Thursday, October 31, 2013

LinkedIn's New "Who Should You Hire?" Algorithm

LinkedIn’s candidate-spotting systems are designed to be quick learners. Initially, LinkedIn will analyze recruiters’ current selections of job candidates — and then find more prospects with similar careers, skills and education. If recruiters click on some  suggestions and start an e-mail dialogue with candidates, those will be regarded as especially good matches. If suggestions are ignored, those will be scored as poorer matches. Over time, LinkedIn will realign its matching patterns in an effort to deliver more of what’s valued and less of what isn’t.

The new algorithms can’t run without a base of human-generated candidate preferences. But in the years to come, LinkedIn’s algorithms could play an increasingly important role in shaping companies’ overall prospect lists.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

The classical example of multiple inheritance conflict is called the 'Nixon Diamond.' It arises from the observation that Nixon was both a Quaker (and hence a pacifist) and a Republican (and hence not a pacifist).

Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach by Peter Norvig and Stuart Russell

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

What I Need From Statisticians - Nate Silver

  • The average is still the most useful statistical tool ever invented. One of Silver’s main frustrations with the coverage of the election and the polls last year. Journalists do not focus on the average person but prefer a better story about an outlier which tells a better narrative. The bias can be quite explicit. People in politics can be willing to cherry-pick the data and not be apologetic for it. He respects the “lowly average as it performs almost as well as more complex methods but also because it serves as a litmus test for whether the journalist is worth their statistical salt or not”.
  • Know thy priors. Silver uses the Bayesian approach towards statistics. Methods can be abused but that is true with any approach, including Bayesian but it offers a more coherent, philosophical and sophisticated way in which to look at the world and the Bayesian method would be useful for journalists to use as well, in particular prior beliefs and bias.
  • The word ‘complex’ isn’t always a complement. When a journalist explains that something is complex, he/she may be unintentionally letting the reader know that he/she does not understand. If a statistician did this, it would be even more concerning! In this, Silver sees a lot of parallels between the role of a statistician and that of a journalist. A journalist has to take a complex set of facts and convey some understanding of them to the broader public – which details are most essential and which can be left out?
  • Insiderism is the enemy of scientific objectivity. Silver was fond of some of his reception from critics that nerds are taking over the world but it is an over-simplification. Inside information is expensive and takes a long time to cultivate. Such information may not be very reliable once you receive it. There are very talented reporters who can see through the charade but there are others who ‘do not have a very good BS detector and tend to follow the herd.’
- More Here

Quote of the Day

Light is the only connection we have with the Universe beyond our solar system, and the only connection our ancestors had with anything beyond Earth. Follow the light and we can journey from the confines of our planet to other worlds that orbit the Sun without ever dreaming of spacecraft. To look up is to look back in time, because the ancient beams of light are messengers from the Universe's distant past.

- Brian Cox, Wonders of the Universe 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

We Owe Gratitude to Haidt, Gladwell & Campbell

Many people came to know Nassim Nicholas Taleb via the works of Malcolm Gladwell, just as many people from my generation came to know some serious literature in our adolescence via Joseph Campbell. 

Similar things can surely be said of Jonathan Haidt. Even so, Gladwell, Campbell, and Haidt get little respect among academics. In part, this is because they write for a wider audience. Academic nebbishes use language that's deliberately and unnecessarily abstruse, language that's intended to exclude the uninitiated. They hate popularizers like Gladwell, Campbell, and Haidt because they dare to translate a profession’s jealously guarded esoteric knowledge into plain speech—viz., they hate them because they're easily accessible.

That said, most of us outgrow our Gladwells, Campbells, and Haidts. We move on to bigger and better things. And that's fine. But forgetting our debt to them is NOT fine. All to the contrary. Remaining silent when academic snobs attack authors like Haidt, Campbell, and Gladwell is obscene. Failing to defend them is unseemly. We owe them gratitude and respect, much as we owe our parents gratitude and respect—even if we feel like we've outgrown their usefulness to us.

- Comment on Taleb's Facebook Page

Kludgeocracy in America

In recent decades, American politics has been dominated, at least rhetorically, by a battle over the size of government. But that is not what the next few decades of our politics will be about. With the frontiers of the state roughly fixed, the issues that will define our major debates will concern the complexity of government, rather than its sheer scope.

With that complexity has also come incoherence. Conservatives over the last few years have increasingly worried that America is, in Friedrich Hayek's ominous terms, on the road to serfdom. But this concern ascribes vastly greater purpose and design to our approach to public policy than is truly warranted. If anything, we have arrived at a form of government with no ideological justification whatsoever.

The complexity and incoherence of our government often make it difficult for us to understand just what that government is doing, and among the practices it most frequently hides from view is the growing tendency of public policy to redistribute resources upward to the wealthy and the organized at the expense of the poorer and less organized. As we increasingly notice the consequences of that regressive redistribution, we will inevitably also come to pay greater attention to the daunting and self-defeating complexity of public policy across multiple, seemingly unrelated areas of American life, and so will need to start thinking differently about government.

Understanding, describing, and addressing this problem of complexity and incoherence is the next great American political challenge. But you cannot come to terms with such a problem until you can properly name it. While we can name the major questions that divide our politics — liberalism or conservatism, big government or small — we have no name for the dispute between complexity and simplicity in government, which cuts across those more familiar ideological divisions. For lack of a better alternative, the problem of complexity might best be termed the challenge of "kludgeocracy."

A "kludge" is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as "an ill-assorted collection of parts assembled to fulfill a particular purpose...a clumsy but temporarily effective solution to a particular fault or problem." The term comes out of the world of computer programming, where a kludge is an inelegant patch put in place to solve an unexpected problem and designed to be backward-compatible with the rest of an existing system. When you add up enough kludges, you get a very complicated program that has no clear organizing principle, is exceedingly difficult to understand, and is subject to crashes. Any user of Microsoft Windows will immediately grasp the concept.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Until we have begun to go without them, we fail to realize how unnecessary many things are. We've been using them not because we needed them but because we had them.

- Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Letters from a Stoic

Monday, October 28, 2013

What I've Been Reading

Rapt: Attention and Focused Life by Winifred Gallagher. If you are looking to improve your life or any aspect(s) of your life then just pick up this book and start reading - highly recommended.

What is attention?

What your experience largely depends on the material objects and mental subjects that you choose to pay attention to or ignore is not an imaginative notion, but a physiological fact. When you focus on a STOP sign or a sonnet, a waft of perfume or a stock-market tip, your brain registers that “target,” which enables it to affect your behavior. In contrast, the things that you don’t attend to in a sense don’t exist, at least for you. All day long, you are selectively paying attention to something, and much more often than you may suspect, you can take charge of this process to good effect. Indeed, your ability to focus on this and suppress that is the key to controlling your experience and, ultimately, your well-being.

Attention is commonly understood as “the concentration of the mental powers” or “the direction or application of the mind to any object of sense or thought.” Recently, however, a rare convergence of insights from both neuroscience and psychology suggests a paradigm shift in how to think about this cranial laser and its role in behavior: thoughts, feelings, and actions. Like fingers pointing to the moon, other diverse disciplines from anthropology to education, behavioral economics to family counseling, similarly suggest that the skillful management of attention is the sine qua non of the good life and the key to improving virtually every aspect of your experience, from mood to productivity to relationships. If you could look backward at your years thus far, you’d see that your life has been fashioned from what you’ve paid attention to and what you haven’t. You’d observe that of the myriad sights and sounds, thoughts and feelings that you could have focused on, you selected a relative few, which became what you’ve confidently called “reality.”

