirements will reach a maximum shortly after the termination of a program.)
    • The schedule you develop will seem like a complete work of fiction up until the time your customer fires you for not meeting it.
    • It's called a "Work Breakdown Structure" because the Work remaining will grow until you have a Breakdown, unless you enforce some Structure on it.
    • (Bowden's Law) Following a testing failure, it's always possible to refine the analysis to show that you really had negative margins all along.
    • (Montemerlo's Law) Don't do nuthin' dumb.
    • (Varsi's Law) Schedules only move in one direction.
    • (Ranger's Law) There ain't no such thing as a free launch.
    • (von Tiesenhausen's Law of Program Management) To get an accurate estimate of final program requirements, multiply the initial time estimates by pi, and slide the decimal point on the cost estimates one place to the right.
    • (von Tiesenhausen's Law of Engineering Design) If you want to have a maximum effect on the design of a new engineering system, learn to draw. Engineers always wind up designing the vehicle to look like the initial artist's concept.
    • (Mo's Law of Evolutionary Development) You can't get to the moon by climbing successively taller trees.
    • (Atkin's Law of Demonstrations) When the hardware is working perfectly, the really important visitors don't show up.
    • Space is a completely unforgiving environment. If you screw up the engineering, somebody dies (and there's no partial credit because most of the analysis was right...)

    - via here

    An Idea is a Parasite

    Concept of idea which Cobb (Leonardo's character in the movie Inception) portrays is very simple but yet very powerful - not sure why but for past few days, these lines have been going through my head in a repeat-loop...

    What is the most resilient parasite? Bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm? An idea. Resilient... highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it's almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed - fully understood - that sticks; right in there somewhere.

    Quote of the Day

    If you're not making mistakes, you're not taking risks, and that means you're not going anywhere. The key is to make mistakes faster than the competition, so you have more chances to learn and win.

    - John W. Holt

    Thursday, June 13, 2013

    Three Things I’ve Learned From Warren Buffett

    It’s not just about investing - The first thing people learn from Warren, of course, is how to think about investing. That’s natural, given his amazing track record. Unfortunately, that’s where a lot of people stop, and they miss out on the fact that he has a whole framework for business thinking that is very powerful. For example, he talks about looking for a company’s moat—its competitive advantage—and whether the moat is shrinking or growing. He says a shareholder has to act as if he owns the entire business, looking at the future profit stream and deciding what it’s worth. And you have to be willing to ignore the market rather than follow it, because you want to take advantage of the market’s mistakes—the companies that have been underpriced.

    Use your platform - A lot of business leaders write letters to their shareholders, but Warren is justly famous for his. Partly that’s because his natural good humor shines through. Partly it’s because people think it will help them invest better (and they’re right). But it’s also because he’s been willing to speak frankly and criticize things like stock options and financial derivatives. He’s not afraid to take positions, like his stand on raising taxes on the rich, that run counter to his self-interest.

    Know how valuable your time is - No matter how much money you have, you can’t buy more time. There are only 24 hours in everyone’s day. Warren has a keen sense of this. He doesn’t let his calendar get filled up with useless meetings. On the other hand, he’s very generous with his time for the people he trusts. We talked a lot about the idea that philanthropy could be just as impactful in its own way as software had been. It turns out that Warren’s brilliant way of looking at the world is just as useful in attacking poverty and disease as it is in building a business. He’s one of a kind.

    - Bill Gates

    Honoring A School Therapy Dog Retiree

    Prince worked as a therapy dog at Portage High School in Indiana for four years before retiring this spring. To honor the pup's service, the school opted to include him in the yearbook among all the graduating seniors and let him lead the pack of students during the graduation ceremony last Sunday.

    The nine-year-old golden retriever has worked in the guidance office with his handler Tim Kunstek, a counselor at the high school. He is one of the Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort dogs, who have had a busy year offering comfort to the victims of tragedies all over the nation. Most recently they provided comfort to the victims of the Oklahoma tornadoes.

    To honor and remember all he has contributed to the school Prince had a professional yearbook photo taken like all the other students and is in the yearbook with the rest of the class of 2013. On Sunday Prince will lead the graduating class onto the football field for their graduation ceremony.

    - via Andrew

    Quote of the Day

    Doing nothing is different from doing no harm, that endlessly advertised professional goal. You can do a lot of things and still do no harm — and often not much good either, each effort accomplishing little enough that the sum total remains at zero. Often by that time the leg or the back or the virus has taken care of itself.

