Monday, March 31, 2014

What I've Been Reading

The Long and the Short of It: The Science of Life Span and Aging by Jonathan Slivertown. It takes a while to develop good instinct to select new science books. I have wasted enough time reading my quota of pop science books over the years but Slivertown book is a well written and packed with latest research. I learned a lot in the past few days on why I am wired to kick the bucket and I hope, we reduce the sufferings in future but never conquer death.

By comparison, an organism carrying a gene for later maturity and longer life will plod slowly toward posterity and fast become history. It is just arithmetic. Imagine two banks that pay you compound interest on your savings. Which will earn you more, one that pays 5 percent a month or one that pays 5 percent a year? Monthly compound interest at 5 percent will turn $ 100 into nearly $ 180 in a year, a return forty times better than the $ 5 you will get from the tardy bank. That’s exactly the kind of advantage that short life and early reproduction confers on organisms. And by the way, if you find a bank paying even 2 percent a month, be sure to let me know. The puzzle of longevity, then, is not why we die so soon, but rather why we live so long.

On Senescence:

Although in the richest countries life expectancy has approximately doubled over the last 200 years, the mortality rate doubling time has not declined. The explanation for this paradox is that senescence has not been reduced; it has just been postponed to later life. 32 We have no idea what further gains in life expectancy may be made in the future, but we can say that such gains are unlikely to be made at the expense of senescence. Senescence does come to a stop in extreme old age, but by then the annual mortality rate is so high that this buys very little extra time. The grinding to a halt of senescence in the very old is probably caused by death winnowing out the frailest, leaving behind those who have enjoyed more robust health than average throughout their lives.

In summary, Medawar’s idea is that the ability of natural selection to alter the genetic future diminishes with the age of individuals and that this, by default, permits mutations that cause senescence to accumulate over evolutionary time. One might say that natural selection retires in old age. Peter Medawar went a step further with his argument, pointing out that some mutations that have beneficial effects on health and reproduction during youth might also have deleterious effects in old age. Such double-acting mutations would accelerate the evolution of senescence because they would actually be favored by natural selection and not just passively accumulate. Double-acting genes that have reproductive benefits in youth but health penalties in old age can be compared to a children’s seesaw, with life span represented by a plank that connects youth and old age. Raising one end of the seesaw results in lowering the other. Natural selection elevates youth, but it is indifferent to the plunge in old age that results at the other end of the plank.

Plants & Cancer:

One reason plants are spared fatal cancers must be that plant cells are immobilized by a boxlike cell wall that prevents them spreading around the plant body in the way that animal cells are able to do. The phenomenon of metastasis that kills so many cancer patients cannot occur in plants. It has also been suggested that the division of a cell is more tightly controlled by the influence of neighboring cells in plants than in animals, which makes it much harder for a single mutant plant cell to multiply out of control. 

Long-lived trees also defend themselves with chemicals. The fragrant resin produced by conifers, for example, is an important part of their armory, flooding wounds with antiseptic when the trees are damaged. The dried heartwood of a ponderosa pine can contain as much as 86 percent resin by weight. 26 Oil extracted from eastern red cedar wood is an effective termite and moth deterrent. Chests lined with the wood were traditionally used in New England to store and protect winter clothes from attack by moths during the summer months.


The DNA molecules in a human cell are extremely thin and long. Stretched out in a line, the DNA in a single cell would be between six and nine feet long. 21 Packing such molecules into a tiny cell is a feat of natural nanoengineering to be marveled at. The packages of hyper-coiled DNA in cells are called chromosomes, and each human cell has 23 pairs of these. The process that copies the DNA in a chromosome has a problem when it gets to the end of the molecule, where it tends to stop short, leaving loose ends like the unraveling sleeves of an old sweater. This problem was fixed very early in the evolution of the eukaryotes by the placement of a cap, called a telomere, at either end of each chromosome. Elizabeth Blackburn and her collaborators, working at Yale and later at the University of California, Berkeley, discovered the structure of telomeres, which turned out to be made of a repeating DNA sequence of six bases. The telomeres do not keep a chromosome from getting shorter at the ends each time it is replicated, but they prevent the genes in the chromosome from being clipped by taking the hit for them. Each time a cell divides, the telomeres on the chromosomes of its daughter cells get shorter. Of course the telomeres eventually get clipped to a nub, and at that point the cells lose the ability to divide and enter a state called replicative senescence.

The association of telomere length with survival may be direct, indirect, or both. For example, short telomeres could have a direct effect on susceptibility to infection if they handicap the rate at which new white blood cells, whose job it is to fight infection, are generated by cell division. Telomere length might equally well be an indirect marker of other aging processes such as oxidative stress. Telomere replication is known to be more sensitive to oxidative stress than replication of other parts of the chromosome, and this sensitivity may cause telomeres to shorten.

Quote of the Day

Don’t aim at success — the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run—in the long run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think of it.

- Victor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning

Sunday, March 30, 2014

On Kahneman

Kahneman @ 80 - Brilliant discussion on Edge on how Kahneman's work influenced them.

Nassim Taleb:
Here is an insight Danny K. triggered and changed the course of my work. I figured out a nontrivial problem in randomness and its underestimation a decade ago while reading the following sentence in a paper by Kahneman and Miller of 1986:

A spectator at a weight lifting event, for example, will find it easier to imagine the same athlete lifting a different weight than to keep the achievement constant and vary the athlete's physique.

This idea of varying one side, not the other also applies to mental simulations of future (random) events, when people engage in projections of different counterfactuals. Authors and managers have a tendency to take one variable for fixed, sort-of a numeraire, and perturbate the other, as a default in mental simulations. One side is going to be random, not the other.