You’d also be struck by the fact that if you had paid attention to other things, your reality and your life would be very different. In short, live a focused life, because it’s the best kind there is.

Williams James states it perfectly in The Principles of Psychology:

Everyone knows what attention is. It is the taking possession of the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought. Focalisation, concentration, of consciousness are of its essence. It implies a withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others.

And according to William James wisdom was “the art of knowing what to overlook” and his concept of happiness is pretty simple - "I don’t sing because I’m happy. I’m happy because I sing.”

Michael Posner the designer of computerized Attention Network Test adds:

The tendency to focus on the seemingly minor delights of a good, crisp apple or your favorite song on the radio is an important element in the construction of an optimistic, upbeat personality and corresponds with a greater overall satisfaction with life. Conversely, a chronic inability to focus on small opportunities to cheer up and enjoy yourself correlates with depressionand its dour worldview.

University of Wisconsin neuroscientist Richard Davidson on meditation:

Most people could meditate daily, and the more you practice, the better you get. Our data directly correlate the number of hours spent with the magnitude of the changes in the brain signals.” When he tells the monks that William James observed that a person can’t focus steadily on an object for more than three or four seconds, “they just laugh,” says Davidson. “They can’t believe that someone I hold in such high regard would say something so stupid, so inconceivable. They think that controlling your attention is within the inherent capability of all human beings, and that it’s foolish not to develop that capacity.”

Dugu Choegyal Rinpoche, a teacher and artist who’s based in India and Nepal, is an expert in the Tibetan Buddhist way of paying attention to reality and her definition of attention:

“It means mindfulness— just the mind being simple. Whether in meditation or daily life, we try to pay attention to just being present, rather than being caught between hope and fear, which is the mind’s usual condition.”

What is beyond Meditation?

In the Buddhist scheme of things, of course, Amtrin’s life may be finished, but his mindful attention isn’t. By way of explaining reincarnation, the rinpoche says that mind’s basic nature is “a vibration or energy that over many lifetimes becomes stronger. The good things you learn stay and develop from life to life, giving you a head start. The more clarity you gain, the fewer negative emotions you will have next time.” On the long road to enlightenment, says the rinpoche, a person first meditates so that the mind can “get a glimpse of itself. Eventually, you take away the meditative state and free the mind even from that. Then mind can come back to its own nature of attention and awareness without contamination by concepts— even meditation.”

Few words of wisdom from Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi:

If you ask me while I’m playing tennis if I’m happy, I’ll say, ‘Heck! Wait a minute . . .’ Happiness is a later reflection of the flow, rather than the result of the experience at the time.
With some thought, effort, and attention, you can make even an apparently dreary job, such as assembling toasters or packaging tools, much more satisfying. “The trick, is to turn the work into a kind of game, in which you focus closely on each aspect”— screwing widget A to widget B or the positions of your tools and materials—“ and try to figure out how to make it better. That way, you turn a rote activity into an engaging one.”

Finally on ADHD:

Attention researchers tend to describe the dearth of basic knowledge about ADHD in terms like “astounding” and “appalling.” “You would not believe how little work of this kind has been done,” says the NIMH’s Leslie Ungerleider, “and most of that concerns the hyperactivity aspect of control. There’s almost nothing about how children filter distractions. Beginning with primates, we’ve developed good ways to test that, but none of them has ever been used for clinical assessment.”

Just as “epilepsy” turns out to be perhaps two hundred different seizure disorders, ADHD is an umbrella term for a variety of problems that have some symptoms in common. As they did for epilepsy, new tools such as fMRI are helping to identify certain broad categories of attention difficulties, which is the first step toward developing appropriate treatments for each— a big step up from the fever-aspirin approach.

Quote of the Day

Therefore I feel that the aforementioned guiding principle must be modified to read: If you desire peace, cultivate justice, but at the same time cultivate the fields to produce more bread; otherwise there will be no peace.

- Norman Borlaug, The Man Who Fed the World: Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Norman Borlaug and His Battle to End World Hunger

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Why We Should Think About the Threat of Artificial Intelligence

A dark new book by James Barrat, “Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era,” lays out a strong case for why we should be at least a little worried.

The British cyberneticist Kevin Warwick once asked, “How can you reason, how can you bargain, how can you understand how that machine is thinking when it’s thinking in dimensions you can’t conceive of?”
If there is a hole in Barrat’s dark argument, it is in his glib presumption that if a robot is smart enough to play chess, it might also “want to build a spaceship”—and that tendencies toward self-preservation and resource acquisition are inherent in any sufficiently complex, goal-driven system. For now, most of the machines that are good enough to play chess, like I.B.M.’s Deep Blue, haven’t shown the slightest interest in acquiring resources.

But before we get complacent and decide there is nothing to worry about after all, it is important to realize that the goals of machines could change as they get smarter. Once computers can effectively reprogram themselves, and successively improve themselves, leading to a so-called “technological singularity” or “intelligence explosion,” the risks of machines outwitting humans in battles for resources and self-preservation cannot simply be dismissed.

One of the most pointed quotes in Barrat’s book belongs to the legendary serial A.I. entrepreneur Danny Hillis, who likens the upcoming shift to one of the greatest transitions in the history of biological evolution: “We’re at that point analogous to when single-celled organisms were turning into multi-celled organisms. We are amoeba and we can’t figure out what the hell this thing is that we’re creating.”

- More Here

Why You Look Like Your Dog

Could there be something to the old adage that people resemble their pets? The phenomenon has been amply documented. Researchers around the world have repeatedly found that strangers can match photos of dogs with photos of their owners at a rate well above chance. Perhaps people are drawn to animals that look like them. In a study of female college students, those with longer hair judged flop-eared dogs—spaniels, beagles—to be more attractive, friendly, and intelligent than dogs with pointy ears; women with shorter hair concluded the opposite. And the apparent affinity between owners and pets is more than fur-deep: One analysis found self-described “dog people” to be less neurotic than “cat people,” who were more curious. Another study, which cross-referenced personality-test scores and breed preferences, noted that disagreeable people favored aggressive dogs.

While the Law of Attraction—like attracts like, or in this case, adopts like—might explain some of these similarities, there's reason to think pets also emulate their owners. A 2011 study found that dogs tasked with opening a door preferred whichever of two methods of door-opening they had just observed their owners use (head or hands/paws), even when offered a treat for the opposite choice. Researchers concluded that dogs possess an “automatic imitation” instinct that can override both natural behavior and self-interest. Dogs are also more susceptible to yawn contagion (an indicator of social attachment) when it’s their master, rather than a stranger, doing the yawning.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Mowing the lawn, I felt like I was battling the earth rather than working it; each week it sent forth a green army and each week I beat it back with my infernal machine. Unlike every other plant in my garden, the grasses were anonymous, massified, deprived of any change or development whatsoever, not to mention any semblance of self-determination. I ruled a totalitarian landscape. 
Hot monotonous hours behind the mower gave rise to existential speculations. I spent part of one afternoon trying to decide who, it the absurdist drama of lawn mowing, was Sisyphus. Me? The case could certainly be made. Or was it the grass, pushing up through the soil every week, one layer of cells at a time, only to be cut down and then, perversely, encouraged (with lime, fertilizer, etc.) to start the whole doomed process over again? Another day it occurred to me that time as we know it doesn't exist in the lawn, since grass never dies or is allowed to flower and set seed. Lawns are nature purged of sex or death. No wonder Americans like them so much.

