Saturday, November 30, 2013

A Letter to FDA in Favor of Gene-Testing

To whom it may concern:

I am writing to voice concern at your decision to ask the company 23andMe to halt genetic testing.

As a doctor, I am well aware of both the importance of genetic testing in medicine and of the difficulty in getting these tests through the normal medical system. Many of my colleagues do not know of the existence of personal genomics, and believe that genetic testing is a once-in-a-blue-moon procedure to be ordered only when there is high clinical suspicion for a rare disease such as cystic fibrosis.

Even in cases where doctors are willing to use genetic information to help in treatment, they have few good options within the standard medical system. Tests for a single mutation may cost several hundred dollars, in addition to the expensive consultation with a physician necessary to order the test and the second expensive consultation with a physician necessary to receive results from that same physician. These are rarely covered by insurance, especially for poorer patients. Patients are rarely willing to purchase these expensive tests out-of-pocket, and when they do, both patient and doctor must wait weeks for each individual result they want.

In contrast, 23andMe has raised awareness of genetics among the general population and given them questions and concerns, usually appropriate, which they can discuss with their doctor. Their doctor can then follow up on these concerns. Such followup may involve reassurance, confirmation with other genetic testing, confirmation through other diagnostic modalities, or referral to another professional such as a genetic counselor. In my experience personal genomic results do not unilaterally determine a course of treatment, but may influence an ambiguous clinical picture in one direction or the other, or be a useful factor when deciding between otherwise equipotent medications. Banning the entire field of personal genomics in one fell swoop would eliminate a useful diagnostic tool from everyone except a few very wealthy patients.

- Read the whole letter here from Scott Alexander, MD, BCh, BAO

Wisdom Of The Week

The Three Values of Science - Brilliant lesson from Richard Feynman.
  1. The first way in which science is of value is familiar to everyone. It is that scientific knowledge enables us to do all kinds of things and to make all kinds of things. Scientific knowledge is an enabling power to do either good or bad - but it does not carry instructions on how to use it.
  2. Another value of science is the fun called intellectual enjoyment which some people get from reading and learning and thinking about it, and which others get from working in it. With more knowledge comes a deeper, more wonderful mystery, luring one on to penetrate deeper still. Never concerned that the answer may prove disappointing, with pleasure and confidence we turn over each new stone to find unimagined strangeness leading on to more wonderful questions and mysteries - certainly a grand adventure!
  3. I would now like to turn to a third value that science has - The scientist has a lot of experience with ignorance and doubt and uncertainty, and this experience is of very great importance, I think. Now, we scientists... take it for granted that it is perfectly consistent to be unsure, that it is possible to live and not know. But I don't know whether everyone realizes this is true. Our freedom to doubt was born out of a struggle against authority in the early days of science. It was a very deep and strong struggle: permitting us to question - to doubt - to not be sure. I think that it is important that we do not forget this struggle and thus perhaps lose what we have gained. Herein lies a responsibility to society. "If we want to solve a problem that we have never solved before, we must leave the door to the unknown ajar (to do so leads to what he described as an "open channel). It is our responsibility as scientists... to proclaim the value of this freedom; to teach how doubt is not to be feared but welcomed and discussed; and to demand this freedom as our duty to all coming generations.

Quote of the Day

To explain why a man slipped on a banana peel, we do not need a general theory of slipping.

-  Sidney Morgenbesser, On Theory

Friday, November 29, 2013

Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple’s Greatest Products

Excerpts from the new book Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple’s Greatest Products by Leander Kahney:

Excited by Kerr's explanation of what a sophisticated touch interface could do, the team members started to brainstorm the kinds of hardware they might build with it.

The most obvious idea was a touchscreen Mac. Instead of a keyboard and mouse, users could tap on the screen of the computer to control it. One of the designers suggested a touchscreen controller that functioned as an alternate to a keyboard and mouse, a sort of virtual keyboard with soft keys.

As Satzger remembered, "We asked, How do we take a tablet, which has been around for a while, and do something more with it? Touch is one thing, but multitouch was new. You could swipe to turn a page, as opposed to finding a button on the screen that would allow you turn the page. Instead of trying to find a button to make operations, we could turn a page just like a newspaper."

Jony in particular had always had a deep appreciation for the tactile nature of computing; he had put handles on several of his early machines specifically to encourage touching. But here was an opportunity to make the ultimate tactile device. No more keyboard, mouse, pen, or even a click wheel-the user would touch the actual interface with his or her fingers. What could be more intimate?

Quote of the Day

Food safety oversight is largely, but not exclusively, divided between two agencies, the FDA and the USDA. The USDA mostly oversees meat and poultry; the FDA mostly handles everything else, including pet food and animal feed. Although this division of responsibility means that the FDA is responsible for 80% of the food supply, it only gets 20% of the federal budget for this purpose. In contrast, the USDA gets 80% of the budget for 20% of the foods. This uneven distribution is the result of a little history and a lot of politics.

- Marion Nestle, Pet Food Politics: The Chihuahua in the Coal Mine

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Eat Less Meat & Waste Less Food - Vaclav Smil

There is no author whose books I look forward to more than Vaclav Smil,” Bill Gates wrote this summer. That’s quite an endorsement—and it gave a jolt of fame to Smil, a professor emeritus of environment and geography at the University of Manitoba. In a world of specialized intellectuals, Smil is an ambitious and astonishing polymath who swings for fences. His nearly three dozen books have analyzed the world’s biggest challenges—the future of energy, food production, and manufacturing—with nuance and detail. They’re among the most data-heavy books you’ll find, with a remarkable way of framing basic facts. (Sample nugget: Humans will consume 17 percent of what the biosphere produces this year.)

Read the full interview here but here is some of his wisdom on eating meat:

Your other big subject is food. You’re a pretty grim thinker, but this is your most optimistic area. You actually think we can feed a planet of 10 billion people—if we eat less meat and waste less food.

We pour all this energy into growing corn and soybeans, and then we put all that into rearing animals while feeding them antibiotics. And then we throw away 40 percent of the food we produce.

Meat eaters don’t like me because I call for moderation, and vegetarians don’t like me because I say there’s nothing wrong with eating meat. It’s part of our evolutionary heritage! Meat has helped to make us what we are. Meat helps to make our big brains. The problem is with eating 200 pounds of meat per capita per year. Eating hamburgers every day. And steak.

You know, you take some chicken breast, cut it up into little cubes, and make a Chinese stew—three people can eat one chicken breast. When you cut meat into little pieces, as they do in India, China, and Malaysia, all you need to eat is maybe like 40 pounds a year.