It hit me that the mathematical consequence is vastly more severe than it appears. Kahneman and colleagues focused on the bias that variable of choice is not random. But the paper set off in my mind the following realization: now what if we were to go one step beyond and perturbate both? The response would be nonlinear. I had never considered the effect of such nonlinearity earlier nor seen it explicitly made in the literature on risk and counterfactuals. And you never encounter one single random variable in real life; there are many things moving together.

Walter Mischel:
In one wonderful year he and Amos focused completely on the 1974 Science article that catapulted them into the history books. Danny attributes its remarkable impact (that ultimately also led to the Nobel Prize), to the medium as much as to the message. He notes that in the 1974 article he and Amos continued to practice the psychology of single questions. He believes that citing those questions verbatim in the text of the article: "personally engaged readers and convinced them that we were concerned not with the stupidity of Joe Public but with a much more interesting issue: the susceptibility to erroneous intuitions of intelligent, sophisticated, and perceptive individuals such as themselves." Forty years later the same voice and practice surely underlie the success of Thinking Fast and Slow.

Reflecting further on his collaboration with Tversky and the genesis of that1974 article, Danny says they went through 30-odd versions of prospect theory. What kept them going was Amos' often-used phrase "Let's do it right." They did, and in what Kahneman has kept on doing, he keeps showing us how to get it right.

Rory Sutherland:
When I met Danny in London in 2009 he diffidently said that the only hope he had for his work was that "it might lead to a better kind of gossip"—where people discuss each other's motivations and behaviour in slightly more intelligent terms. To someone from an industry where a new flavour-variant of toothpaste is presented as being an earth-changing event, this seemed an incredibly modest aspiration for such important work.

However, if this was his aim, he has surely succeeded. When I meet people, I now use what I call "the Kahneman heuristic". You simply ask people "Have you read Danny Kahneman's book?" If the answer is yes, you know (p>0.95) that the conversation will be more interesting, wide-ranging and open-minded than otherwise.

And it then occurred to me that his aim—for better conversations—was perhaps not modest at all. Multiplied a millionfold it may very important indeed. In the social sciences, I think it is fair to say, the good ideas are not always influential and the influential ideas are not always good. Kahneman's work is now both good and influential.

Blind Cavefish Could Change Our Understanding of Evolution

In the classic view of evolution, organisms undergo random genetic mutations, and nature selects for the most beneficial ones. A recent study in Science adds a twist to that theory: variability already present in a population's genome may remain hidden in times of plenty but come unmasked in stressful situations, ready to help with adaptation. At the theory's core is a protein called HSP90.

The study's lead author, Harvard Medical School's Nicolas Rohner, tested the idea on the Mexican tetra, a river-dwelling fish. In the distant past, populations of Mexican tetra ended up in underwater caves, a new environment to which the fish adapted by losing their eyesight.

Rohner and his colleagues raised surface fish in water treated with an HSP90 blocker. Those fish, they found, had greater variations in eye and eye-socket sizes. Stressing surface fish with water chemically similar to cave water also yielded offspring with a greater than normal variety of eye sizes.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Wisdom Of The Week

I don't have the heart to watch Satyamev Jayatev regulary but somehow this week I mustered some courage to watch the episode on Indian police. The moment the show began I was so "convinced" that Aamir will be bashing the police with a victim centric show.

I was so wrong!! He turned the show around and made it empathetic to the cops by probing into the root cause of the whole issue. I never knew 92% of indian police force is made up of constables (the lowest grade). While 92% of the police force is psychologically bruised,  no wonder the state of law and order is in a dismal state .

It was an amazing experience to watch myself change with in a span of an hour from a life long righteous negative bias against Indian cops to feel empathy for them. I could see Daniel Kahneman shaking his head and smiling.

4 Essential Tips For CEOs Who Want To Keep Coding

Lew Cirne instead of going to a lot of meetings, he spent a lot of time in his Lake Tahoe cabin working on our latest software analytics product, code-named Project Rubicon. The goal? To be totally isolated from the day to day, to get to that “a-ha” moment  when the idea clicks and you can’t think about anything else. To experience the “pure coding joy” of diving into the guts of building software.

  • Surround yourself with amazing people. “I thought deeply about what I wanted to do and what roles others on my team should do,” Lew said. “The key is to find people who are great at what they do, and then trust them and empower them to do their jobs so you can do yours.” 
  • Carve out specific times for development work. Rather than try to squeeze in development work whenever he has a chance, Lew schedules two full weeks per quarter — that’s 8 weeks a year — to be isolated writing software. Outside of the coding period, he recommends that the coding CEO focus on their business role.
  • Focus on high-value projects. Lew spent last year’s coding break on developing Rubicon, which was introduced at our FutureStack conference last year. While he built the main concept, he wisely handed it off to other members of the New Relic team. “Now we have many engineers working on the project,” Lew said, “so I’m doing less hands-on work.” His next two-week coding break will be devoted to New Relic’s next big idea, which he hopes to bring out the following year.
  • Make it clear why a coding CEO is good for the company. “It’s obviously good for me that I get to do the fun coding stuff,” Lew said, “but how does the board feel?” The answer is that “we’re a product-first company, and that starts with the CEO.” Aside from the actual coding work that gets done, Lew said, “being a coding CEO helps me stay more connected on the latest technology trends, and return more energized and more sharp on the business discussions.”
- More Here

Quote of the Day

Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life; dream of it; think of it; live on that idea. Let the brain, the body, muscles, nerves, every part of your body be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success, and this is the way great spiritual giants are produced.