- Michael Pollan, Second Nature: A Gardener's Education

Saturday, October 26, 2013

What Really Went Wrong with

In a world where IBM's Watson has already started looking like a relic, its unbelievable that there are still places where building a website is well... rocket science. David Auerbach's brilliant CSI  (here and here) on slate has lessons for any project team:

So we had (at least) two sets of contracted developers, apparently in isolation from each other, working on two pieces of a system that had to run together perfectly. Anyone in software engineering will tell you that cross-group coordination is one of the hardest things to get right, and also one of the most crucial, because while programmers are great at testing their own code, testing that their code works with everybody else’s code is much more difficult.

Look at it another way: Even if scale testing is done, that involves seeing what happens when a site is overrun. The poor, confusing error handling indicates that there was no ownership of the end-to-end experience—no one tasked with making sure everything worked together and at full capacity, not just in isolated tests. (I can’t even figure out who was supposed to own it.) No end-to-end ownership means that questions like “What is the user experience if the back-end gets overloaded or has such-and-such an error?” are never asked, because they cannot be answered by either group in isolation. Writing in Medium in defense of Development Seed, technologist and contractor CTO Adam Becker complains of “layers upon layers of contractors, a high ratio of project managers to programmers, and a severe lack of technical ownership.” Sounds right to me.

Let me explain how end-to-end testing works in integrating large systems owned by multiple vendors. Each vendor works out detailed specifications for how the systems should interact. These are made as clear as possible so that when something goes wrong—and it always does—you can point to the spec and say, “You weren’t supposed to do that and that’s why our component appeared to misbehave.” In order to meet the specs, each vendor simulates end-to-end testing by building a prototype of the larger system.

In the case of, QSSI should have had test scaffolding that could simulate the functionality of what CGI Federal was building, and vice versa. Each vendor needed to know the broad definition of what the other was building, and it was their responsibility to make sure they knew it. Campbell and Slavitt’s refusal to acknowledge this basic fact is both frightening and mortifying, and accounts for their inability to give any clear answers as to exactly which portions of the system are failing. They don’t seem to understand the difference between acceptable and unacceptable bugs, and worse, they don’t seem to know that there is a difference.

Campbell said, “We were quite optimistic that our portion of the system would work when the system went live.” That is either a lie or a revelation of ghastly incompetence, because no competent programmer or manager would ever display a shred of optimism until full end-to-end testing had been done. To say that “our portion of the system would work” is akin to saying that you know a computer will work before you’ve hooked a monitor up to it, just because it turns on. There’s no half-credit in these cases.

Wisdom Of The Week

Over the years, I have learned that sometimes it's better to re-read good books than read any new ones. Albert O. Hrischman's biography Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman is the best book I read this year but yet my memory already failed to retain some important lessons.
Here is distilled version of his "Hiding Hand" principle from the latest review of his biography:

Hirschman’s seminal ideas, such as the principle of the “Hiding Hand,” began to emerge through these global encounters. It is initially difficult to distinguish his idea from Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand” or from Hayek’s concept of the “unintended consequences of social action.” Undoubtedly, Hirschman felt affinities to both. Yet what preoccupied him were not “unintended but realized effects.” Rather, as Amartya Sen explained in his foreword to the twentieth anniversary edition of Hirschman’s 1977 book The Passions and the Interests, Hirschman focused on the importance of “intended but unrealized effects.” Reflecting on development projects ranging from a pulp and paper mill in Pakistan to an irrigation scheme in Peru, Hirschman observed that in all these cases “if project planners had known in advance all the difficulties and troubles that were lying in store for the project, they probably would have never touched it.” Ironically, however, “the difficulties and the ensuing search for solutions set in motion a train of events that not only rescued the project, but often made it particularly valuable.” He concluded that we may be dealing here with a general principle of human action and psychology, which he called “the Hiding Hand”—that is, often the only way to bring our full creative and problem-solving capacities into play is to underestimate the daunting difficulties that await us. Particularly, in the case of development, but maybe for social movements in general, “[t]he Hiding Hand is essentially a way of inducing action through error,” and such error can be encountered only when one has had the courage to undertake one’s projects and goals.

I think, the hiding hand principle applies to all aspects of our working as well as personal life. Hirshman's analysis not only agrees with Robert Trivers's theory of The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life but also somewhat converges with Taleb's Anti-Fragility.

Quote of the Day

It was one of those sumptuous days when the world is full of autumn muskiness and tangy, crisp perfection: vivid blue sky, deep green fields, leaves in a thousand luminous hues. It is a truly astounding sight when every tree in a landscape becomes individual, when each winding back highway and plump hillside is suddenly and infinitely splashed with every sharp shade that nature can bestow - flaming scarlet, lustrous gold, throbbing vermilion, fiery orange.

- Bill Bryson, I'm a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After 20 Years Away

Friday, October 25, 2013

Paul Allen - Teaching Next Generation of Artificial Intelligence

It's a hard problem, but it's one Allen is eager to solve. After years of pondering these ideas abstractly, he's throwing his fortune into a new venture targeted entirely at solving the problems of machine intelligence, dubbed the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence or AI2 for short. It’s ambitious, like Allen's earlier projects on space flight and brain-mapping, but the initial goal is deceptively simple. Led by University of Washington professor Oren Etzioni, AI2 wants to build a computer than can pass a high school biology course. The team feeds in a textbook and gives the computer a test. So far, it's failing those tests… but it's getting a little better each time.

The key problem is knowledge representation: how to represent all the knowledge in the textbook in a way that allows the program to reason and apply that knowledge in other areas. Having the computer study biology is a way of laying the groundwork for new kinds of learning and reasoning. "How do you build a representation of knowledge that does this?" Etzioni asks. "How do you understand more and more sophisticated language that describes more and more sophisticated things? Can we generalize from biology to chemistry to mathematics?"

That also means getting a grip on the complexity of language itself. Most language doesn't offer discrete pieces of information for computers to piece through; it's full of ambiguity and implied logic. Instead of simple text commands, Etzioni envisions a world where you can ask Siri something like, "Can I carry that TV home, or should I call a cab?" That means a weight calculation, sure — but it also means calculating distance and using spatial reasoning to approximate bulkiness. Siri would have to proactively ask whether the television can fit in the trunk of a cab. Siri would have to know "that TV" refers to the television you were just looking at online, and that "carry it back" means a walking trip from the affiliated store to your home. Even worse, Siri would have to know that "can I" refers to a question of advisability, and not whether the trip is illegal or physically impossible.

- More Here

Seven Lessons from Brain Picking

Happy birthday to Brain Picking, a blog by Maria Popova. Over the years she has become one my favorite writers (yes writer) and here are the seven lessons she learned from the past seven years:

  • Allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind - It’s enormously disorienting to simply say, “I don’t know.” But it’s infinitely more rewarding to understand than to be right — even if that means changing your mind about a topic, an ideology, or, above all, yourself.
  • Do nothing for prestige or status or money or approval alone - Those extrinsic motivators are fine and can feel life-affirming in the moment, but they ultimately don’t make it thrilling to get up in the morning and gratifying to go to sleep at night 
  • Be generous - To understand and be understood, those are among life’s greatest gifts, and every interaction is an opportunity to exchange them.
  • Build pockets of stillness into your life  - Meditate. Go for walks. Ride your bike going nowhere in particular. 
  • When people tell you who they are, Maya Angelou famously advised, believe them. Just as importantly, however, when people try to tell you who you are, don’t believe them. 
  • Presence is far more intricate and rewarding an art than productivity - for, as Annie Dillard memorably put it, “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
  • Expect anything worthwhile to take a long time - This is borrowed from the wise and wonderful Debbie Millman, for it’s hard to better capture something so fundamental yet so impatiently overlooked in our culture of immediacy.