Seven Reasons for Psychologists to Pursue Advanced Quantitative Training

  • You are limited by the analytic tools you possess - Data analytic tools and theoretical innovation are complementary: Learning newer, more sophisticated analytic tools expands the way you can think about questions. Try to imagine designing a house without a ruler or compass, or actually building a house without a level. The tools you have impact your output; better tools produce better outputs. 
  • Reality is complex - It goes without saying that behavior and mental processes are complex, and psychological scientists aim to understand and model this complexity. Sophisticated analytical tools get you closer to modeling our multivariate and hierarchical world. Since many variables operate within and outside of people, it makes sense to model relationships among multiple variables simultaneously. Multivariate analysis of covariance (MANCOVA), path analysis, and structural equation modeling are among the many tools useful for this purpose.
  • A conclusion is only as good as its statistical analysis - Statistical tests and models are accompanied by assumptions, and these assumptions are violated more often than we would like. If assumptions are violated, our conclusions are more or less useless: garbage in, garbage out. Advanced, or less conventional, analytic tools typically allow more flexibility in handling and circumventing the assumptions of conventional analyses. When issues of data distribution arise, nonparametric statistics are your friend. 
  • Learning now promotes learning later - Without continued practice, it is unlikely that you will retain everything you were taught in an advanced quantitative course. However, the bulk of this education is about learning how to learn. The introduction and initial exposure provide you with the knowledge to read articles, chapters, and entire books later on your own. Your courses should reinforce good data habits as well. In other words, advanced quantitative training will give you “legs to stand on” when you need to learn a new skill or figure out how to best analyze a dataset. Expanding your formal quantitative training will make you a more independent scholar.
  • Advanced analytic tools encourage research productivity - We do not always have the resources to collect large amounts of data. If you find yourself at a college or university with fewer resources for data collection, more sophisticated data analytic tools can help you stay active in research. Many organizations (e.g., Pew Research Center, General Social Survey) provide free access to large and longitudinal datasets. Using advanced analytical tools (e.g., structural equation modeling, multilevel modeling, and latent growth curve modeling), researchers can efficiently test multifaceted hypotheses without collecting data.
  • You can be a better consumer of research - I already discussed the benefits of advanced quantitative training for producers of research, but this training will also make you a better consumer of research. The most common types of publication in psychological science are empirical journal articles, and you should not only read them but should be able to understand them. 
  • Being savvy with analytical tools will make you a desirable colleague and collaborator - It should not come as a surprise that academic psychologists with sophisticated analytic tools are more marketable. We all want colleagues in our department who can explain techniques, teach advanced methods courses, and provide feedback and advice regarding data analysis. 

- More Here

Quote of the Day

  • Perhaps in the back of our minds we already understand, without all the science I've discussed, that something terribly wrong is happening. Our sustenance now comes from misery. We know that if someone offers to show us a film on how our meat is produced, it will be a horror film. We perhaps know more than we care to admit, keeping it down in the dark places of our memory-- disavowed. When we eat factory-farmed meat we live, literally, on tortured flesh. Increasingly, that tortured flesh is becoming our own.
  • We can't plead ignorance, only indifference. Those alive today are the generations that came to know better. We have the burden and the opportunity of living in the moment when the critique of factory farming broke into the popular consciousness. We are the ones of whom it will be fairly asked, What did you do when you learned the truth about eating animals?
  • Elsewhere the paper notes that vegetarians and vegans (including athletes) 'meet and exceed requirements' for protein. And, to render the whole we-should-worry-about-getting-enough-protein-and-therefore-eat-meat idea even more useless, other data suggests that excess animal protein intake is linked with osteoporosis, kidney disease, calcium stones in the urinary tract, and some cancers. Despite some persistent confusion, it is clear that vegetarians and vegans tend to have more optimal protein consumption than omnivores.
  • It shouldn't be the consumer's responsibility to figure out what's cruel and what's kind, what's environmentally destructive and what's sustainable. Cruel and destructive food products should be illegal. We don't need the option of buying children's toys made with lead paint, or aerosols with chlorofluorocarbons, or medicines with unlabeled side effects. And we don't need the option of buying factory-farmed animals.” 
  • Needless to say, jamming deformed, drugged, overstressed birds together in a filthy, waste-coated room is not very healthy. Beyond deformities, eye damage, blindness, bacterial infections of bones, slipped vertebrae, paralysis, internal bleeding, anemia, slipped tendons, twisted lower legs and necks, respiratory diseases, and weakened immune systems are frequent and long-standing problems on factory farms.
-  Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals

Happy Thanksgiving !!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

OCR - Optical Character Recognition Technology

A little over a year ago, Mocavo acquired ReadyMicro and the incredible mind known as Matt Garner. One of Matt’s lifelong passions and curiosities is to enable computers to read historical handwritten documents to bring genealogy search to the next level. It’s well known in the genealogy industry that historical handwriting recognition is the Holy Grail – the single largest technological advancement that would enable more content to become accessible online (except for maybe the invention of the Web). For the past year, we’ve joined with Matt to tackle this very hard problem, and have finally made enough progress that we can begin to report on it.

Historical handwriting recognition is one of the toughest technical challenges to solve. First, penmanship is entirely unique to the individual. Second, because it’s historical handwriting, it’s in cursive. All the letters run together, adding another layer of complexity. Third, the way we wrote cursive in the 1700′s is different than the cursive we write now. There are even variations between decades. Our mind has an incredible capability of seeing through incomplete sets of data (a missing character stroke, poor handwriting, an A that sort of looks like an O, etc). Our brains do all of this for us and we don’t even notice it. When you think about how to describe this to a computer, you begin to lose your mind! I believe some of the greatest problems mankind can solve are those that someone would never have started if they had known how hard the challenge was ahead of time. Matt fooled himself just enough to start on the problem and now he’s making real progress from which we are all going to benefit.

Here’s the exciting part: Our recognition technology is starting to work. With limited vocabularies (potential answers), we’re achieving 90-95% accuracy. Sometimes, the technology is able to read things we’re convinced are unreadable (but after getting the answer back from the computer, you realize what was actually written). We grow closer to the Holy Grail every day and can’t wait until we can use the technology to bring more content online, free forever.

- More Here

The New Science of Disaster Prediction

Disaster predictions will become more accurate, but what difference will it make? Will it save lives, or even change behavior? Tokyo’s nine million residents are today fully aware that their city is due for a massive earthquake; last year, the University of Tokyo’s Earthquake Research Institute calculated that there is a seventy per cent likelihood that an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.0 or higher will hit the city by 2016. A 7.0 earthquake would kill eleven thousand people and cost Japan a trillion dollars. Angelenos who continue to buy multi-million-dollar houses on the escarpment of the San Gabriel Mountains—”on the steep slopes where the subdivisions stop and the brush begins” —know that the mountains want nothing more than to slide into the sea. Phoenix knows that it’s running out of water, Miami knows that it’s sinking into the Atlantic Ocean, and Seattle knows that it’s due for a reprise of the 9.0 megathrust earthquake that hit in 1700.

Anybody who had bothered to read the 1995 Metro New York Hurricane Transportation Study issued by the Army Corps of Engineers, or historical accounts of previous hurricanes that hit New York City—such as the 1821 storm that caused the East River to meet the Hudson in what is now SoHo—would have been prepared for the extent of Hurricane Sandy’s destruction. We also already know how much more severe the destruction will be when a stronger storm hits. Sandy was no longer a classified as a hurricane when it made landfall on the New Jersey coast, but a post-tropical cyclone; a Category 3 hurricane hit New York as recently as 1938.

And the Philippines had no delusions about the risks posed by typhoons. It had plenty of experience to draw from: the nation endures an average of twenty typhoons annually. Nobody knows exactly when the city of Tacloban—one of the areas hardest hit by Haiyan—first came into existence, because the city’s original municipal records were destroyed in a typhoon. The six most destructive examples in recorded history have all occurred since 1990, and average storm intensity and sea level continue to rise every year. In May, the executive director of the Philippines’ National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council acknowledged that global warming posed an “existential threat” to the nation.

We know all of this, but we continue to live in the path of catastrophe. Many millions of people, of course, don’t have a choice—they cannot afford to move. But those who can leave—especially those who can leave—tend to stay. To rebuild is heroic; to move is a retreat, an act of cowardice. 

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Our analyses of the FDA data showed relatively little difference between the effects of antidepressants and the effects of placebos. Indeed, the effects were so small that they did not qualify as clinically significant. The drug companies knew how small the effect of their medications were compared to placebos, and so did the FDA and other regulatory agencies. The companies found various ways to make the data seem more favorable to their products, and the FDA helped them keep their negative data secret. In fact, in some instances, the FDA urged the companies to keep negative data hidden, even when the companies wanted to reveal them. My colleagues and I hadn't really discovered anything new. We had merely revealed their 'dirty little secret'.<br>

- Irving Kirsch, The Emperor's New Drugs: Exploding the Antidepressant Myth

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Match Point 23andMe !!