    Doing nothing is also different from handing out placebo medications, an ethically complex activity featuring doctor as shaman. To really do nothing, all shamanic trappings must be abandoned: stethoscope, prescription pad, weighty pronouncements, the works. And yet — and this is key — doing nothing is also quite different from saying, “There’s nothing I can do for you; goodbye.” Most doctors are masters of this final nothing. But keeping a therapeutic relationship afloat without the usual tools, tricks or enticements — that is a rare achievement, and surely harder than the hardest microsurgery.

    - Art of Doing Nothing

    Wednesday, June 12, 2013

    What Will Future Jobs Look Like? - Andrew McAfee

    Bruce Schneier On Privacy

    Bruce Schneier's interview this week on EconTalk is the one best interviews I have heard so far this year !!
    Listen to the whole thing; few of his insights on privacy:

    Cameras caught the bad guy, therefore cameras are good. We can argue whether cameras did catch the bad guy, and it's not obvious to me that they did. Or at least that the bad guys wouldn't have been caught otherwise. That cameras happened to catch the bad guy or were cameras necessary to catch the bad guy. Necessary is the important question. But this is a subtlety that is going to be lost in an average conversation. So the first thing is fear. The second thing is privacy, like any right, you tend to only notice it when it's gone. It's easy to say, I have nothing to hide. I'm asked that pretty regularly on the radio. And when someone says I have nothing to hide, why do I care? I'll say: What's your salary? And they'll say, um, um, um, um; and I'll say: See? 

    Because something to hide isn't about illegal activity. It isn't about something I'm ashamed of. It's about how you present yourself to the world. It's not about secrecy versus non-secrecy. I will go to a doctor and take off my clothes, but it doesn't mean I'll do that on Facebook. And it's not because I have something to hide. It's because it's a different context. And our notions of privacy are very complex. And there's also, I think, a belief, and this again you don't notice till it's gone, that the powers are largely benevolent. Of course you don't care if the police read your email, because what do they care? And it's only in those scary regimes of the middle of the previous century where the police state did those nasty things. Except that is not true. It's true today in certain countries. And you and I know that when you give power--and this is actually true for government or corporate power--when you give power to an entity, you will have abuses. And the more power, the more abuses, and the more potential for abuses. And this is why you always temper power. That is also a very subtle argument. So, I think the basic reasons are multiple: that when people are scared, they're willing to not be scared; that the privacy arguments are subtle and hard to understand, and the negatives from lack of privacy you only notice when you are missing them. So that's the real combination that makes this a difficult conversation.

    Every time. Power is tempting. You are sitting there, you are in power, you have this lever. It's going to be really hard to say, that would be wrong. Because you are skewed. You are doing it for what you believe is some greater good. This is the same reason we are torturing people. We were blind to that it was a really, really bad idea.

    Quote of the Day

    “I asked the Zebra, 
    are you black with white stripes? 
    Or white with black stripes? 
    And the zebra asked me, 
    Are you good with bad habits?
    Or are you bad with good habits?
    Are you noisy with quiet times? 
    Or are you quiet with noisy times? 
    Are you happy with some sad days? 
    Or are you sad with some happy days? 
    Are you neat with some sloppy ways? 
    Or are you sloppy with some neat ways? 
    And on and on and on and on and on and on he went.
    I’ll never ask a zebra about stripes...again.”

    - Zebra Question by Shel Silverstein

    Tuesday, June 11, 2013

    Fareed Zakaria Commencement Address - Be Open, Be Optimistic

    I read a story recently about a female academic from a European university who chose to settle down in America. When asked why, she explained that, in France, as a woman and a junior researcher, she wasn’t encouraged to push her ideas and to challenge her senior faculty. So she was moving to America — from another very rich country — to be free; free to express herself, free to challenge authority. So when I look at the great universities being built in Asia, I admire them but I still think that America has a crucial advantage, one that will be hard to replicate by building labs and hiring faculty. It sits somewhere in the DNA of this country.

    Part of that DNA is we allow a person to be whoever he or she wants to be, to reinvent himself. That’s why The Great Gatbsy — about a man who does just that — is the essential American novel. It’s author, F Scott Fitzgerald, once said, “There are no second acts in American life.” On that point, he was profoundly wrong. In America you can fail in school or college or at your first job or anytime — and still come back. This is the land of second and third acts. And if you are willing to go on Oprah and repent, there is even the prospect of a fourth act.