Quote of the Day

In our pursuit of romance and long-term partnership we humans tend to avoid unfamiliar complications. We often celebrate our commonalities and avoid the complications that come from dwelling on our differences. This is one place machine intelligence can help. Machines have no fear of the unfamiliar.

Tyler Cowen, Average Is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Gravity-Defying Goats

Using moves that would make any rock climber jealous, these death-defying goats expertly make their way up an almost vertical dam. Photographer Paolo Seimandi, 34, captured the amusing moment the herd of alpine ibexes decided to scale the brick wall in the Gran Paradiso National Park in Northern Italy. And they aren't doing it just to show off - it is thought the goats are actually grazing, licking the stones for their salts and minerals.

- More Here

What Facts About the United States Do Foreigners Not Believe Until They Come To America?

Yet another excellent and funny thread here:
  • The return policy on almost everything
  • Soda being cheaper than bottled water and unlimited soda refills
  • Fruit and vegetable prices, as compared to fast food prices
  • Serving sizes
  • US Flag displayed everywhere
  • Credit Score WTF
  • You really need a health insurance
  • Not every city has skyscrapers like New York City or Chicago
  • Guns
  • Everyone is friendly
My favorites - I was oblivious to these facts until I moved to US:
  • The U.S. preserves its nature: Please don't assume people here are born "eco-friendly" and have an overflowing biophia  - they don't. A handful of people made this happen decades ago through sheer perseverance against the insane politics and that hedonic call for perpetual economic growth. We all are indebted to these nobel souls. Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns in their book The National Parks: America's Best Idea brilliantly capture the history behind what we admire today. 
  • There is a lot of poverty in the US: Even lot of Americans are unaware of this. Charles Murray in his book Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 offers some great insights into the American poverty and of-course that little gal "hush-puppy" in Beasts of the Southern Wild living in an Sub-Saharan American is good "visual" of the poverty here.

Quote of the Day

To change one’s life:
  • Start immediately.
  • Do it flamboyantly.
  • No exceptions.
- William James

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Shake - Dogs Shaking Off Water n More

Carli Davidson’s new book, Shake catches dogs in the act of shaking off water and slobber and is the continuation of a project that started with a handful of photos that went viral back 2011.

Davidson originally got the idea for Shake from her own dog, a mastiff that was constantly flinging his saliva all over the house. “I was always cleaning drool of the walls, my furniture and just about everything,” she says.

After getting a set of high-speed strobes that synched at up to 1/13,000th of a second, trying to freeze the flying drool seemed liked a good way to break in her new gear. Her dog, which she says can be quite sensitive, was too shy to pose in her studio so she had a friend bring in another mastiff as a kind of body-double. After shooting she looked at the images and immediately knew she was onto something.

- More Here

Billion-Dollar Fish

Enlightening interview with Kevin M. Bailey, author of the new book Billion-Dollar Fish: The Untold Story of Alaska Pollock:

We Should Stop "Engineering" Nature:

Ocean communities are complex. The fates of species are braided with feedback systems, complicated interactions, and co-dependencies. We don’t understand much about marine fishes because our ability to observe what really goes on in the ocean is limited, and because the lives of fishes are so foreign to our own existence. An incomplete understanding is not a good foundation for engineering solutions. 

Salmon hatcheries on the West Coast proliferated. The fish releases are one of the major causes of declines in native salmon runs. Often engineering is not the solution, it becomes the problem.

In 1976, the North Pacific Management Council was empowered to put a 2-million ton annual cap on removals of all groundfish from the eastern Bering Sea. This rule put management of the pollock fishery in the context of the ecosystem. Now there is a movement to remove this limit. Without the cap on the total removal of groundfish, harvests from the Bering Sea could likely be doubled by fishing each species to its sustainable limit, worth another billion dollars to the industry. The refrain of “more jobs and more fish for a hungry world” plays like a broken record. This action would profit a few companies in the short term. In the long term it would be unwise and pose an unacceptable risk to the Bering Sea ecosystem and the public resource.

Have We Reached a Stage at Which Technology is Destroying More Jobs Than It's Creating?

For a long time, “because the American people were the most educated in the world, they were in the best position to invent, be entrepreneurial, and produce goods and services using advanced technologies,” Harvard professors Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz assert in their 2008 book, The Race Between Education and Technology. For those born from the 1870s until about 1950, the authors found, every decade witnessed an uptick of about 0.8 years of education. In other words, “during that 80-year period the vast majority of parents had children whose educational attainment greatly exceeded theirs.” But then something happened: “Educational change between the generations … came to an abrupt standstill.”

The timing couldn’t have been worse. To perform practically any function in the Skechers warehouse, “you need to use a computer,” Benzeevi says. “It takes new skills.” Yet relatively few people have them. Even fewer are prepared for the kinds of jobs that may come next.

In the future, “it is a safe bet that the human labor market will center on three kinds of work,” Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Frank Levy and Harvard’s Richard Murnane write in “Dancing with Robots,” a report issued in June by the Washington-based think tank Third Way. The first is solving unstructured problems. The second is acquiring, making sense of, and communicating new information. Computers aren’t good at either of these tasks. The third is non-routine manual labor (like schlepping furniture), which also can’t be tackled by a computer.

The first two will undoubtedly pay well. The third will not. “In this context,” Levy and Murnane conclude, “the nation’s challenge is to sharply increase the fraction of American children with the foundational skills needed to develop job-relevant knowledge and to learn efficiently over a lifetime.” As daunting as all of this is, it isn’t what concerns some the most.

- More Here

The Credibility Paradox: Violence as a Double-Edged Sword inInternational Politics

Excellent paper on the futility of violence and terrorism; abstract and full paper here:

Implicit in the rationalist literature on bargaining over the last half-century is the political utility of violence. Given our anarchical international system populated with egoistic actors, violence is thought to promote concessions by lending credibility to their threats. From the vantage of bargaining theory, then, empirical research on terrorism poses a puzzle. For nonstate actors, terrorism signals a credible threat in comparison with less extreme tactical alternatives. In recent  years, however, a spate of studies across disciplines and methodologies has nonetheless found that neither escalating toterrorism nor with terrorism encourages government concessions. In fact, perpetrating terrorist acts reportedly lowers the likelihood of government compliance, particularly as the civilian casualties rise. The apparent tendency for this extreme form of violence to impede concessions challenges the external validity of bargaining theory, as traditionally understood. In this study, I propose and test an important psychological refinement to the standard rationalist narrative. Via an exper-iment on a national sample of adults, I find evidence of a newfound cognitive heuristic undermining the coercive logic of escalation enshrined in bargaining theory. Due to this oversight, mainstream bargaining theory overestimates the political utility of violence, particularly as an instrument of coercion.

Quote of the Day

Anger is not the opposite of love, for the opposite of love is indifference. To be angry is to care tremendously. It is a signal that your caring extends beyond polite conversation, and that you are willing to risk a confrontation to share how you feel.

- Doris Moreland Jones, God's Gift of Anger

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Can Ants Sense Death?

Actually, this was tested very elegantly by E.O. Wilson, the world's leading ant expert.

When an ant dies, the other ants don't notice. At all. They walk around it as if it wasn't there, or was just an ant standing still. Three days later, they notice. If the ant is in the nest, another ant will pick up the corpse and toss it in the midden— the outdoor garbage dump / graveyard of the ant colony. Why three days? It takes that long for the ant to start decaying to the point where it releases oleic acid. This is the smell of rotten ant, and therefore ant death: until the ant reeks of it, no other ant will notice it has died.