An athlete his whole life, Joachim de Posada was surprised that his 23andMe results indicated a much higher than normal risk for heart disease.

Fit and seemingly healthy, Joachim thought the last thing he had to worry about was his heart, but he said it was that unexpected warning that may have saved his life.

“I’m a tennis player now and I play four to five days a week and never had any symptoms — I’ve never fainted or had chest pains or anything,” said Joachim, an international motivational speaker and best-selling author.

But a few days after getting his 23andMe results, he made an appointment with his family doctor for a check-up, just to be on the safe side.

A few days later, he was on the court working on his forehand when his instructor noticed Joachim was winded.

“’You know for a guy who is so fit you’re more out of breath than you should be,” his instructor said.

It was the kind of comment he might have brushed off, but it came so soon after he learned of this risk for heart disease and the appointment he had made with his doctor.

“Oh my gosh,” Joachim said to himself. “My 23andMe results say I have this risk and now my tennis instructor tells me this”.

Everything suddenly clicked, and instead of ignoring the warning signs, Joachim moved up his doctor’s appointment. He also brought his 23andMe results with him for the visit.  One test led to another. An electrocardiogram showed that his heart was strong, but that he also had arrhythmia — an irregular heartbeat that could be indicative of more serious conditions. Then the doctor ordered an echocardiogram, followed by monitoring the heart for 24 hours.

“Something was wrong so he sent me to a cardiologist,” Joachim said.

The cardiologist did a stress test with imaging to look at blood flow into Joachim’s heart. After the test he went to the hospital cafeteria to have lunch, thinking he had passed the test. Suddenly, a nurse appeared and said:

“ ‘(The doctor) wants to see you, now.’”

“That’s when I said, ‘This doesn’t sound good.’”

The test showed that he had three arteries in his heart that were more than 80 percent blocked. Not totally comprehending how serious this was, Joachim told the doctor he wanted to postpone any procedure until after a planned speaking engagement in Atlanta.

The doctor quickly set him straight. This was serious.

“’No more tennis. No plane. No speaking engagement,’” the doctor told him. “You’re not going anywhere.’”

They operated right away. It was the first time in a 30 year speaking career that Joachim had to cancel a speaking engagement, but he couldn’t risk his life.

On March 15, 2013 Joachim had open-heart surgery and a triple by-pass. Seven weeks later he was playing tennis again. It was a doubles match. He and his partner won.

- More Here

FDA Shuts Down 23andMe - Outrageously Banning Consumer Access to Personal Genome Information

This is not right and needs to be stopped right now, period (yes, I am subscriber of 23 and me since 2009). Ronald Bailey (of Liberation Biology fame) is outraged like most of us:

The FDA also cites the genotype results that indicate the sensitivity of patients to the blood-thinning medication warfarin. Again, such results would be used by patients to talk with their doctors about their treatment regimens should the time come that they need to take the drug. In fact, in 2010 the FDA actually updated its rules to recommend genetic testing to set the proper warfarin dosages for patients.

It is notable that the FDA cites not one example of a patient being harmed through the use of 23andMe's genotype screening test. Nevertheless the agency orders that...

...23andMe must immediately discontinue marketing the PGS (Personal Genome Service) until such time as it receives FDA marketing authorization for the device.

The folks at TechFreedom have just launched a petition at to FDA Adminstrator Margaret Hamburg urging her to reverse this ridiculous ban. From the petition:

The FDA seems to think that Americans can’t be trusted with more information about their potential health risks because some people might make rash decisions with it. But banning personal genomics isn’t the answer.

We haven’t all used 23andMe yet, but those of us who have know the real problem is that doctors themselves are behind the curve. When 23andMe sent us our results, we followed their advice: we asked our doctor to talk about them. Most doctors didn’t know where to begin. But the more of us ask, the more the medical profession is catching up: brushing up on genomics, taking the time to understand the site, and talking to us about our results and what, if anything, to do about them. By prompting such dialogue, 23andMe has sparked a revolution in how the medical profession uses genetic information.

We urge you not to short-circuit this revolution. Please trust us — and our doctors — to make responsible use of our own genetic information. Instead of banning new technologies, the FDA should focus on educating doctors and patients about the benefits, and limitations, of genetic testing.

The Challenger Disaster

The Challenger Disaster - William Hurt does an excellent job as Feynman; a must watch !!

Bill Rogers:We have to accept this fact that this shuttle is the most complex machine that has ever been built and it has more than 2.5 million parts. It may be after due consideration its not possible to identify the cause.

Richard Feynman: It's nothing.

Bill Rogers: I am sorry Dr.Feynman?

Richard Feynman: 2.5 million, small potatoes. Really, look I don't know much about space rockets but I know a little some about probability; something I developed called path integral formulation - its quantum mechanics. Basically, what it means is you can figure out the probability of something occurring not just when you got 2.5 millions events but an infinity of possibilities. Over large, the number of cause will pass for whatever happened to Challenger an explanation can be found. What we doing here if we don't think its possible?

Quote of the Day

One might agree that it would be exceedingly pleasant to be worshipped so comprehensively. But surely this ersatz version of love would satisfy only the laziest. People want to be really loved, not merely to be the object of a performance of love. So we would still want and seek the real love that only a human can provide.

I think this underestimates humans' ability to delude ourselves. Sherry Turkle's research showed how quickly people can come to treat their robot assistants as companions and pour out their hearts to them. (That's one of the things she found so disturbing.) Even the relatively primitive robots already developed can, with a few tricks like maintaining eye contact and smiling when we speak, give us the strong impression of a caring presence that cares about us and that we want to care about us. So I think it will be possible to actually fall in love with a robot, and not merely to enjoy their performance of love. And, unlike inter-human relationships, since there is only one prickly unreliable individualist in the relationship, it will probably be easier to stay in love with your robot lover.

- Love in the Time of Robots

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Quest to End the Flu

Recent research suggests that the longtime dream of a universal flu vaccine could eventually come true. Instead of targeting the tips of the surface proteins, this kind of vaccine would target a part of the virus that doesn’t change so easily. Scientists have discovered that the stems of the surface proteins change very little. A stem vaccine might provide protection against many different kinds of flu—protection that could last for years or decades. To test this idea, scientists have engineered antibodies that latch tightly to the stems. So far, mice injected with these stem antibodies can resist infection—not just by one strain but by many. If scientists can create a vaccine that provokes us to make these stem antibodies, they could provide broad protection against the flu.

At the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in New York City, Peter Palese is leading experiments to get mice and ferrets to make their own stem antibodies. The researchers have tried various methods, including the same one used to make Flublok—insect cells churning out surface proteins. But the cells engineer the proteins in a special way, creating several different forms. Each form has a tip from a different strain of flu, while they all have the same stem. When Palese and his colleagues inject this cocktail into an animal, its immune system is exposed to many protein tips, but the same stem. So the immune system responds with an abundance of stem antibodies. Palese and his colleagues have injected a wide range of flu strains into vaccinated animals. In every case, the animals can fight off a lethal dose.

Fauci and other researchers hope to push this research toward clinical trials in humans. If a universal vaccine proves to be safe and effective, doctors might eventually be able to dispense it every few years, or just a couple of times to children for lifetime protection. The vaccine might protect against new flu pandemics, doing away with the dangerous lag time currently required for making new vaccines. “We could actually get ahead of pandemics,” Osterholm says.