- Swami Vivekananda, Vedanta Philosophy: Lectures by the Swami Vivekananda

Friday, March 28, 2014

What I've Been Reading

Edmund Burke: The First Conservative by Jesse Norman. When I moved to this country as a young man, I felt something was fundamentally amiss in this overly individualist society (euphemism for it's all about me, me and more me). It was nauseating until I found Edmund Burke via David Brooks. Now, I view the political world with a Burkean filter which unfortunately not very popular these days.

Burke gives us again the lost language of politics: a language of honour, loyalty, duty and wisdom, which can never be adequately captured in any spreadsheet or economic model.

Jesse Norman delivers as promised in his mission statement: 
My hope is to start to do for Edmund Burke what others have done for Adam Smith over the past thirty years: to recognize him publicly as one of the seminal thinkers of the present age.

Skin in the Game:
His private life was blighted by debt, which he was unwilling to relieve by the means of self-enrichment usual for the time. He offended King George III by his severe criticisms of royal influence, and by his support for a regency during the King’s period of madness. A man of enormous personal warmth and good humour, he lost friends and supporters by his near-obsessive insistence on the campaigns of the moment. Yet in intellectual terms the extraordinary fact is not that Burke was occasionally wrong, but that he was so often right. Not only that, he was right for the right reasons – not through luck but because his powers of analysis, imagination and empathy gave him an extraordinary gift of prophecy. Thus he anticipated many of the effects of British rule in Ireland; the loss of the American colonies; the overreach of the East India Company; and the disastrous consequences of revolution in France.

Adam Smith on Burke:
Among these institutions is that of the market, itself the object of increasing thought and study in the late eighteenth century, most notably by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations. Smith once remarked that ‘Burke is the only man I ever knew who thinks on economic subjects exactly as I do, without any previous communications having passed between us,’

Ethics of Vanity:
According to Burke there is a deeper mistake in seeing people as mere individual atoms. In effect it is a denial of their collective identities as participants in the social contract or trust between the generations: a denial of the covenantal nature of society itself. Like Gulliver with the Lilliputians, it seeks to assert the primacy of the individual will, and sees all social constraint as fetters to be thrown off. Liberty becomes licence: the absence of impediment to the will. The danger, then, is that liberal individualism makes people profoundly selfish; that they slip from ‘enlightened’ to ‘unenlightened’ self-interest, in the words of the great political theorist Alexis de Tocqueville; that it actively encourages them to adopt a purely egoistic perspective on their own and others’ lives, asking simply ‘How am I affected? What’s in it for me?’ Instead of grasping the intrinsically social nature of their own selves and their own well-being, they see themselves as apart from others, or from the institutions around them. It may be no coincidence that a recent in-depth study found that young people in America now have great difficulty in identifying or describing moral issues. Lacking relevant moral concepts or vocabulary, researchers found, they default to a typical position of liberal individualism: the view that moral decisions are simply a matter of personal taste. This is the ‘ethics of vanity’, in Burke’s pungent phrase.

Six Lessons We Can Learn From Burke:
  1. The first is that extreme liberalism is now in crisis. Burke shows us, the individual is not simply a compendium of wants , human happiness is not simply a matter of satisfying individual wants, and the purpose of politics is not to satisfy the interests of individuals living now: it is to preserve an evolving social order which meets the needs of generations past, present and future. The paradox of Burke’s conservatism is thus that, properly understood, it is intrinsically modest, while extreme liberalism appears to promote arrogance and selfishness. Burke’s conservatism constrains rampant individualism and the tyranny of the majority, while extreme liberalism threatens to worsen their effects.
  2. Second, many of the recent disasters of liberalism arose from failures of policy and leadership which a Burkean perspective might well have been able to avoid. None of these great political actions was necessary; all ignored local circumstances and the ‘temper of the people’; and all were or are proving to be disastrous in their effects. The same is true on a smaller scale with the many melancholy case studies of social capital destroyed by such things as out-of-town supermarkets and foolish inner-city renewal projects. But a Burkean perspective allows us to sense immediately what has gone wrong. It reminds us of the institutional centrality of the city and the nation state. And more deeply still, it offers an intellectual context within which to analyse and understand the deeper currents of ethnic, religious or ideological allegiance.
  3. Third, Burke offers an important but undervalued model of political leadership. The purpose of politics for him is to preserve and enhance the social order in the national interest. Leadership begins in respect for the social order, and so in modesty. It demands a close study of the people, indeed all of the people, and their institutions and ‘manners’. It is therefore rooted in a sense of history, rather than one of science. Burkean leaders believe in slow government.
  4. Fourth, as we have seen, Burke was driven throughout his career by a hatred of excessive power, and the arbitrary use and abuse of power. In his own time, he regarded as his greatest achievement his campaign to restrain the influence, greed and self-dealing of the East India Company , and to insist on the accountability of private power to legitimate public authority.Burke offers a profound critique of the market fundamentalism now prevalent in Western society. But he does so not from the left of the political spectrum, but from the right. A Burkean perspective would distinguish between conservative and liberal free markets. Understood conservatively, markets are not idolized, but treated as cultural artefacts mediated by trust and tradition. Capitalism becomes, not a one-size-fits-all ideology of consumption, but a spectrum of different models to be evaluated on their own merits.
  5. Fifth, Burke reminds us of the foundational importance of protecting representative government and the rule of law, as a bulwark against the abuse of power – whether that be corporate power or executive power within government itself. There is much here of which Britain can be proud, in its own distinctive history and institutions. But every country is different, in its traditions, its values and its pathologies of government. There is no single one-size-fits-all model of democracy, but every genuine democracy relies on effective public deliberation, and in every genuine democracy political parties have a centrally important role. They have never been popular, and often rightly so. They are often reviled today, and often in need of reform. It is hard to see a future for them in a world of e-petitions, plebiscites, referenda, single-issue campaigning, tribal ideology, bureaucratic inertia and consumerism.
  6. Finally, Burke provides a context within which to understand the loss and recovery of social value. His message is a vital and timeless insistence on the importance of human culture, in its widest sense. As a politician, he was devoted to an ideal of public service, and deplored the tendency to individual or generational arrogance, and the ‘ethics of vanity’. His thought is imbued with the importance of history and memory, and an Orwellian detestation of those that would erase them. He insists on the importance of human connection and identity , and on manners, sentiment and ‘prejudice’, inherited and not invented, and embedded in social institutions and networks. He emphasizes the human self as an active social force, not the passive vehicle for happiness of the utilitarians, or the individual atom of much modern economics. For Burke, government itself cannot simply be a matter of utility and effectiveness. It must have some continuing purchase on our affections and allegiance.
 Genuine simplicity of heart is an healing and cementing principle . . . Magnanimity in politics is not seldom the truest wisdom; and a great empire and little minds go ill together.