    I think there is a lesson from our national experience for each of you. Be open, be open to people, ideas, and influences from all over the world, from high and low, rich and poor. Don’t shut yourself off. The world has changed so much and is changing so fast; be open to understanding and learning from that change. If you fight it, the world won’t stop moving, but you will stop growing.

    I have one final piece of advice that I have given before but I believe it’s worth repeating. When I was a young man I thought that intelligence and knowledge were everything and experience was nothing — a somewhat self-serving view for a young man with little experience. I have, of course, come to a different view. There is a wisdom gained from living life that is difficult to find in books or even on YouTube.

    - Full text of Fareed's commencement speech at University of Oklahoma here

    Drew Houston's Commencement Address

    I used to worry about all kinds of things, but I can remember the moment when I calmed down. I had just moved to San Francisco, and one night I couldn't sleep so I was on my laptop. I read something online that said "There are 30,000 days in your life." At first I didn't think much of it, but on a whim I tabbed over to the calculator. I type in 24 times 365 and — oh my God, I'm almost 9,000 days down. What the hell have I been doing?

    (By the way: you guys are 8,000 days down.)

    So that’s how 30,000 ended up on the cheat sheet. That night, I realized there are no warmups, no practice rounds, no reset buttons. Every day we're writing a few more words of a story. And when you die, it's not like "here lies Drew, he came in 174th place." So from then on, I stopped trying to make my life perfect, and instead tried to make it interesting. I wanted my story to be an adventure — and that's made all the difference.

    My grandmother is here today, and next week we'll be celebrating her 95th birthday. We talk more on the phone now that I’ve moved out to California. But one thing that's stuck with me is she always ends our phone calls with one word: "Excelsior," which means "ever upward."

    - Full Text Here , Drew Houston is the founder and CEO of Dropbox

    Quote of the Day

    The trick to this solution is that you’d have to be 100% honest. Meaning not just sincere but almost naked. Worse than naked - more like unarmed. Defenseless. ‘This thing I feel, I can’t name it straight out but it seems important, do you feel it too?’ - this sort of direct question is not for the squeamish. For one thing, it’s perilously close to “Do you like me? Please like me,” which you know quite well that 99% of all interhuman manipulation and bullshit gamesmanship that goes on goes on precisely because the idea of saying this sort of thing straight out is regarded as somehow obsene. In fact one of the very last few interperonal taboos we have is kind of obscenely naked direct interrogation of somebody else. It looks pathetic and desperate. That’s how it’ll look to the reader. And it will have to. There’s no way around it.

    - David Foster Wallace, Brief Interviews With Hideous Men

    Monday, June 10, 2013

    What I've Been Reading

    Hackers & Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age by Paul Graham. I have become a big supporter of AI because of people like Thrun, Graham and Theil. Technological revolution has produced more deep thinkers than the industrial revolution and if this trend continues (a big assumption of-course), I hope the "predicted" dystopian future of humanity can be averted.

    On Childhood & Schooling:
    Like manu nerds, probably, it was years after high school before I could bring myself to read anything we'd been assigned then. And I lost more than books. I mistrusted words like "character" and "integrity" because they had been debased by adults. As they were used then, these words all seemed to mean the same thing: obedience. The kids who got praised for these qualities tended to be at best dull-witted prize bulls, and at worst facile schmoozers. If that was what character and integrity were, I wanted no part of them.

    On Empathy:
    Empathy is probably the single most important difference between a good hacker and a great one. Some hackers are quite smart, but practically solipsists when it comes to empathy. It's hard for such people to design great software, because they can't see things from user's point of view.
    Venture capitalists have a list of danger signs to watch out for. Near the top is the company run by techno-weenies who are obsessed with solving interesting technical problems, instead of making users happy. In a startup, you're not just trying to solve problems. You're trying to solve problems that users care about.

    On the Importance of Poking Around Nasty & Disreputable Ideas:
    I do it, first of all, for the same reason I did look under rocks as a kid: plain curiosity. And I'm especially curious about anything that's forbidden. Let me see and decide for myself.
    Second, I do it because I don't like the idea of being mistaken. If, like other eras , we believe things that will later seem ridiculous, I want to know what they are so that I, at least, can avoid believing them.
    Third, I do it because it's good for the brain. To do good work yo need a brain that can go anywhere. And you especially need a brain that's in the habit of going where it's not suppose to.
    Great work tends to grow out of ideas that others have over looked, and no idea is so overlooked as one that's unthinkable.