- More Here

Flourish - Martin Seligman

Here then is well-being theory: well-being is a construct; and well-being, not happiness, is the topic of positive psychology. Well-being has five measurable elements (PERMA) that count toward it:
  • Positive emotion (Of which happiness and life satisfaction are all aspects)
  • Engagement
  • Relationships
  • Meaning and purpose
  • Accomplishment
No one element defines well-being, but each contributes to it. Some aspects of these five elements are measured subjectively by self-report, but other aspects are measured objectively.

In authentic happiness theory, by contrast, happiness is the centerpiece of positive psychology. It is a real thing that is defined by the measurement of life satisfaction. Happiness has three aspects: positive emotion, engagement, and meaning, each of which feeds into life satisfaction and is measured entirely by subjective report.

There is one loose end to clarify: in authentic happiness theory, the strengths and virtues—kindness, social intelligence, humor, courage, integrity, and the like (there are twenty-four of them)—are the supports for engagement. You go into flow when your highest strengths are deployed to meet the highest challenges that come your way. In well-being theory, these twenty-four strengths underpin all five elements, not just engagement: deploying your highest strengths leads to more positive emotion, to more meaning, to more accomplishment, and to better relationships.

- Summary of Martin Seligman's book Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being

Quote of the Day

Publishing is an often incredibly frustrating culture. If you want to buy a project—let’s say a nonfiction proposal for a book about the history of Sicily—some of your colleagues will say, “The proposal is too dry” or “Cletis Trebuchet did a book for Grendel Books five years ago about Sardinia and it sold, like, eight copies,” or, airily, “I don’t think many people want to read about little islands.” When Seabiscuit first came up for discussion at an editorial meeting at Random House, some skeptic muttered, “Talk about beating a dead horse!”

To make matters worse, financial success in frontlist publishing is very often random, but the media conglomerates that run most publishing houses act as if it were not. Yes, you may be able to count on a new novel by Surething Jones becoming a big best seller. But the best-­seller lists paint nothing remotely like the full financial picture of any publication, because that picture’s most important color is the size of the advance. But let’s say you publish a fluky blockbuster one year, the corporation will see a spike in your profits and sort of autistically, or at least automatically, raise the profit goal for your division by some corporately predetermined amount for the following year. This is close to clinically insane institutional behavior.

- Daniel Menaker, My Mistake

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Four Great Motives for Writing

Putting aside the need to earn a living, I think there are four great motives for writing, at any rate for writing prose. They exist in different degrees in every writer, and in any one writer the proportions will vary from time to time, according to the atmosphere in which he is living. They are:
  • Sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc. It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one. Writers share this characteristic with scientists, artists, politicians, lawyers, soldiers, successful businessmen–in short, with the whole top crust of humanity. The great mass of human beings are not acutely selfish. After the age of about thirty they almost abandon the sense of being individuals at all–and live chiefly for others, or are simply smothered under drudgery. But there is also the minority of gifted, willful people who are determined to live their own lives to the end, and writers belong in this class. Serious writers, I should say, are on the whole more vain and self-centered than journalists, though less interested in money.
  • Aesthetic enthusiasm. Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement. Pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story. Desire to share an experience which one feels is valuable and ought not to be missed. The aesthetic motive is very feeble in a lot of writers, but even a pamphleteer or writer of textbooks will have pet words and phrases which appeal to him for non-utilitarian reasons; or he may feel strongly about typography, width of margins, etc. Above the level of a railway guide, no book is quite free from aesthetic considerations.
  • Historical impulse. Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.
  • Political purpose.–Using the word 'political' in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples' idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.
It can be seen how these various impulses must war against one another, and how they must fluctuate from person to person and from time to time. By nature–taking your 'nature' to be the state you have attained when you are first adult–I am a person in whom the first three motives would outweigh the fourth. In a peaceful age I might have written ornate or merely descriptive books, and might have remained almost unaware of my political loyalties. As it is I have been forced into becoming a sort of pamphleteer. First I spent five years in an unsuitable profession (the Indian Imperial Police, in Burma), and then I underwent poverty and the sense of failure. This increased my natural hatred of authority and made me for the first time fully aware of the existence of the working classes, and the job in Burma had given me some understanding of the nature of imperialism: but these experiences were not enough to give me an accurate political orientation. Then came Hitler, the Spanish Civil War, etc. By the end of 1935 I had still failed to reach a firm decision.

- George Orwell, Why I Write (1946)

The Evolution of Bitchiness

In her own recent research, Anne Campbell, a psychologist at Durham University in the U.K., argued that young women tend to use indirect aggression to a greater extent than young men, in part because that’s the most socially acceptable way for women to compete.

But even Campbell stresses that it’s hard to tell whether this phenomenon is evolutionarily or culturally driven.

And it's not like men don’t attack each other when competing for scarce resources, too.

Before age 7, Fuentes said, boys and girls are equally directly aggressive. But after childhood it becomes less acceptable for girls to give each other noogies and the like, so women become far more indirectly aggressive (or “bitchy”) while men continue to be plain old directly aggressive. But by the time people reach working-age and beyond, Fuentes said, levels of indirect aggression between the sexes even out.

“At 15, you can engage as a male in direct aggression without too many repercussions,” he said. “But at 25, you're in jail.”

In fact, Buss has found that men “bitch” about their rivals, too—they just tend to insult their lack of money or status, the things women traditionally have valued in mates, rather than their physical appearance. They don’t slut-shame as much, Buss argues, because women will still date male “sluts.”

“Men derogate other men on things that women value [cues to protection and cues to resources and status], and women derogate other women on things that men value [sexual fidelity and physical attractiveness],” he told me

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Confronting the worst-case scenario saps it of much of its anxiety-inducing power. Happiness reached via positive thinking can be fleeting and brittle, negative visualization generates a vastly more dependable calm.

- Oliver Burkeman, The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking

Saturday, November 23, 2013

We Don't Educate People As Others Wished, Or As I Wished - Sebastain Thrun

I ask Thrun if it isn't odd that someone like him--someone for whom the traditional education system has done so much--would wind up railing against it. "Innovation means change," he says. "I could restrict myself to helping a class of 20 insanely smart Stanford students who would be fine without me. But how could that impact not be dwarfed by teaching 160,000 students?"

All visionary entrepreneurs must, at some point, find their own sense of romance in the compromises they make to build a profitable business, and the size of the crowd is where Thrun finds his. He's moved by the idea of many, many students from many, many places learning something because of him--even if it's something as mundane as a API. I have a hard time believing that he really wants his son to get Salesforce certified rather than Stanford educated, but in this one thing Thrun seems entirely earnest.

Two days after our bike ride, I return to the Udacity offices, where Thrun is rerecording a segment for his statistics class. He'd mistakenly used an incorrect notation in writing out a math problem, and he's returned to the studio to get it right, spending an hour or so alone in the dark room, talking into the microphone and scribbling on a tablet. "It's kind of like being onstage, where you have all these lights in your face and can't see the audience, but you still have to be able to excite them," he says. "So I think of the football stadium full of people that I'm facing. I get a kick out of that." Thrun's taken the red pill. There's no going back.

- More Here

Machiavelli Was Right

Machiavelli simply didn’t believe that politicians should be bothered about their dirty hands. He didn’t believe they deserve praise for moral scruple or the pangs of conscience. He would have agreed with The Sopranos: sometimes you do what you have to do. But The Prince would hardly have survived this long if it was nothing more than an apologia for gangsters. With gangsters, gratuitous cruelty is often efficient, while in politics, Machiavelli clearly understood, it is worse than a crime. It is a mistake. Ragion di stato ought to discipline each politician’s descent into morally questionable realms. A leader guided by public necessity is less likely to be cruel and vicious than one guided by religious moralizing. Machiavelli’s ethics, it should be said, were scathingly indifferent to Christian principle, and for good reason. After all, someone who believes he has God on his side is capable of anything.