Quote of the Day

Humans, as a rule, don't like mad people unless they are good at painting, and only then once they are dead. But the definition of mad, on Earth, seems to be very unclear and inconsistent. What is perfectly sane in one era turns out to be insane in another. The earliest humans walked around naked with no problem. Certain humans, in humid rainforests mainly, still do so. So, we must conclude that madness is sometimes a question of time, and sometimes of postcode.

Basically, the key rule is, if you want to appear sane on Earth you have to be in the right place, wearing the right clothes, saying the right things, and only stepping on the right kind of grass.

- Matt Haig, The Humans: A Novel

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Data Donors

A modern philanthropy well.. donate your Data @


Movie is based on physicist Kip Thorne's theories about wormholes - via wiki:

Thorne was one of the first people to conduct scientific research on whether the laws of physics permit space and time to be multiply connected (can there exist classical, traversable wormholes and "time machines"?). With Sung-Won Kim, Thorne identified a universal physical mechanism (the explosive growth of vacuum polarization of quantum fields), that may always prevent spacetime from developing closed timelike curves (i.e., prevent "backward time travel"). With Mike Morris and Ulvi Yurtsever he showed that traversable Lorentzian wormholes can exist in the structure of spacetime only if they are threaded by quantum fields in quantum states that violate the averaged null energy condition (i.e. have negative renormalized energy spread over a sufficiently large region). This has triggered research to explore the ability of quantum fields to possess such extended negative energy. Recent calculations by Thorne indicate that simple masses passing through traversable wormholes could never engender paradoxes – there are no initial conditions that lead to paradox once time travel is introduced. If his results can be generalised, they would suggest that none of the supposed paradoxes formulated in time travel stories can actually be formulated at a precise physical level: that is, that any situation in a time travel story turns out to permit many consistent solutions.

We've always defined ourselves by the ability to overcome the impossible. And we count these moments. These moments when we dare to aim higher, to break barriers, to reach for the stars, to make the unknown known. We count these moments as our proudest achievements. But we lost all that. Or perhaps we've just forgotten that we are still pioneers. And we've barely begun. And that our greatest accomplishments cannot be behind us, because our destiny lies above us.

Can Bayes Theorem Find A Missing Plane?

The theorem is used to analyze scientific results, and also to look for things. Metron Corp. has used Bayes' theorem to hunt for everything from sunken submarines to gold bullion.

Colleen Keller, a senior analyst with Metron, was called in to hunt for Air France Flight 447, which disappeared somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean in 2009. A sonar search for "pinger" beacons on the plane's two black boxes had turned up no sign of the wreckage. "[They] were kind of throwing up their hands," she says. "They brought us onboard to start collating the data and keep them organized."

Keller went to work developing a Bayesian model to look for the plane. She started with data on the flight's last known position, along with details of currents and weather, and stats from previous crashes. She calculated the odds of various scenarios and combined them into a huge probabilistic framework. The mathematical model calculated the odds of the plane being at any one point in a nearly 50-mile radius of the last point of contact. Keller updated those odds after searchers passed over a section of ocean.

But the theorem is only as good as the facts it includes. In the case of Air France, the failure of both black boxes — against the odds — kept the theorem from initially succeeding.

For the missing Malaysian Airlines flight, the problem may be the sea itself. The southern Indian Ocean is vast, deep and prone to bad weather and powerful currents. Search planes can miss things; boats can pass over wreckage and not even realize it.

"If the search itself is imperfect, then the revisions under Bayes' theorem will still leave a great deal of uncertainty," warns Barnett. "You might not be that far away from where you started."

Still, Keller says, Bayes' theorem probably does have something to offer. Even if the search area it predicts proves vast, "it's going to be better than searching the whole Indian Ocean."

- More Here

3200 Year Old Sequoia in Snowstorm

Although we like to think humans are greatest species on earth, The President gives us a stoic reality check by dwarfing these scientists with his enormous trunk. In his 3200 years, he has seen a hundred generations of humans come and go. He has weathered thousands of storms, fires, harsh winters, earthquakes, and even climate change – but is growing even faster than ever before.

To visit the “Giant Forest” at Sequoia National Park and witness the majesty in person, more info here and via here

Quote of the Day

It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction.

-Harry G. Frankfurt, On Bullshit

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

I Have Inverse Mentors: People I Learnt to Not Imitate - Nassim Taleb

Who was or still is your mentor?
My maternal aunt and paternal grand-uncle. They understand collective wisdom, the type of mistakes one may regret as opposed to good mistakes. I also have inverse mentors: people I learnt to not imitate.

Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?

Both concepts are modernist nonsense. Success is about honour, feeling morally calibrated, absence of shame, not what some newspaper defines from an external metric.

How politically committed are you?