Likewise, if something reeks of oleic acid, it is assumed to be a dead ant even if it isn't! E.O.Wilson tested pieces of paper with oleic acid first, and they were disposed of. Then he tried taking live ants and coating them with oleic acid. As soon as they were in the nest, another ant would pick up the stinky one and throw it in the midden! The smelly ant didn't resist, but would pick itself up and clean itself off before returning to the nest… and if it didn't do a thorough enough job, it would get thrown out in the trash again!

- More Here

Digital Activism Research Project

Few of years ago during the Arab Spring, Malcolm Gladwell rightly observed that the revolution will not be tweeted:

The platforms of social media are built around weak ties. Twitter is a way of following (or being followed by) people you may never have met. Facebook is a tool for efficiently managing your acquaintances, for keeping up with the people you would not otherwise be able to stay in touch with. That’s why you can have a thousand “friends” on Facebook, as you never could in real life.

This is in many ways a wonderful thing. There is strength in weak ties, as the sociologist Mark Granovetter has observed. Our acquaintances—not our friends—are our greatest source of new ideas and information. The Internet lets us exploit the power of these kinds of distant connections with marvellous efficiency. It’s terrific at the diffusion of innovation, interdisciplinary collaboration, seamlessly matching up buyers and sellers, and the logistical functions of the dating world. But weak ties seldom lead to high-risk activism.

Now Digital Activism Research Project has some great insights:
  • Digital activism has a demonstrated, positive impact, especially when civil society groups use digital tools and focus on the goal of changing government policy. If they have this objective, they can succeed with only modest street protests and a few digital tools. And this seems to be true regardless of regime type. By contrast, if groups are not united on which policy they want to change, success is more elusive.
  • In our research, we found no clear associations between particular tools and specific campaign outcomes. Although Facebook and Twitter often dominate across movements, most groups use a mix of platforms rather than relying on just one.
  • We also found that digital activism is an overwhelmingly non-violent undertaking. There were only rare cases when mobilizing groups used digital tools to encourage violence against their opponents. Moreover, hacking and other forms of “technical violence” are rare. 
  • Digital activism campaigns are most successful at drawing public demonstrations of protest when the government is the target. In addition, they are most successful when the regime is more authoritarian or when the campaign has employed multiple digital tools. Together, these two “recipes” cover 40 percent of our cases with a high degree of consistency.
Methodology used in this project:
We used the tool of “fuzzy-set logic” statistical modeling – basically, an approach that measures cases according to their degree of membership (usually set between 0.0 and 1.0) in qualitative categories. For example, rather than say a policy goal is achieved (1.0) or not achieved (0.0), we can assign varying degrees of success, say, 0.50 or 0.75. The benefit of this technique is that it can set aside irrelevant variation on either far end of the scale, and it helps us use variables that are “nearly necessary” or “nearly sufficient” and still teach us about the causes and consequences of digital activism. 

This way, we could look for plausible patterns of shared causal conditions and diverse outcomes by reducing the important features of hundreds of cases to a few variables. And to identify the key factors behind the success of digital activism, we also had to study the failures. Perhaps most important, this technique was useful because it was grounded in the observed, real-world experience of hundreds of digital activism campaigns.

Quote of the Day

The key to stupidity isn’t that you make a mistake, it’s that you persist with the mistake, double down and pour in more resources, silence people who warn you about the mistake, etc. Smart people make mistakes, but recover from them.<br>

- Alex Harrowell reviews Merrill R. Chapman;s book In Search of Stupidity: Over Twenty Years of High Tech Marketing Disasters

Monday, October 21, 2013

Gray's Anatomy - Thoughts on Politics, Religion and the Meaning of Life

John Gray's brilliant lessons from his book Gray's Anatomy: Selected Writings

Long after the traces of the human animal have disappeared, many of the species it is bent on destroying will still be around, along with others that have yet to spring up.
The Earth will forget mankind. The play of life will go on.

Quote of the Day

I believe that the best way to create good living conditions for any animal, whether it's a captive animal living in a zoo, a farm animal or a pet, is to base animal welfare programs on the core emotion systems in the brain. My theory is that the environment animals live in should activate their positive emotions as much as possible, and not activate their negative emotions any more than necessary. If we get the animal's emotions rights, we will have fewer problem behaviors... All animals and people have the same core emotion systems in the brain.

-Temple Grandin, Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animal

Sunday, October 20, 2013

A Dozen Things I’ve Learned from Nassim Taleb about Optionality/Investing

#3. “If you ‘have optionality,’ you don’t have much need for what is commonly called intelligence, knowledge, insight, skills, and these complicated things that take place in our brain cells. For you don’t have to be right that often. All you need is the wisdom to not do unintelligent things to hurt yourself (some acts of omission) and recognize favorable outcomes when they occur. (The key is that your assessment doesn’t need to be made beforehand, only after the outcome.)” 
Being able to make decisions which do not require correctly forecasting the future is a wonderful thing.  Not one of the great value investors identified in the series of posts in this blog relies on macro forecasts of the future.  Instead, value investors use the optionality of cash to buy after the outcome exists (i.e., a significant drop in intrinsic value). Regarding venture capital, Warren Buffett believes:  “If significant risk exists in a single transaction, overall risk should be reduced by making that purchase one of many mutually- independent commitments.  Thus, you may consciously purchase a risky investment – one that indeed has a significant possibility of causing loss or injury – if you believe that your gain, weighted  for probabilities, considerably exceeds your loss, comparably weighted, and if you can commit to a number of similar, but  unrelated opportunities.  Most venture capitalists employ this strategy.”

#4. “Optionality can be found everywhere if you know how to look.” 

Living in a city, going to parties, taking classes, acquiring entrepreneurial skills, having cash in your bank account, avoiding debt are all examples of activities which increase optionality.  As another example, a venture capitalist who invests in a team which (1) is strong technically, (2) has sound business judgment and (3) addresses a huge market opportunity has acquired optionality since the company can often find success with an offering the founders did not conceive from the beginning, but rather found as they went along.

- More Here

What Fact Do You Accept Intellectually, But Still Feels "Wrong" To You?

Excellent reddit thread; read the whole thing - it's very very very interesting:
  • Placebo effect
  • Dinosaurs
  • 86% of species on Earth are still unknown
  • Pretty much everything about quantum physics
  • How computers work. How can 1's and 0's translate into a fucking website I have no idea
  • Pineapples should grow on trees. It upsets me when I see this bullshit
  • That people can think in languages other than my native one
  • That if you don't have a kid, you're the first one since your ancestral line started to not reproduce
My favorite one :

That I'm going to die one day. Eventually... my body will just stop working and there is nothing I can do about it - 

"That gets to me all the time. The thing that gets to me the most is not necessarily death but the feeling that my existence is pointless. I walk into a graveyard and see masses of graves with names of people I do not know. A "Margaret Smith" or "James Baker" from the 1800s was a person just like me. With their own thoughts, ideas, interests, and passions. At the end of the day, that is all I will be. A grave with a name and forever forgotten. Sure my immediate family will miss me, but what about my great great family? I will be just a whisper upon their lips as they learn family history. Forever forgotten and pointless."

Quote of the Day

It is astounding to me, and achingly sad, that with eighty thousand people on the waiting list for donated hearts and livers and kidneys, with sixteen a day dying there on that list, that more then half of the people in the position H's family was in will say no, will choose to burn those organs or let them rot. We abide the surgeon's scalpel to save our own lives, out loved ones' lives, but not to save a stranger's life. H has no heart, but heartless is the last thing you'd call her.