Machiavelli also understood that a politician, unlike a gangster, could not play fast and loose with the law. The law mattered because in republics, the opinion of citizens mattered, and if a prince put himself above the law too often, the people would drive him from office. Machiavelli was no democrat, but he understood that popular anger in the lanes and alleys of his city could bring a prince’s rule to a bloody end. If Machiavelli advised politicians to dissimulate, to pretend to virtues they did not practice in private life, it was because he believed that the people in the lanes and alleys cared more about whether the prince delivered peace and security than whether he was an authentic or even an honest person.

What he refuses to praise is people who value their conscience and their soul more than the interests of the state. What he will not pardon is public displays of indecision. We should not choose leaders who agonize, worrying about the moral hazards of the power they exercise in the people’s name. We should choose leaders who sleep soundly after taking ultimate risks with their own virtue. They are doing what must be done.

- Michael Ignatieff distills wisdom of Machiavelli from the following four new books

Wisdom Of The Week

Maria Popova's review of the new book Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It by Jeniifer Michael Hecht is the most insightful piece I read this week:

Immanuel Kant with his moving meditations on the important relationship between the individual and society — he condemned suicide as an assault against humanity, an act by which you rob the universe of your own potential goodness. Hecht synthesizes:

We are humanity, Kant says. Humanity needs us because we are it. Kant believes in duty and considers remaining alive a primary human duty. For him one is not permitted to “renounce his personality,” and while he states living as a duty, it also conveys a kind of freedom: we are not burdened with the obligation of judging whether our personality is worth maintaining, whether our life is worth living. Because living it is a duty, we are performing a good moral act just by persevering. In one of the most crucial statements in the history of suicide, Kant writes: “To annihilate the subject of morality in one’s person is to root out the existence of morality itself from the world as far as one can, even though morality is an end in itself. Consequently, disposing of oneself as a mere means to some discretionary end is debasing humanity in one’s person.” Human beings must understand themselves as a force of good, a force of morality. As human beings, it is our job to preserve these ideals. This goes a step beyond Aristotle’s community or Rousseau’s reminder of survivor’s pain, and speaks instead of something larger. To be human is a powerful, profound thing that deserves a lot of patience.

Additionally, Hecht argues that the tenacity we develop as we endure even the most blinding of that “darkness in the midst of life” blossoms into a most valuable kind of character-building. She cites Keats, who called the world a “veil of soul-making”:

Keats saw the terrible pain of life as necessary to the development of a full human being. While the heart suffers acutely, the mind is nurtured and matured through the information garnered by the anguished heart. In his extended metaphor there is no other way for a human being to be tempered into personhood. In that sense the world, with all its difficulties, is a school.


Childhood formed us all, and the more we suffered then, the harder it can be to accept ourselves as adults. True, the road to self-awareness is arduous. Some realizations bring us to low feelings much like grief, and much like grief the only solution is to live through it. We come out wiser on the other side. As Robert Frost wrote, “The only way around is through.”

Quote of the Day

The staying power of The Prince comes from … its insistence on the need for a clear-sighted appreciation of how men really are as distinct from the moralizing claptrap about how they ought to be.

On Machiavelli: The Search for Glory by Alan Ryan

Friday, November 22, 2013

Every Nerd Will Love This Errol Morris-Benoit Mandelbrot Interview

Morris says, "The fractal stuff... What was the origins of that?" We watch Mandelbrot hear the question. As it finishes, we watch emotion flicker over his face for just a second longer than you expect. "The fractal stuff" was the most notable discovery of his life, which ended 19 days later.

The video has a poignance that marketing should practically be barred from deploying. Here's Mandelbrot on publishing his book on fractals:

And then I wrote a little book. It was in French actually. And it had no title because in a certain sense, I had not felt the need of a word for fractal. And the publisher, he told me, "Ridiculous! You must invent a word if you wish for that." I thought and thought. I went to my son's study room. He had a Latin dictionary and I was looking for a word which somehow fit the idea of something I was doing. It was 'fractal.' Giving it a word gave the topic a certain reality. It's now in every dictionary.

- More Here

Planning and Reality

Brilliant CSI by Clay Shirky on the debacle of

In the early days of print, you had to understand the tech to run the organization. (Ben Franklin, the man who made America a media hothouse, called himself Printer.) But in the 19th century, the printing press became domesticated. Printers were no longer senior figures — they became blue-collar workers. And the executive suite no longer interacted with them much, except during contract negotiations.

This might have been nothing more than a previously hard job becoming easier, Hallelujah. But most print companies took it further. Talking to the people who understood the technology became demeaning, something to be avoided. Information was to move from management to workers, not vice-versa (a pattern that later came to other kinds of media businesses as well.) By the time the web came around and understanding the technology mattered again, many media executives hadn’t just lost the habit of talking with their own technically adept employees, they’d actively suppressed it.

On Being Wrong:
The idea that “failure is not an option” is a fantasy version of how non-engineers should motivate engineers. That sentiment was invented by a screenwriter, riffing on an after-the-fact observation about Apollo 13; no one said it at the time. (If you ever say it, wash your mouth out with soap. If anyone ever says it to you, run.) Even NASA’s vaunted moonshot, so often referred to as the best of government innovation, tested with dozens of unmanned missions first, several of which failed outright.

Failure is always an option. Engineers work as hard as they do because they understand the risk of failure. And for anything it might have meant in its screenplay version, here that sentiment means the opposite; the unnamed executives were saying “Addressing the possibility of failure is not an option.”

On Importance of Testing:

One of the great descriptions of what real testing looks like comes from Valve software, in a piece detailing the making of its game Half-Life. After designing a game that was only sort of good, the team at Valve revamped its process, including constant testing: 
This [testing] was also a sure way to settle any design arguments. It became obvious that any personal opinion you had given really didn’t mean anything, at least not until the next test. Just because you were sure something was going to be fun didn’t make it so; the testers could still show up and demonstrate just how wrong you really were.

“Any personal opinion you had given really didn’t mean anything.” So it is in the government; an insistence that something must work is worthless if it actually doesn’t.

An effective test is an exercise in humility; it’s only useful in a culture where desirability is not confused with likelihood. For a test to change things, everyone has to understand that their opinion, and their boss’s opinion, matters less than what actually works and what doesn’t. (An organization that isn’t learning from its users decided it doesn’t want to learn from its users.)

Quote of the Day

I said at the beginning of this ramble that life is meaningless. It was not a flippant assertion. I think it’s absurd: the idea of seeking “meaning” in the set of circumstances that happens to exist after 13.8 billion years worth of unguided events. Leave it to humans to think the universe has a purpose for them. However, I am no nihilist. I am not even a cynic. I am, actually, rather romantic. 

And here’s my idea of romance:You will soon be dead. Life will sometimes seem long and tough and, god, it’s tiring. And you will sometimes be happy and sometimes sad. And then you’ll be old. And then you’ll be dead.

There is only one sensible thing to do with this empty existence, and that is: fill it. Not fillet. Fill. It.

And in my opinion (until I change it), life is best filled by learning as much as you can about as much as you can, taking pride in whatever you’re doing, having compassion, sharing ideas, running(!), being enthusiastic. And then there’s love, and travel, and wine, and sex, and art, and kids, and giving, and mountain climbing … but you know all that stuff already.

It’s an incredibly exciting thing, this one, meaningless life of yours. Good luck.

Tim Minchin

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Has the Self-driving Car at Last Arrived?