Independent, with a Burkean bent, anti-centralised state, anti-large corporations, anti-debt – so largely localist, pro-city states and green.

Do you consider your carbon footprint?

Indeed. I drive a hybrid, moving into an electric car. I only drink tap water, never consume food that’s travelled. Have been moving many lectures to teleconferencing.

In what place are you happiest?

It is atmosphere-dependent. I am happy everywhere except in places where I see glitz and rich farts. I am happiest in Brooklyn, where the concentration of rich farts is minimal.

What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?
I’ve learnt to never compromise.

Do you believe in assisted suicide?
I believe in a stoic approach to suicide as one ends life on one’s own terms. You need to control destiny. I did not come to this world to live for ever. Make room for others.

If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?
Life is not about self-satisfaction but the satisfaction of a sense of duty. It is all or nothing. Nine out of 10 would be total failure.

- Full interview here

Dogs' Pooping Position Aligns with Earth's Magnetic Field

Quote of the Day

In my whole life, I have known no wise people who didn't read all the time -- none, zero. You'd be amazed at how much Warren(Buffett) reads -- at how much I read. My children laugh at me. They think I'm a book with a couple of legs sticking out.

- Charles T. Munger, Poor Charlie's Almanack: The Wit and Wisdom of Charles T. Munger, Expanded Third Edition

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Happy 100 Norman Borlaug ...

He is one of handful of humans who made heaven on earth and in the process saved billion lives:

It's probably safe to say that most of us haven't heard of agronomist Norman Borlaug. If I hadn't been tangentially involved with Indian agriculture, I wouldn't have heard of him. But Borlaug was not only a famous scientist, he was one of only seven people to have won the Nobel Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Congressional Gold Medal. Apparently, the only prize to elude him was the Cy Young Award.

Tyler says:

In case you never heard of him, this documentary will enlighten you: Freedom From Famine - The Norman Borlaug Story and read the wisdom of Borlaug

What I've Been Reading

The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone. I never thought a biography of living person (or a company) can be so fascinating and entertaining. Brad Stone has delivered a classic - a must read book of the year. 

Dogs in Amazon (yeah, call me biased):
From the outside, Amazon’s modern, low-slung offices are unmarked and unremarkable. But step inside Day One North, seat of the Amazon high command on Terry Avenue and Republican Street, and you’re greeted with Amazon’s smiling logo on a wall behind a long rectangular visitors’ desk. On one side of the desk sits a bowl of dog biscuits for employees who bring their dogs to the office (a rare perk in a company that makes employees pay for parking and snacks).

Eric and Susan Benson didn’t come to Amazon alone every day— they brought their dog Rufus, a Welsh corgi. Because the two would be working such long hours, Bezos had promised they could always bring Rufus to the office. That was no problem in the SoDo buildings, but then Amazon moved yet again, late in the summer of 1996, to a building downtown, and the company had to write Rufus into the lease with the new landlord. The dog, an amiable presence who liked to park himself in meetings and occasionally suffered gastric distress from being overfed by employees, became the startup’s mascot. There was a superstitious belief that his paw tap on the keyboard was required to launch a new feature, and even today, though Rufus is long gone, there’s a building named for him on Amazon’s Seattle campus.

I am Amazon prime member and I buy everything except groceries on Amazon. It's an understatement when I say I love Amazon. But yet, I think it makes the whole system fragile when a single entity controls the retail economics (and more) of the world. Jeff Bezos made all his executives read Taleb's Black Swan; I wonder what's his take on Antifragile?

Amazon has pioneered innovation by making it easy to cater billions and will do more so in future but it will be sad if it's legacy becomes just a caterer of keeping up with the Joneses generation. Jeff is aware of that:

Some big companies develop ardent fan bases, are widely loved by their customers, and are even perceived as cool for different reasons, in different ways and to different degrees, companies like Apple, Nike, Disney, Google, Whole Foods, Costco and even UPS strike me as examples of large companies that are well-liked by their customers. On the other end of spectrum, companies like Walmart, Microsoft, Goldman Sachs, and ExxonMobil tended to be feared. Bezos applied his usual analytical sensibility to parse out why some companies were loved and others feared.
  • Rudeness is not cool. 
  • Defeating tiny guys is not cool. 
  • Close-following is not cool. 
  • Young is cool. 
  • Risk taking is cool. 
  • Winning is cool.
  • Polite is cool.
  • Defeating bigger, unsympathetic guys is cool.
  • Inventing is cool.
  • Explorers are cool.
  • Conquerors are not cool.
  • Obsessing over competitors is not cool. 
  • Empowering others is cool.
  • Capturing all the value only for the company is not cool.
  • Leadership is cool.
  • Conviction is cool.
  • Straightforwardness is cool.
  • Pandering to the crowd is not cool.
  • Hypocrisy is not cool.
  • Authenticity is cool.
  • Thinking big is cool.
  • The unexpected is cool.
  • Missionaries are cool.
  • Mercenaries are not cool.

Quote of the Day

Note to the wise: whenever someone insists that he wants to buy something from you, but tells you there's no real value in it yet, two things are happening: he's lying, and you're being taken.