- Mary Roach, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Wisdom Of The Week

Michael Hainey's new book After Visiting Friends: A Son's Story is about his quest to find the secret behind his father's puzzling and unexpected death at age 35. I haven't read this book yet but some great insights....
  • If your mother says she loves you, check it out.
  • It is the dead, not the living, who make the longest demands.
  • The past gives you no justice. Sentences are passed. But that doesn't mean you get justice. You can stand there forever and rail and say, 'Someone has to pay. I want what was taken from me.' But you're just going to get silence coming back at you. The past doesn't pay. We pay. And we're all free to decide when we've had enough.
  • Fear is the trick of the enemy. And your enemy comes in many robes. But he has only one face. You know his face. You've seen it many times. You need not fear it. In your heart, you know you will triumph and you will defeat your enemy with the one weapon that you have inside you that he cannot touch--truth.
  • Life, I learned then, belongs not to the just but to those who do whatever they must do in order to maintain their vision of reality.
  • I learned early that sometimes you have to dig through garbage to get anywhere.
  • How his death hung over that house. It’s part of what I know to be true—your absence is greater than your presence.
  • The dead man. I envy him. I want his power. The power, years later, that you have over someone. Still. Your absence is greater than your presence. Presence is fleeting. Presence is easy. But absence? That's eternal.

Quote of the Day

Are we not witnessing a strange tableau of survival whenever a bird alights on the head of a crocodile, bringing together the evolutionary offspring of Triassic and Jurassic?

- Annalee Newitz, Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction

Friday, October 18, 2013

Cognitive Systems Era - IBM

IBM Research is working on "interlayer cooling," in which <a href='/topic.cfm?id=water' >water</a> is pumped through tiny tubes penetrating chips are piggypacked using high-speed communication technology called through-silicon vias. IBM's approach is designed to deal with overheating problems that otherwise severely limit chip stacking. The protruding pipe fittings are for connecting water-cooling tubes.

IBM Research is working on "interlayer cooling," in which water is pumped through tiny tubes penetrating chips are piggypacked using high-speed communication technology called through-silicon vias. IBM's approach is designed to deal with overheating problems that otherwise severely limit chip stacking. The protruding pipe fittings are for connecting water-cooling tubes.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

One of them confessed to Paul that his tribe had heard stories about the fiercely cannibalistic ways of white men. Paul's first instinct was to laugh him off as a simpleminded fool. But the legend hadn't been conjured from thin air. When Paul tried to assure him that white men didn't eat black men, the man confronted him with a direct challenge: explain why they bought and sold Africans as if they were cattle, not human beings.
"Why do you come from nobody knows where, and carry off our men, and women, and children?" the man asked Paul. "Do you not fatten them in your far country and eat them?

- Monte Reel, Between Man and Beast: An Unlikely Explorer, the Evolution Debates, and the African Adventure That Took the Victorian World by Storm

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Degrading of Living Creatures...

Pro-Life, Pro-Animal-The conscience of a pro-life, vegan conservative by Matthew Scully is the best essay I have read this year on animal rights - it's heart breaking to read but I urge you to read the whole thing:

It gets us nowhere to diminish animal welfare as a moral concern by changing the subject to instances of great human affliction, as if we cannot be expected to care about both, or as if those very afflictions are a constant preoccupation in our daily lives. Such answers are the first reflex of many people, amounting to the non sequitur “There is human suffering, therefore animal suffering is beneath my attention.” Or, less loftily, “I have better things to think about.” It reminds me of the pro-abortion line that if pro-lifers really care about children so much, why don’t we focus instead on broader social priorities like more funding for federal preschool and nutrition programs to serve our nation’s precious children after birth? High-sounding arguments don’t come easy when you’re defending either abortion or cruelty, and the problem in the latter case is that the animal suffering in question is usually at human hands, caused or relieved by us individually or through public policy. Compassion for animals doesn’t drain away some finite reserve of moral energy and idealism, to the detriment of human welfare, but surely adds to the supply. In any case it usually consists in simply not doing bad things to them, and in preventing wrongdoing by others. Cruelty issues like factory farming present specific moral choices. If we’re making the wrong ones, then to shift attention to other woes in the world is just as idle and evasive as when the abortion lobby tries it.

“Unnatural,” in the treatment of animals, is practically a synonym for “cruel”: Wrong is anything that frustrates or perverts the essential nature of an animal, such as the projects of genetic engineers to make animals more compliant in the stress and misery of modern farming; right is conduct that respects the natures of animals, with a regard for their needs and inherent worth as living creatures, and allows for their expression. (A little more poetically: “All creatures sing their Creator’s praises, and are dear to Him for their own sakes.”) Cruelty in this way is not only a denial of the animal’s nature but a betrayal of our own, and, whatever our creed or philosophy, there is a simple route to the heart of the matter: Integrity, honor, humility, righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, charity — take each of these, or any other virtue we might aspire to, and try to square it with the abuse of an animal.

Data - A Love Story

Amy Web is the author of Data, A Love Story: How I Gamed Dating to Meet My Match; here are some excerpts:

I sat back in my chair. I was no longer angry at Jay and lamenting my decision to go out with him. No, at this point I felt empowered, and proud of myself for being honest enough to develop such an impressive list of 72 data points. This Mary Poppins Husband List was exactly who I needed to make me happy. He was right there, detailed in black ink. None of the men JDate, Match, or eHarmony had introduced me to resembled anything like the man I’d just created with this list.
I lit another cigarette, celebrating my accomplishment. Then it dawned on me that I’d inadvertently created a small problem. What was I supposed to do with three pages of hand-scrawled notes? I needed to make sense of what I’d written. Reviewing my list, I noticed some duplication, so I’d need to fix some of what was there. I couldn’t really use the list as it was—I needed to codify the traits and characteristics.

In order to use it to judge future potential dates, I needed to prioritize the various data points. Was every one of the 72 traits I’d listed a deal breaker? Honestly, I could live without a husband as devoted to George Michael as I am. And it was probably OK if he wasn’t a classic-movie fanatic.

Quote of the Day

Because you actually might not know what activities truly engage your attention and satisfy you, he says, it can be helpful to keep a diary of what you do all day and how you feel while doing it. Then, try to do more of what's rewarding, even if it takes an effort, and less of what isn't. Where optimal experience is concerned, he says, "'I just don't have the time' often means 'I just don't have the self-discipline.

- Winifred Gallagher, Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Ghost Elephants

If you're going to crouch all night in a sunken metal freight container, you'd want a good payoff. And so there was, for South African photographer Greg du Toit. Just after dawn, a herd of elephants arrived at the watering hole in front of his hideout at the Northern Tuli Game Reserve in Botswana, allowing him to snap the mysterious shot that has won him the title of Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013.

- More Here

Your Car Is About To Go Open Source

Automakers are working to standardize on a Linux-based operating system for in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) systems that would make it easier for cars to act more like smartphones. An IVI is the "black box" that powers a car's audio and entertainment systems, as well as hands-free phone service and satellite navigation systems. Most IVIs today have touchscreens and can be voice-activated, but many car buyers pass up those options.

"Today, automakers are having a hard time getting their customers to buy informatics systems because they only can do 10% of what a mobile phone can do," said Rudi Streif, who leads the Automotive Grade Linux workgroup for the Linux Foundation.

The main reason for the limited functionality of most IVIs is that car manufacturers use proprietary software developed by third-party suppliers to power their infotainment systems, meaning car-based apps are also proprietary.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

I read my eyes out and can't read half enough...the more one reads the more one sees we have to read.