Burkhard Bilder's brilliant New Yorker essay on driverless cars:

"Every Monday at eleven-thirty, the lead engineers for the Google car project meet for a status update. They mostly cleave to a familiar Silicon Valley demographic—white, male, thirty to forty years old—but they come from all over the world. I counted members from Belgium, Holland, Canada, New Zealand, France, Germany, China, and Russia at one sitting. Thrun began by cherry-picking the top talent from the Grand Challenges: Chris Urmson was hired to develop the software, Levandowski the hardware, Mike Montemerlo the digital maps. (Urmson now directs the project, while Thrun has shifted his attention to Udacity, an online education company that he co-founded two years ago.) Then they branched out to prodigies of other sorts: lawyers, laser designers, interface gurus—anyone, at first, except automotive engineers. “We hired a new breed,” Thrun told me. People at Google X had a habit of saying that So-and-So on the team was the smartest person they’d ever met, till the virtuous circle closed and almost everyone had been singled out by someone else. As Levandowski said of Thrun, “He thinks at a hundred miles an hour. I like to think at ninety.”
And that process of teaching the car to think like us:

"Four-way stops were a good example. Most drivers don’t just sit and wait their turn. They nose into the intersection, nudging ahead while the previous car is still passing through. The Google car didn’t do that. Being a law-abiding robot, it waited until the crossing was completely clear—and promptly lost its place in line. “The nudging is a kind of communication,” Thrun told me. “It tells people that it’s your turn. The same thing with lane changes: if you start to pull into a gap and the driver in that lane moves forward, he’s giving you a clear no. If he pulls back, it’s a yes. The car has to learn that language.”

Quote of the Day

- Joe Rogan, American comedian

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


In the review of the new book Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It by Jeniifer Michael Hecht, Maria Popova at Brain Pickings says:

"Stay is more than a must-read — it’s a cultural necessity. Complement it with what the psychology of suicide prevention teaches us about controlling our everyday worries."

Immanuel Kant with his moving meditations on the important relationship between the individual and society — he condemned suicide as an assault against humanity, an act by which you rob the universe of your own potential goodness. Hecht synthesizes:
We are humanity, Kant says. Humanity needs us because we are it. Kant believes in duty and considers remaining alive a primary human duty. For him one is not permitted to “renounce his personality,” and while he states living as a duty, it also conveys a kind of freedom: we are not burdened with the obligation of judging whether our personality is worth maintaining, whether our life is worth living. Because living it is a duty, we are performing a good moral act just by persevering. In one of the most crucial statements in the history of suicide, Kant writes: “To annihilate the subject of morality in one’s person is to root out the existence of morality itself from the world as far as one can, even though morality is an end in itself. Consequently, disposing of oneself as a mere means to some discretionary end is debasing humanity in one’s person.” Human beings must understand themselves as a force of good, a force of morality. As human beings, it is our job to preserve these ideals. This goes a step beyond Aristotle’s community or Rousseau’s reminder of survivor’s pain, and speaks instead of something larger. To be human is a powerful, profound thing that deserves a lot of patience.

Quote of the Day

Traditional societies in effect represent thousands of natural experiments in how to construct a human society. They have come up with thousands of solutions to human problems, solutions different from those adopted by our own WEIRD modern societies. We shall see that some of these solutions – for instance, some of the ways in which traditional societies raise their children, treat their elderly, remain healthy, talk, spend their leisure time and settle disputes – may strike you, as they do me, as superior to normal practices in the First World.

- Jarred Diamond, The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Quote of the Day

Appearances to the mind are of four kinds. Things either are what they appear to be; or they neither are, nor appear to be; or they are, and do not appear to be; or they are not, and yet appear to be. Rightly to aim in all these cases is the wise man's task.

- Epictetus, Discourses

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Story of the Human Body

Review of the new book The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health and Disease by Daniel Lieberman:

Essentially, Lieberman's message is that modern life has created mismatches between our abilities and adaptations and the stresses we place on the body by often living thousands of miles from our family's origins, sitting down all day long rather than actively gaining a livelihood by physical work, and snatching at quick, high-energy foods.

The evolutionary approach produces some counterintuitive surprises. Fresh fruit juices are as much junk food as a cola drink – they produce a sugar rush, so it's better to eat fresh fruit with its additional fibre; chewing gum as a child is a healthy pastime, if the gum is sugar-free (teeth and jaws need the exercise that modern diets fail to provide). Without going the whole Paleo wild boar, Lieberman suggests we can learn something from the hunter-gatherer lifestyle. He is a celebrated advocate of barefoot running, for example.


Sunday, November 17, 2013

How I Faced My Fears and Learned to be Good at Math

An inspirational piece on learning math; how Matt Waite started learning math when he was 37 years (answer is "hard work", period.)

“Bad at math” is a lie you tell yourself to make failure at math hurt less. That’s all it is. Professors Miles Kimball and Noah Smith wrote in The Atlantic that many of us faced a moment in our lives where we entered a math class that some of us were prepared for and some of us weren’t. Those that got it right away were “good at math” and those who didn’t, well, weren’t. Or so we believed. Those who were good kept working to stay good, and those of us who were bad at it believed the lie.

Now, Kimball and Smith write that bad at math is “the most self-destructive idea in America today.”

Well, Professors Kimball and Smith, welcome to journalism, where “bad at math” isn’t just a destructive idea — it’s a badge of honor. It’s your admission to the club. It’s woven into the very fabric of identity as a journalist.

And it’s a destructive lie. One I would say most journalists believe. It’s a lie that may well be a lurking variable in the death of journalism’s institutions.

Name me a hot growth area in journalism and I’ll show you an area in desperate need of people who can do a bit of math. Data. Programming. Visualization. It’s telling that most of the effort now is around recruiting people from outside journalism to do these things.

But it doesn’t end there. Name me a place where journalism needs help, and I’ll show you more places where math is a daily need: analytics, product development, market analysis. All “business side” jobs, right? Not anymore.

Truth is, “bad at math” was never a good thing in journalism, even when things like data and analytics weren’t a part of the job. Covering a city budget? It’s shameful how many newsroom creatures can’t calculate percent change. Covering sports? It’s embarrassing how many sports writers dismiss the gigantic leaps forward in data analysis in all sports as “nerd stuff.”

In short, we’ve created a culture where ignorance of a subject is not only accepted, it’s glorified. Ha ha! Journalists are bad at math! Fire is hot and water is wet too!

Wolf to Dog - Scientists Agree on How, but But Where

Now Dr. Wayne and his colleagues are introducing a new line of evidence to the dog debate: ancient DNA. Over the past two decades, scientists have developed increasingly powerful tools to rescue fragments of DNA from fossils, producing “an explosion in the samples,” said Beth Shapiro of the University of California, Santa Cruz, a collaborator with Dr. Wayne.

On Thursday in the journal Science, Dr. Wayne, Dr. Shapiro and their colleagues report on the first large-scale comparison of DNA from both living and fossil dogs and wolves. They managed to extract DNA from 18 fossils found in Europe, Russia and the New World. They compared their genes to those from 49 wolves, 77 dogs and 4 coyotes.

The scientists examined a special kind of DNA found in a structure in the cell called the mitochondrion. Mitochondrial DNA comes only from mothers. Because each cell may have thousands of mitochondria, it is easier to gather enough genetic fragments to reconstruct its DNA.

The scientists did not find that living dogs were closely related to wolves from the Middle East or China. Instead, their closest relatives were ancient dogs and wolves from Europe.

“It’s a simple story, and the story is they were domesticated in Europe,” Dr. Shapiro said.

But Dr. Savolainen said the analysis was flawed. “It’s not a correct scientific study, because it’s geographically biased,” he said.

The study lacks ancient DNA from fossils from East Asia or the Middle East, and so it’s not possible to tell whether the roots of dog evolution are anchored in those regions. “You just need to have samples from everywhere,” Dr. Savolainen said.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

"My mind," he said, "rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere. I can dispense then with artificial stimulants. But I abhor the dull routine of existence. I crave for mental exaltation. That is why I have chosen my own particular profession,—or rather created it, for I am the only one in the world."