- Mike Stackpole

Monday, March 24, 2014

How to Think Fast & Slow

  • Do keep natural impulse in check. Kahneman says we have two systems of thought — fast, based on intuition and impulse; and slow, based on calculation. We naturally lean to fast, especially when tired, but need to know when to distrust it. For example, it works for predicting likeability but slow thinking may be needed to supplement it and see how efficient someone might be at a certain job.
  • Do teach yourself to think long-term. The “focusing illusion” makes the here and now appear the most pressing concern but that can lead to skewed results.
  • Do be fair. Research shows that employers who are unjust are punished by reduced productivity, and unfair prices lead to a loss in sales.
  • Do co-operate. What Kahneman calls “bias blindness” means it’s easier to recognise the errors of others than our own so ask for constructive criticism and be prepared to call out others on what they could improve.
  • Do present totals rather than losses for more rational reactions. People naturally focus on differences rather than stand-alone objects. So investors are more affected by changes in wealth than by wealth itself. Counteract this by telling them how much they have rather than how much they have lost.
  • Do keep things in perspective. “Experienced” well-being is different to “remembered” well-being. The remembering self does not care about the duration of a good or bad experience but rates it by the highest or lowest point and the way it ends.
  • Don’t let failure bring you down. However much you plan, random chance has a powerful influence and failure of any kind is statistically followed by success.
  • Don’t put all your faith in fund managers and accountants. Kahneman’s analysis of their long-term performance reveals it is not skill but luck that is responsible for their successes.
  • Don’t ignore feelings. Happiness is a real experience; therefore it can be measured, studied and understood, as a goal for society and influencing economics.
  • Don’t succumb to “the illusion of validity”. Repetition and clarity can make “facts” appear true when actually we must continue to question them.
  • Don’t frown if you want people to do as you ask. A negative expression causes people to be more analytical and questioning.
- Daniel Kahneman on Luck and his book Thinking, Fast and Slow

Pehla Nasha by Alaa Wardi

Alaa Wardi is a huge fan of Aamir Khan!!

Alaa Wardi is my name, making music is my trade, bringing happiness is my desire, uplifting souls is my aim, all people are my brothers and sisters, all countries are my home, love and equality are my beliefs, hatred and prejudice depress me, originally from Iran I am, currently reside in Saudi.

Breakthrough Technologies - Sam Altman

We’d like for Y Combinator to fund more breakthrough technology companies—companies that solve an important problem, have a very long time horizon, and are based on an underlying technological or scientific breakthrough.  Not many people try to start these companies, so starting a company that will require a huge amount of time and money is an automatic competitive advantage.  SpaceX and Tesla are great examples of what is possible.

Here is a list (we’ll add to it over time) of some areas we’re particularly interested in, but more generally, we’ll pay attention to any area where technology can make the world much better.
  • Food and water. At some point, we are going to have problems with food and water availability.  Technology can almost certainly improve this.  Great innovations are possible—we will need another advancement on the scale of what Norman Borlaug did.
  • Education. If we can fix education, we can eventually do everything else on this list.  The first attempts to use technology to fix education have focused on using the Internet to distribute traditional content to a wider audience.  This is good, but the Internet is a fundamentally different medium and capable of much more.
- Rest of Sam Altman's list here

Quote of the Day

Sunday, March 23, 2014

What Pakistan Knew About Bin Laden

In trying to prove that the ISI knew of Bin Laden’s whereabouts and protected him, I struggled for more than two years to piece together something other than circumstantial evidence and suppositions from sources with no direct knowledge. Only one man, a former ISI chief and retired general, Ziauddin Butt, told me that he thought Musharraf had arranged to hide Bin Laden in Abbottabad. But he had no proof and, under pressure, claimed in the Pakistani press that he’d been misunderstood. Finally, on a winter evening in 2012, I got the confirmation I was looking for. According to one inside source, the ISI actually ran a special desk assigned to handle Bin Laden. It was operated independently, led by an officer who made his own decisions and did not report to a superior. He handled only one person: Bin Laden. I was sitting at an outdoor cafe when I learned this, and I remember gasping, though quietly so as not to draw attention. (Two former senior American officials later told me that the information was consistent with their own conclusions.) This was what Afghans knew, and Taliban fighters had told me, but finally someone on the inside was admitting it. The desk was wholly deniable by virtually everyone at the ISI — such is how supersecret intelligence units operate — but the top military bosses knew about it, I was told.

NYT article that was banned in Pakistan

Bob Comis - A Pig farmer Who Believes That “What I do is Wrong, In spite of its Acceptance by Nearly 95 Percent of the American Population"

The simplest way to put it is that slaughtering animals for their meat is a socially-permissible ethical transgression. Societal permission does not make it ethical, it just makes it acceptable. Slavery was for centuries socially-permissible (in spite of the fact that there was always a minority standing firmly against it). Did that make it any less unethical? I doubt anyone today would say yes.

As a pig farmer, I live an unethical life shrouded in the justificatory trappings of social acceptance. There is more, even, than simple acceptance. There is actually celebration of the way I raise the pigs. Because I give the pigs lives that are as close to natural as is possible in an unnatural system, I am honorable, I am just, I am humane -- while all the while behind the shroud, I am a slaveholder and a murderer. Looking head on, you can't see it. Humanely raising and slaughtering pigs seems perfectly normal. In order to see the truth, you have to have to look askance, just like a pig does when it knows you are up to no good. When you see out of the corner of your eye, in the blurry periphery of your vision, you see that meat is indeed murder.

Someday, certainly not any time soon, perhaps centuries from now, we will know this and accept this as well and as much as we know and accept the evil of slavery. But until that day, I am and will remain a paragon of animal welfare. Pigs on my farm are as piggy as pigness, the ideal form of the pig. They root, they lounge, they narf, they eat, they forage, they sleep, they wallow, they bask, they run, they play and they die unconsciously without pain or suffering. I truly believe I suffer their death more than they.

What I do is wrong, in spite of its acceptance by nearly 95 percent of the American population. I know it in my bones -- even if I cannot yet act on it. Someday it must stop. Somehow we need to become the sort of beings who can see what we are doing when we look head on, the sort of beings who don't weave dark, damning shrouds to sustain, with acceptance and celebration, the grossly unethical. Deeper, much deeper, we have an obligation to eat otherwise.