- John Adams

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

What I've Been Reading

Enchiridion by Epictetus - yes, that regular dose of stoicism again...
  • If then you attempt to avoid only the things contrary to nature which are within your power, you will not be involved in any of the things which you would avoid. But if you attempt to avoid disease or death or poverty, you will be unhappy. Take away then aversion from all things which are not in our power, and transfer it to the things contrary to nature which are in our power.
  • Seek not that the things which happen should happen as you wish; but wish the things which happen to be as they are, and you will have a tranquil flow of life.
  • On the occasion of every accident (event) that befalls you, remember to turn to yourself and inquire what power you have for turning it to use.
  • Whoever then wishes to be free, let him neither wish for anything nor avoid anything which depends on others: if he does not observe this rule, he must be a slave.
  • Remember that in life you ought to behave as at a banquet. Suppose that something is carried round and is opposite to you. Stretch out your hand and take a portion with decency. Suppose that it passes by you. Do not detain it. Suppose that it is not yet come to you. Do not send your desire forward to it, but wait till it is opposite to you.
  • Remember that it is not he who reviles you or strikes you, who insults you, but it is your opinion about these things as being insulting. When then a man irritates you, you must know that it is your own opinion which has irritated you. Therefore especially try not to be carried away by the appearance. For if you once gain time and delay, you will more easily master yourself.
  • If you desire philosophy, prepare yourself from the beginning to be ridiculed, to expect that many will sneer at you, and say, He has all at once returned to us as a philosopher; and whence does he get this supercilious look for us? Do you not show a supercilious look; but hold on to the things which seem to you best as one appointed by God to this station. And remember that if you abide in the same principles, these men who first ridiculed will afterward admire you: but if you shall have been overpowered by them, you will bring on yourself double ridicule.
  • If a man has reported to you, that a certain person speaks ill of you, do not make any defense (answer) to what has been told you: but reply, The man did not know the rest of my faults, for he would not have mentioned these only.
  • It is a dangerous habit also to approach obscene talk. When then anything of this kind happens, if there is a good opportunity, rebuke the man who has proceeded to this talk: but if there is not an opportunity, by your silence at least, and blushing and expression of dissatisfaction by your countenance, show plainly that you are displeased at such talk.
  • These reasonings do not cohere: I am richer than you, therefore I am better than you; I am more eloquent than you, therefore I am better than you. On the contrary these rather cohere, I am richer than you, therefore my possessions are greater than yours: I am more eloquent than you, therefore my speech is superior to yours. But you are neither possession nor speech.
  • Accordingly if any conversation should arise among uninstructed persons about any theorem, generally be silent; for there is great danger that you will immediately vomit up what you have not digested. And when a man shall say to you, that you know nothing, and you are not vexed, then be sure that you have begun the work (of philosophy). For even sheep do not vomit up their grass and show to the shepherds how much they have eaten; but when they have internally digested the pasture, they produce externally wool and milk. Do you also show not your theorems to the uninstructed, but show the acts which come from their digestion.
  • It is better to do wrong seldom and to own it, and to act right for the most part, than seldom to admit that you have done wrong and to do wrong often.
  • As it is better to lie compressed in a narrow bed and be healthy than to be tossed with disease on a broad couch, so also it is better to contract yourself within a small competence and to be happy than to have a great fortune and to be wretched.
  • In banquets remember that you entertain two guests, body and soul: and whatever you shall have given to the body you soon eject: but what you shall have given to the soul, you keep always.
  • If you seek truth, you will not seek by every means to gain a victory; and if you have found truth, you will have the gain of not being defeated.
  • If you wish your house to be well managed, imitate the Spartan Lycurgus. For as he did not fence his city with walls, but fortified the inhabitants by virtue and preserved the city always free; 35 so do you not cast around (your house) a large court and raise high towers, but strengthen the dwellers by good-will and fidelity and friendship, and then nothing harmful will enter it, not even if the whole band of wickedness shall array itself against it.
  • Nothing is smaller (meaner) than love of pleasure, and love of gain and pride. Nothing is superior to magnanimity, and gentleness, and love of mankind, and beneficence.
  • When a young man was boasting in the theater and saying, I am wise, for I have conversed with many wise men; Epictetus said, I also have conversed with many rich men, but I am not rich.
  • Epictetus being asked how a man should give pain to his enemy answered, By preparing himself to live the best life that he can.

Quote of the Day

The Greeks were so committed to ideas as supernatural forces that they created an entire group of goddesses (not one but nine) to represent creative power; the opening lines of both The Iliad and The Odyssey begin with calls to them. These nine goddesses, or muses, were the recipients of prayers from writers, engineers, and musicians. Even the great minds of the time, like Socrates and Plato, built shrines and visited temples dedicated to their particular muse (or muses, for those who hedged their bets). Right now, under our very secular noses, we honor these beliefs in our language, as the etymology of words like museum ("place of the muses") and music ("art of the muses") come from the Greek heritage of ideas as superhuman forces.

- Scott Berkun, The Myths of Innovation

Monday, October 14, 2013

Get Smarter - 5 Ways to Maximize Your Cognitive Potential

There are absolutely oodles of terrible things written and promoted on how to "train your brain" to "get smarter". When I speak of "brain training games", I'm referring to the memorization and fluency-type games, intended to increase your speed of processing, etc, such as Sudoku, that they tell you to do in your "idle time" (complete oxymoron, regarding increasing cognition). I'm going to shatter some of that stuff you've previously heard about brain training games. Here goes: They don't work. Individual brain training games don't make you smarter-they make you more proficient at the brain training games.

Now, they do serve a purpose, but it is short-lived. The key to getting something out of those types of cognitive activities sort of relates to the first principle of seeking novelty. Once you master one of those cognitive activities in the brain-training game, you need to move on to the next challenging activity. Figure out how to play Sudoku? Great! Now move along to the next type of challenging game. There is research that supports this logic.

A few years ago, scientist Richard Haier wanted to see if you could increase your cognitive ability by intensely training on novel mental activities for a period of several weeks. They used the video game Tetris as the novel activity, and used people who had never played the game before as subjects (I know-can you believe they exist?!). What they found, was that after training for several weeks on the game Tetris, the subjects experienced an increase in cortical thickness, as well as an increase in cortical activity, as evidenced by the increase in how much glucose was used in that area of the brain. Basically, the brain used more energy during those training times, and bulked up in thickness-which means more neural connections, or new learned expertise-after this intense training. And they became experts at Tetris. Cool, right?

Here's the thing: After that initial explosion of cognitive growth, they noticed a decline in both cortical thickness, as well as the amount of glucose used during that task. However, they remained just as good at Tetris; their skill did not decrease. The brain scans showed less brain activity during the game-playing, instead of more, as in the previous days. Why the drop? Their brains got more efficient. Once their brain figured out how to play Tetris, and got really good at it, it got lazy. It didn't need to work as hard in order to play the game well, so the cognitive energy and the glucose went somewhere else instead.

The five primary principles are:
  • Seek Novelty
  • Challenge Yourself
  • Think Creatively
  • Do Things The Hard Way
  • Network - By networking with other people—either through social media such as Facebook or Twitter, or in face-to-face interactions—you are exposing yourself to the kinds of situations that are going to make objectives 1-4 much easier to achieve. By exposing yourself to new people, ideas, and environments, you are opening yourself up to new opportunities for cognitive growth.
- via Kottke

Quote of the Day

Whenever serious and competent people need to get things done in the real world, all considerations of tradition and protocol fly out the window.