- Sherlock Holmes,
The Sign of Four

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Sachin Tendulkar Farewell Speech

Wisdom Of The Week

  • The answer — and, in a sense, the tragedy of life — is that we seek to understand the goal and not the man. We set up a goal which demands of us certain things: and we do these things. We adjust to the demands of a concept which CANNOT be valid. When you were young, let us say that you wanted to be a fireman. I feel reasonably safe in saying that you no longer want to be a fireman. Why? Because your perspective has changed. It’s not the fireman who has changed, but you.
  • To put our faith in tangible goals would seem to be, at best, unwise. So we do not strive to be firemen, we do not strive to be bankers, nor policemen, nor doctors. WE STRIVE TO BE OURSELVES.
  • But don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean that we can’t BE firemen, bankers, or doctors—but that we must make the goal conform to the individual, rather than make the individual conform to the goal. In every man, heredity and environment have combined to produce a creature of certain abilities and desires—including a deeply ingrained need to function in such a way that his life will be MEANINGFUL. A man has to BE something; he has to matter.
  • A man who procrastinates in his CHOOSING will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance. So if you now number yourself among the disenchanted, then you have no choice but to accept things as they are, or to seriously seek something else. But beware of looking for goals: look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living WITHIN that way of life. But you say, “I don’t know where to look; I don’t know what to look for.” And there’s the crux. Is it worth giving up what I have to look for something better? I don’t know—is it? Who can make that decision but you? But even by DECIDING TO LOOK, you go a long way toward making the choice.
- 20-Year-Old Hunter S. Thompson’s Superb Advice on How to Find Your Purpose and Live a Meaningful Life

Quote of the Day

You can only convince people who think they can benefit from being convinced.

- Nassim Taleb, The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms

Friday, November 15, 2013

Sachin Tendulkar's Final Innings...

The magician called Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar on Friday ensured that it was a farewell that each and every Indian will remember for posterity as the country's greatest sporting icon walked into the sunset with a knock which exhibited just why he is the greatest of this era.

In his 200th and last Test match, Tendulkar showed how a genius can keep overwhelming emotions under control as he scored a majestic 74 in what will probably be his last international innings.

The numbers mattered for the uninitiated but for those who loved the man for the last 24 years, each and every stroke that came out from that blade was a celebration. His 74 came off 118 balls with 12 boundaries.

A deft late cut off Shane Shillingford, straight drive past Tino Best, a shot off his hips off Shanon Gabriel, it was India's most loved hero's way of saying 'Thank You' as he completed 24 years in international cricket.

The cobwebs were off his mind, 40,000 odd at the Wankhede and the millions in every nook and corner of India may have felt the pressure, but the man himself had a sage like presence at the crease. Nothing mattered to him apart from the bowler and the release of his delivery.

The second day's innings was a vintage Tendulkar, who made everyone sit on a 'Time Machine' as he rolled back those years. What no bowler has done successfully in 24 years, Tino Best was trying to do -- sledge Tendulkar. But predictably, it didn't have an effect. Best tried to intimidate Tendulkar with short-pitched deliveries. It hardly bothered him. He appealed fervently for a caught behind but the umpire negated it.

Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan's sigh of relief was there for all to see.

Best walked up to Tendulkar on his follow through, asking "why doesn't he hook?" The Master just smiled back.

But then Tendulkar showed that if the bowler is 'Best', the maestro from Mumbai has always been 'Better Than the Best'.

The Indian's answer was copybook bowler's backdrive that took him past the half-century mark. The 50 came off 91 balls with nine boundaries.

As Tendulkar raised his bat to acknowledge the applause from a packed Wankhede, wife Anjali made a nervous gesture with her hands, probably to say "Just stay on".

A few overs later, Best had his hands on his knees, a signature of surrendering to a genius. As he walked past Best, Tendulkar just patted his shoulders as if to say "Come on young man. You will have better days but it's my day today."

May be 40 years from now, a 70-year-old Best will tell his grandchildren about his duel with the Master as this will be the most cherished moment of his career.

To prove a point, a backfoot cover drive off Best was unleashed in his next over as Tendulkar moved into the 60s. Finally when Narsingh Deonarine induced an edge, skipper Darren Sammy took a catch at the slip.

Anjali was on her feet, mother Rajni was smiling, coach Ramakant Achrekar had a tear in his eyes, brother Ajit was emotional and one of the ball-boys standing at the boundary line called Arjun Tendulkar was certainly pleased at what he saw.

As Tendulkar acknowledged the standing ovation, one didn't know whether he had a tear in his eyes but there were moist eyes all around as the revered Indian trudged his way back to pavilion.

- More Here

NASA's Strategies for Managing 'Big Data' from Space

How big is big data? For NASA missions, hundreds of terabytes are gathered every hour. Just one terabyte is equivalent to the information printed on 50,000 trees worth of paper.

"Scientists use big data for everything from predicting weather on Earth to monitoring ice caps on Mars to searching for distant galaxies," said Eric De Jong of JPL, principal investigator for NASA's Solar System Visualization project, which converts NASA mission science into visualization products that researchers can use. "We are the keepers of the data, and the users are the astronomers and scientists who need images, mosaics, maps and movies to find patterns and verify theories.

JPL is involved with archiving the array's torrents of images: 700 terabytes of data are expected to rush in every day. That's equivalent to all the data flowing on the Internet every two days. Rather than build more hardware, engineers are busy developing creative software tools to better store the information, such as "cloud computing" techniques and automated programs for extracting data.

"We don't need to reinvent the wheel," said Chris Mattmann, a principal investigator for JPL's big-data initiative. "We can modify open-source computer codes to create faster, cheaper solutions." Software that is shared and free for all to build upon is called open source or open code. JPL has been increasingly bringing open-source software into its fold, creating improved data processing tools for space missions. The JPL tools then go back out into the world for others to use for different applications.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Thus, for those of us who make only a brief study of chemistry, the benefits to be expected are of an indirect nature. Increased capacity for enjoyment, a livelier interest in the world in which we live, a more intelligent attitude toward the great questions of the day--these are the by-products of a well-balanced education, including chemistry in its proper relation to other studies.

- Horace G. Deming, General Chemistry: An elementary survey emphasizing industrial applications of fundamental principles 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Four Basic Moves to Strengthen Focus

The ability to focus is like a mental muscle. The more we work it out, the stronger it becomes, much like using a Cybex at the gym for sculpting pecs.

In research at Emory University by Wendy Hasenkamp she imaged the brain of volunteers while they paid attention to their breath. They didn't try to control their breathing in any way, but just concentrated on its natural flow.

She found there are four basic moves in the mind's workout for focused attention:

  • Bring your focus to your breath.
  • Notice that your mind has wandered off.
  • Disengage from that train of thought.
  • Bring your focus back to your breath and hold it there.
And the next time your mind wanders off and you notice that you're thinking about, say, your lunch rather than your in breath, repeat that basic mental rep again. And again.

- Daniel Goleman

The Dumbest Generation Is Only The Second Dumbest Generation

"Kids today" may be the Dumbest Generation, but the parents and teachers of the Dumbest Generation are themselves so dumb they not only don't know the information themselves, they don't even know what knowledge exists that is important to pass on.

And I can prove it: the above book What Do Our 17 Year Olds Know? was written in 1987.   Those dumb 17 year olds are 40 now.   Say what you want about the "elitist" conclusions of The Closing of the American Mind  but it was also written in 1987, about 1987 college kids-- who are now adults.