- More Here (via Andrew)

Here's How We Take Back the Internet - Edward Snowden

Dick Cheney's really something else. I think it's amazing, because at the time Julian Assange was doing some of his greatest work, Dick Cheney was saying he was going to end governments worldwide, the skies were going to ignite and the seas were going to boil off, and now he's saying it's a flea bite. So we should be suspicious about the same sort of overblown claims of damage to national security from these kind of officials. But let's assume that these people really believe this. 

I would argue that they have kind of a narrow conception of national security. The prerogatives of people like Dick Cheney do not keep the nation safe. The public interest is not always the same as the national interest. Going to war with people who are not our enemy in places that are not a threat doesn't make us safe, and that applies whether it's in Iraq or on the Internet. The Internet is not the enemy. Our economy is not the enemy. American businesses, Chinese businesses, and any other company out there is a part of our society. It's a part of our interconnected world. There are ties of fraternity that bond us together, and if we destroy these bonds by undermining the standards, the security, the manner of behavior, that nations and citizens all around the world expect us to abide by.

And NSA's response:

Quote of the Day

It is not my aim to surprise or shock you, but … there are now in the world machines that can think, that can learn and that can create. Moreover, their ability to do these things is going to increase rapidly until – in a visible future – the range of problems they can handle will be coextensive with the range to which the human mind has been applied.

- Herb Simon, 1958

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Wisdom Of The Week

Few months ago, The Moral Sayings Of Publius Syrus was listed as one of the five books you should read before you turn 30. My friend gave me that book and he added that he was almost 40 and feel bad for not having read this book all these years. My reply to him was there are many generations who have lived and died without even having heard about Publius Syrus, so don't feel bad.

The curse of common man is that he never has a means or will to read books. At first glance, teaching stoicism and moral philosophies to them seem to be a Sisyphean task but stories and movies make that task an easy one. I don't know what kind of a man Rajnikath is in real life but his unwritten legacy would be he taught moral philosophies in an entertaining way to generation of Tamilians.

The song Maatram Ondruthaan Maarathathu (Change is the only constant) from his upcoming animated movie has some inspiring and brilliant lyrics plus A.R Rahman's music makes it even better (The essence of the original Tamil lyrics might get lost in the English translation).

There are many ways to destroy an enemy
The first way: Forgiveness

Change is the only constant
All that changes, lives
All that doesn't, perishes

Be patient...
You can even gather water in a sieve, if you wait until it becomes ice
Money can help you rent happiness, but it cannot be bought

The enmity of your friend is more dangerous than the enmity of your enemies
Rise before the sun, and you can even conquer the sun

Does "YOU" refer to a body? a life? or a name?
None of these, it is Action
Are you a body, a life or name?
None of these, 'YOU' are action

The one who says "you can go" is the master,
The one who says "come. let's go" is the leader
Are you a master or a leader?

If you take to running, sorrow will come chasing
Face it bravely, the chasing sorrow will run away

Fate determines one's parent's
But it is intelligence that determines one's friends

Control your anger,
One who rises with anger, falls down with failure

My friend, everything is just for a while.

Apply Dog Vision to Any Image

New awesome tool from Wolfram Alpha !!

This is how Max saw the world last night; of course we don't know exactly how dogs see the world yet and this is an anthropomorphized dog's view:

And this is how I saw him:

Rocketing Out of Coalwood - How AI Will Transform Business & Lives

“Coal mining may be your life, but it’s not mine. I’m never going down there again. I want to go into space.” 

– Homer Hickam in “October Sky

Who cares if science is getting culturally cool again? What difference does it make if Artificial Intelligence helps business make better decisions? In the end, doesn’t automation just take away people’s jobs?

I look at it a little differently. I think about what happened in the movie “October Sky”. Without science, Homer would have made a decent living in the local coal mine. It would have been good, honest work.

In the Star Trek movie “Wrath of Khan” there’s a scene where Spock says to Kirk that commanding a starship was Kirk’s “first, best destiny”. Would coal mining have really been Homer Hickam’s “first, best destiny? I don’t think so. I think he was born to reach higher.

Big Data and Artificial Intelligence aren’t just technologies, and they’re not just about what happens on Madison Avenue or Wall Street.

The real reason these technologies matter is because they give us the very real potential of rocketing the entire world out of our individual “Coalwoods” — tedious jobs that don’t leverage what make us special.

Just having data is not the exciting thing. The cool thing is how you turn that into processes that make a difference. To me, the whole reason for technology is to create new opportunities. Maybe it’s nerdy, but… I want the future that Star Trek promised. We need more Homer Hickams to get us there.

We can rocket out of Coalwood. We can reach for the stars. How cool is that?

- More Here

Quote of the Day

A wise man never loses anything, if he has himself.

- Michel de Montaigne

Friday, March 21, 2014

Happy Birthday Max !!

My sunshine turns 8 on this first day of spring !!

Quote of the Day

Montaigne's dog, with its superior sense of smell and its mysterious sixth sense, might actually be better equipped to understand the world than Montaigne. "We have formed a truth by the consultation and concurrence of our five senses; but perhaps we needed the agreement of eight or 10 senses, and their contribution, to perceive it certainly and in its essence." The dog is missing some of these; we may be missing more.