    On Thinking vs. Speaking:
    The most important thing is to be able to think what you want, not to say what you want. And if you feel you have to say everything you think, it may inhibit you from thinking improper thoughts. I think it's better to follow the opposite policy. Draw a sharp line between your thoughts and speech. Inside you head, anything is allowed. Within my head I make a point of encouraging the most outrageous thoughts I can imagine. But, as in a secret society, nothing that happens within the building should be told to outsiders.
    Argue with idiots, and you become an idiot.

    The Other Road Ahead:
    If you're a hacker who has though of one day starting a startup there are probably two things keeping you from doing it. One is that you don't know anything about the business. The other is that you're afraid of competition. Neither of these fences have any current in them.
    There are only tow things you have to know about business: build something users love, and make more than you spend. If you get these two right, you'll be ahead of most startups. You can figure out the rest as you go.

    On Wealth vs. Money:
    Wealth is the fundamental thing. Wealth is the stuff you want: food, clothes. houses. cars. gadgets. travel to interesting places, and so on. You can have wealth without having money. Wealth is what you want, not money. But if wealth is the important thing, why does everyone talk about money? It is a kind  of a shorthand: money is a way of moving wealth, and in practice they are usually interchangeable. But they are not the same thing, and unless you plan to get rich by counterfeiting, taking about making money can make it harder to understand how to make money.

    On Why Europe Grew So powerful?
    The answer (or at least the proximate answer) may be that the Europeans rode on the crest of a powerful new idea: allowing those who made lot of money to keep it.

    On Design:
    Good design uses symmetry. Symmetry may just be one way to achieve simplicity, but it's important enough to be mentioned on its own. Nature uses it a lot, which is a good sign. There are two kinds of symmetry, repetition and recursion. Recursion means repetition in subelements, like the patter of veins in a leaf. The danger of symmetry and repetition especially, is that it can be used as a substitute for thought. 
    Good design resembles nature. It's not so much that resembling nature intrinsically good that nature has had a long time to work on the problem. So it's a good sign when your answer resembles nature's. 

    On Survival of Programming Languages:
    Any programming language can be divided into two parts: some set of fundamental operators that play the role of axioms, and the rest of the language, which could in principle be written in terms of these fundamental operators. 
    I think the fundamental operators are the most important factor in a language's long term survival. The rest you can change. It's like the rule that in buying a house should consider location first of all. Everything else you can fix later, but you can't fix the location.

    On Design vs. Research:
    Design doesn't have to be new, but it has to be good. Research doesn't have to be good, but it has to be new. I think these two path converge at the top: the best design surpasses its predecessors by using new ideas, and the best research solves problems that are not only new, but worth solving. So ultimately design and research are aiming for the same destination, just approaching from different directions. 

    On Lisp:
    Lisp is worth learning for the profound enlightenment experience you will have when you finally get it; that experience will make you a better programmer for the rest of your days, even if you never actually use Lisp itself a lot. - How to Become a Hacker by Eric Raymond.

    What's so great about Lisp? And if Lisp is so great, why doesn't everyone use it? There sound like rhetorical questions, but actually they have straightforward answers. Lisp is so great not because some magic quality visible only to devotees, but because it is simply the most powerful language available. And the reason everyone doesn't use it is that programming languages are not merely technologies, but habits of mind as well, and nothing changes slower. 

    My purpose here is not to change anyone's mind, but to reassure people already interested using in Lisp - people who know that Lisp is a powerful language, but worry because it isn't widely used. In a competitive situation, that's an advantage. Lips's power is multiplied by the fact that your competitors don't get it. 

    Lisp and Fortran were the trunks of two separate evolutionary tress, one rooted in math and one rooted in machine architecture. These two tress have been converging ever since. Lisp started out powerful, and over the next twenty years got fast. So-called mainstream languages started out fast, and over the next forty years gradually gradually got more powerful, until now the most advanced of them are fairly close to Lisp. Close, but they are still missing a few things.

    Technology often should be cutting-edge. In programming languages, as Erann Gat pointed out, what "industry best practice" actually gets you is not the best, but merely the average. When a decision causes you to develop software at a fraction of the rate of more aggressive competitors, "best practice" does not really seem the right name for it. 

    For more on Lisp check out Paul Graham's other books ANSI Common LISP and On Lisp: Advanced Techniques for Common Lisp

    Quote of the Day

    All men are my children. What I desire for my own children, and I desire their welfare and happiness both in this world and the next, that I desire for all men. You do not understand to what extent I desire this, and if some of you do understand, you do not understand the full extent of my desire.

    Ashoka the Great