The adults are dumb, all right; but they don't know it.  They have a unsettling feeling that something is lacking.  The general narcissism and insecurity of parents today-- even/especially the "good" parents, is visible in their parenting.  At a birthday party, the kids are running Lord of The Flies while their parents completely ignore them, socializing; meanwhile, they hover over them at the store, at the playground-- "no bicycle without a helmet."  They secretly read their kid's email and Facebook accounts,  but have never once read the kid's math book.  "Oh, ha ha, I don't remember all that math!"  Idiot, could you at least pretend it's important?

If you do your kid's math homework with them every night, I swear to you that you won't need to worry about Facebook.  I will concede that monitoring their Facebook is easier.

Many professional parents and teachers I know fall back on empty words-- "classical education" or "the use of primary texts" but they don't know what those terms mean.  They nod respectfully at Aeschylus, but they don't have the first clue whether he fought for the Greeks or the Trojans.   You think these parents and teachers are going to know to tell the  kids to read Werner Jaeger?   They're not.  They're going to buy them a Leapster.

- More Here

Here’s My Plan to Improve Our World And How You Can Help - Bill Gates

Look at what happened to agriculture in the 20th century. For decades, scientists worked to develop hardier crops. But those advances mostly benefited the rich world, leaving the poor behind. Then in the middle of the century, the Rockefeller and Ford foundations stepped in. They funded Norman Borlaug’s research on new strains of high-yielding wheat, which sparked the Green Revolution. (As Borlaug said, fertilizer was the fuel that powered the forward thrust of the Green Revolution, but these new crops were the catalysts that sparked it.) No private company had any interest in funding Borlaug. There was no profit in it. But today all the people who have escaped poverty represent a huge market opportunity—and now companies are flocking to serve them.

Or take a more recent example: the advent of Big Data. It’s indisputable that the availability of massive amounts of information will revolutionize US health care, manufac­turing, retail, and more. But it can also benefit the poorest 2 billion. Right now researchers are using satellite images to study soil health and help poor farmers plan their harvests more efficiently. We need a lot more of this kind of innovation. Otherwise, Big Data will be a big wasted opportunity to reduce inequity.

People often ask me, “What can I do? How can I help?”

Companies—especially those in the technology sector—can dedicate a percentage of their top innovators’ time to issues that could help people who’ve been left out of the global economy or deprived of opportunity here in the US. If you write great code or are an expert in genomics or know how to develop new seeds, I’d encourage you to learn more about the problems of the poorest and see how you can help.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

[H]ow can life be what Ennius calls “the life worth living,” if it does not repose on the mutual goodwill of a friend? What is sweeter than to have someone with whom you may dare discuss anything as if you were communing with yourself? How could your enjoyment in times of prosperity be so great if you did not have someone whose joy in them would be equal to your own?

- Cicero, De Amicitia

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

NaSent - Neural Analysis of Sentiment

NaSent, which is short for Neural Analysis of Sentiment, is a program that determines whether movie reviews are positive or negative. There are already programs that do this, largely by counting positive and negative words in a review, but NaSent is more sophisticated: It can extract meaning from whole phrases and sentences, which puts it ever so slightly closer to the realm of a real live reader.

NaSent was created by computer scientists Richard Socher, Christopher Manning, and Andrew Ng, and linguist Christopher Potts, and presented last month at a conference in Seattle. The researchers began by feeding the program 214,000 phrases and sentences from movie reviews that had been coded manually on a scale from like to dislike. NaSent then draws on that foundation to determine the meaning of unfamiliar sentences.

A news release put out last month by the Stanford Engineering Department included a sample analysis that highlights NaSent’s ability to detect nuance. The program is able to tell the difference between two sentences that contain the exact same words in nearly the same order, but have completely opposite meanings:

  • “Unlike the surreal Leon, this movie is weird but likeable.”
  • “Unlike the surreal but likeable Leon, this movie is weird.”
- More Here

The Language of Left and Right Dog Tail Wags

Left-right asymmetries in behavior associated with asymmetries in the brain are widespread in the animal kingdom, and the hypothesis has been put forward that they may be linked to animals’ social behavior. Dogs show asymmetric tail-wagging responses to different emotive stimuli-the outcome of different activation of left and right brain structures controlling tail movements to the right and left side of the body. A crucial question, however, is whether or not dogs detect this asymmetry. 

Here we report that dogs looking at moving video images of conspecifics exhibiting prevalent left- or right-asymmetric tail wagging showed higher cardiac activity and higher scores of anxious behavior when observing left- rather than right-biased tail wagging. The finding that dogs are sensitive to the asymmetric tail expressions of other dogs supports the hypothesis of a link between brain asymmetry and social behavior and may prove useful to canine animal welfare theory and practice.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Deprived of a narrative when given a bunch of facts, humans will use the facts they're given to compose a narrative, and then adjust the facts they've been taught to fit that narrative.

- Best. Comment. Ever

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A Cure for the Allergy Epidemic?

Dr. Holbreich, slight and bespectacled, peppered them with questions. At what age did Mr. Mast begin working in the cowshed? “My first memory is of milking,” he said, at about the age of 5. What about his children, two straw-haired girls, then ages 2 and 3; did they spend time in the cowshed? The elder girl came to the barn at 3 months of age, he said. “People learn to walk in here.” Do expectant mothers work in the barn? “Yes,” Laura said. “We work.”

Dr. Holbreich had made his point: whatever forces were acting here, they were chronic, and they began before birth. As the sun rose, Dr. Holbreich and I sniffed the damp, fermented feed (slightly malty); shoveled fresh cow manure (“Liquid gold,” Dr. Holbreich said only half-jokingly, “the best medicine you could think of”); and marveled at the detritus floating in the air. Extrapolating from previous research, with each breath we were inhaling perhaps 1,000 times more microbes than usual. By breakfast time, grime had collected under our nails, hay clung to our clothes, and muck to our boots. “There’s got to be bacteria, mold and plant material,” Dr. Holbreich said. “You do this every day for 30 years, 365 days a year, you can see there are so many exposures.”

The challenge of identifying the important exposures — and getting them into a bottle — is a pressing one. In parts of the developing world, where allergic disease was once considered rare, scientists have noted an uptick, especially in urban areas. China offers a dramatic case in point. A 2009 study found a more than threefold difference in allergic sensitization (as judged by skin-prick tests) between schoolchildren in rural areas around Beijing and children in the city proper. Doctor-diagnosed asthma differed sixfold. Maybe not coincidentally, 40 percent of the rural children had lived on farms their whole lives.

Immigrants from the developing world to the developed tend to be less allergic than average. But the longer they reside in their adopted countries, the more allergic they become. And their native-born children seem to gain the vulnerability to asthma, sometimes surpassing it. All of which highlights a longstanding question in the allergy field. As Dr. Holbreich puts it, “What is it about westernization that makes people allergic?

More Here

The Second-Chance Dog - A Love Story.

Excerpts from The Second-Chance Dog: A Love Story by Jon Katz:

This is the story of an aging and troubled man yearning for love and knowing it will never come, a troubled artist who had given up her art and lost her voice, and a courageous, fiercely loyal wild dog abandoned by a bad man and left to fend for herself in the Adirondack wilderness.

There was me, 61, broke and bewildered, beginning to see that his 35-year marriage was falling apart, living alone on a farm in a poor and remote corner of upstate New York with a bunch of animals.

And there was Maria, a sad, brooding fiber artist in her 40s, nearing the end of a 20-year marriage, seeking to find her lost creative soul.

And finally there was Frieda, aka “the Helldog,” a Rottweiler-shepherd mix who had been cruelly abandoned and spent years living in the wild.

And what in the world could possibly bind these three completely disparate and seemingly so utterly different beings? The thing that makes any good fairy tale work: We were looking for love. We were looking to be saved from an empty life. We were seeking that rarest of miracles, a second chance.