- Neal Stephenson, Quicksilver

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Embarrassment of Complexity

Roger Martin recently diagnosed a kind of complexity that is manufactured by us and largely unaddressed: inter-domain complexity. It comes about as fields of knowledge are segmented into multiple domains, and each domain develops deep algorithmic knowledge and specialized tools that work by ignoring many of the variables actually in play. Martin notes that the difficulty of reintegrating such simplified and divided disciplines is what gives us the feeling, when we look at any large, adaptive system, of being overwhelmed by massive, un-addressable complexity.

If inter-domain complexity exists, the biggest problem it poses stems from our lack of ability to connect the real detail complexity that underlies everything, across domains. While we can never hope to obtain, to quote Murray Gell-Mann (one of the great complexity thinkers of our time), more than “a crude look at the whole,” we can work to improve one of the crucial preconditions to tackle inter-domain complexity. This is our ability for integrative thinking.

So how do we move beyond this embarrassment?

We should begin by recognizing something that has made our embarrassment much more acute in the past decade. We have come to rely much – too much? – on instruments and tools that a dynamic information and communication technology sector, drawing on all the research that preceded and accompanies it, has bestowed on us. Computers and the modeling that can now be done through them have become indispensable for the financial sector and the real economy; for the military; for moving people, goods, and ideas across the globe. They permit us to collect, process, store, and transform the new precious raw material of our age: information.

But there is an indisputable downside to this growing digital reliance: the lower priority placed on training, cultivating, and rewarding independent human judgment – which we must retain if we hope to master the tools we have created instead of being mastered by them.

- More Here

This reminds me of two things:
  • First, one my favorite E.O Wilson's book Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge in which he made strong case for integrative thinking over a decade ago. 
  • Second one is Captain Kirk of Star Trek; everyone on the enterprise was a genius except the Captain Kirk. But yet he was the captain because he had this gift of integrative thinking which was much better than the machines and other geniuses on board.

Quote of the Day

As companies grow from a few employees to hundreds and thousands, the challenge of getting all employees to agree on what needs to be done, and how it should be done so that the right jobs are done repeatedly and consistently can be daunting for even the best managers. Culture is a powerful management tool in these situations.

- Clayton M. Christensen, The Innovator’s Dilemma

Saturday, October 12, 2013

On Supertaskers

Could we train ourselves to reach their level of multitasking ability?

Though our Supertaskers were identified based on their behavioral performance in cognitive tasks with which they had little if any prior training, it is a question for future research as to whether it might be possible to train others to reach their level of superior multitasking ability. Our current thinking is that Supertaskers’ level of multitasking ability is indeed innate. However, as we conduct more inter-disciplinary research with Supertaskers, and hopefully gain a greater understanding of what factor(s) might distinguish Supertaskers from the rest of us, it may be possible to use Supertaskers’ overall profile of performance as a guide for designing training regimes to help others be more effective at multitasking.

What studies of Supertaskers are you planning next?

Most recently, our primary research focus has been to identify what might be unique about Supertaskers: whether in terms of genetics, underlying brain activity/structure, behaviour, or a host of other variables. Our initial brain imaging results have been especially promising, revealing that Supertaskers may be more effective in recruiting key aspects of prefrontal cortex. That is, relative to matched control subjects, the Supertaskers are more efficient, achieving greater levels of behavioural performance in dual-task paradigms with less associated neural activity. Supertaskers keep their brains “cool” under demanding cognitive loads, perhaps making them less susceptible to the behavioural interference that often accompanies multitasking. Notably, such neural efficiency seems to also be associated with expertise in different domains. Our future neuroimaging research is examining both activation of the resting state or default mode network and the integrity of white matter pathways in the brains of Supertaskers, as well as the notion that certain occupations, such as fighter pilots and air traffic controllers, may show similar multitasking ability and patterns of neural efficiency.

- More Here

Wisdom Of The Week

A confession: I love shopping at Walmart. In fact, I love just wandering around Walmart, admiring the cornucopia of stuff for sale and the miraculously low prices. I can hardly wait for six new Walmarts in the Washington area. (Right now there are none except in distant suburbs.)

However, I don’t want to exploit my fellow Americans by underpaying them. I would happily pay a bit more for the knowledge that nobody involved in the making and selling of whatever I purchase has been paid less than $12.50 an hour. How much is “a bit”? According to a study two years ago by scholars at the University of California at Berkley and City University of New York, the average Walmart customer spends about $1,200 a year there. (Good news for me: I am below average—but I can rectify that!) Even if the entire cost of a wage increase (to $12, not $12.50) were passed on to customers, the cost to an average customer would be just more than 1 percent, or $12.50 a year.

Who wouldn’t pay 12 bucks and change for the right to roam the Walmart aisles without guilt? Well poor people might not be able to. But, depending on how it’s done, they may not have to.

There’s no need to force Walmart into raising its wages and prices. Let the market work! These days almost everything you buy carries a label making the claim that in some way it is morally superior. It is “organic.” It is “gluten free.” It is “cruelty free”—cruelty to animals, that is. Everything from dishwasher detergent to entire office buildings gets certified by how “green” it is.Why not create a label symbol indicating that the product you are about to buy is “poverty-free”—i.e., no American involved in making it or getting it to you makes less than $12.50 an hour?

- Walmart Can Solve the Inequality Problem

Quote of the Day

A learning experience is one of those things that says, 'You know that thing you just did? Don't do that.'

- Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time

Friday, October 11, 2013

To One-Sixth of the World, He is the Greatest Sportsman of All Time

Tendulkar’s greatness, like that of all famed athletes in any sport, is the product of both genius and application, a natural talent honed by a dogged work ethic and hunger for success. When observing his batting, cricket analysts struggled to single out a signature stroke—he was so complete, so skillful, so balanced, so precise in his movement, that every shot he played carried with it its own majesty. His commitment to the game led to an international career spanning 24 years, starting in 1989 on enemy territory in Karachi, Pakistan, when he was just a 16-year-old kid.

That kid is now India’s most beloved star, a champion with a World Cup to his name and myriad other trophies. A whole generation of Indians—roughly half of the country’s over 1.2 billion population is under 25—only knows the Age of Sachin, an era that began with the country mired in stagnation and economic crisis. As Tendulkar’s career powered forward, so did India’s liberalizing reforms, its growth rate galloping ahead. Decades-old anti-colonial resentments and inferiority complexes faded in the face of a newfound confidence, embodied, it seemed, in Tendulkar—all five feet and five inches of him, an Indian colossus on the world stage.

In terms of public regard, Tendulkar rises well above the glitzy celebrity of Bollywood and the tawdry muck of Indian politics. His persona is humble, honest, kind. He didn’t date a string of supermodels (or at least, not that we know); his wife is a pediatrician, shielded from the public eye. He speaks in a thin, slightly high-pitched voice, not unlike that of English soccer icon David Beckham—though it’s unimaginable Tendulkar would ever be subject to the sort of derision, cynicism and scandal heaped on the latter.

Still, there is not a single athlete, perhaps in the history of all sport, who has had to shoulder a greater burden of expectation.
Cricket is all in India — a nation, which despite its enormous size, is a minnow in most other sports —  and Tendulkar was the Chosen One. For each Indian setback, he has had to bear a billion cries of disappointment. But in the last decade or so, as Tendulkar starred, cricket’s gravitational axis swung definitively away from its twee upper-class origins in the U.K. to the hurly burly of India’s slums, streets and cricket grounds. A flashy, lucrative league sees the world’s best players line-up every year for franchises in Indian cities—the former colony now the seat of the empire.

- Tendulkar to retire after 200th Test