- Montaigne, Philosopher of Life

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Conspiracy Theories and Other Dangerous Ideas

Why do people accept such theories? - Cass Sunstien's new book Conspiracy Theories and Other Dangerous Ideas was released this week.
  1. The first explanation points to people’s predispositions. Some of us count as “conspiracists” in the sense that we have a strong inclination to accept such theories. Not surprisingly, conspiracists tend to have a sense of personal powerlessness; they are also more likely to conspire themselves. Here’s an excellent predictor of whether people will accept a particular conspiracy theory: Do they accept other conspiracy theories? If you tend to think that the Apollo moon landings were faked, you are more likely to believe that the U.S. was behind the 9/11 attacks. With a little introspection, many of us know, almost immediately, whether we are inclined to accept conspiracy theories. Remarkably, people who accept one conspiracy theory tend to accept another conspiracy theory that is logically inconsistent with it. People who believe that Princess Diana faked her own death are more likely to think that she was murdered. People who believe that Osama bin Laden was already dead when U.S. forces invaded his compound are more likely to believe that he is still alive.
  2. The second set of explanations points to the close relationship between conspiracy theories and social networks, especially close-knit or isolated ones. Few of us have personal or direct knowledge about the causes of some terrible event — a missing plane, a terrorist attack, an assassination, an outbreak of disease. If one person within a network insists that a conspiracy was at work, others within that network might well believe it. Once the belief begins to spread, a lot of people within the network might accept it as well, on the theory that a spreading belief cannot possibly be wrong. And once that happens, “confirmation bias” tends to kick in, so that people give special weight to information that supports their view. They also treat contradictory information as irrelevant or perhaps even as proof of conspiracy. (Why would people — “they” — deny it if it weren’t true?)
  3. A third explanation emphasizes how human beings are inclined to react to terrible events. Such events produce outrage, suspicion and fear. Sometimes the perpetrator is self- evident, as in the case of many terrorist attacks, but if there is no clear perpetrator — as with a missing plane, a child’s disability or the outbreak of a disease — people might go hunting for the malicious agent behind it all. To be sure, some conspiracy theories turn out to be true. Republican officials, operating at the behest of the White House, did, in fact, bug the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters at the Watergate complex. In the 1950s, the Central Intelligence Agency did, in fact, administer LSD and related drugs to unknowing subjects in an effort to investigate the possibility of “mind control.” In 1947, space aliens did, in fact, land in Roswell, N.M., and the government covered it all up. Well, maybe not. Even when false, most conspiracy theories are harmless. Consider the theory, popular among younger members of our society, that a secret group of elves, working in a remote location under the leadership of a mysterious “Santa Claus,” make and distribute presents on Christmas Eve. And in a free society, conspiracy theories must be allowed even if they are both false and harmful. But sometimes conspiracy theories create real dangers.

Self-Driving Cars to Changing Education - Sebastian Thrun

Quote of the Day

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Data vs. Theory

Which is a bigger menace to society, laziness about data or laziness about theory? Theory-laziness is seductive because it's easy - mining for correlations isn't very mentally taxing. But data-laziness is seductive because it's hard - the more complicated and intricate a theory you make, the smarter it makes you feel, even if the theory sucks.

In the past, data-laziness was probably more of a threat to humanity. Since systematic data was scarce, people had a tendency to sit around and daydream about how stuff might work. But now that Big Data is getting bigger and computing power is cheap, theory-laziness seems to be becoming more of a menace. The lure of Big Data is that we can get all our ideas from mining for patterns, but A) we get a lot of false patterns that way, and B) the patterns insidiously and subtly suggest interpretations for themselves, and those interpretations are often wrong.

- More Here

The Science of Older and Wiser

Since ancient times, the elusive concept of wisdom has figured prominently in philosophical and religious texts. The question remains compelling: What is wisdom, and how does it play out in individual lives? Most psychologists agree that if you define wisdom as maintaining positive well-being and kindness in the face of challenges, it is one of the most important qualities one can possess to age successfully — and to face physical decline and death.

Vivian Clayton, a geriatric neuropsychologist in Orinda, Calif., developed a definition of wisdom in the 1970s, when she was a graduate student, that has served as a foundation for research on the subject ever since. After scouring ancient texts for evocations of wisdom, she found that most people described as wise were decision makers. So she asked a group of law students, law professors and retired judges to name the characteristics of a wise person. Based on an analysis of their answers, she determined that wisdom consists of three key components: cognition, reflection and compassion.

Unfortunately, research shows that cognitive functioning slows as people age. But speed isn’t everything. A recent study in Topics in Cognitive Science pointed out that older people have much more information in their brains than younger ones, so retrieving it naturally takes longer. And the quality of the information in the older brain is more nuanced. While younger people were faster in tests of cognitive performance, older people showed “greater sensitivity to fine-grained differences,” the study found.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

At a cable news station, he is grilled by one Roy McCoy, who is not a bit intimidated by his distinguished Greek guest: "Okay, so they tell me you're a big deal in philosophy, Plato. I'm going to tell you up front—because that's the kind of guy I am, up-front—that I don't think much of philosophers." Plato coolly responds: "Many don't. The term attracts a wide range of reaction, from admiration to amusement to animadversion. Some people think philosophers are worthless, and others that they are worth everything in the world. Sometimes they take on the appearance of statesmen, and sometimes of sophists. Sometimes, too, they might give the impression that they are completely insane."

Of course, Plato wins every argument hands down, though his interlocutors generally fail to see that. For instance, in a well-aimed chapter on the pretensions of contemporary neuroscience, Plato volunteers as a subject in a brain-imaging experiment. The smug and overbearing Dr. Shoket treats Plato and philosophy with jocular contempt, all the while demonstrating his utter ignorance of that whereof he speaks. Plato has no trouble refuting his naïve reductionism, according to which there are no persons, intentions, beliefs or other psychological states but only synapses firing mechanically in the void. The neuroscientist is confusing the physical mechanisms that make mental phenomena possible with mental phenomena themselves. I recommend this chapter to all those zealots who think they are on the verge of replacing traditional philosophy with brain science.

- Review of Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won't Go Away by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

What I've Been Reading

What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast: A Short Guide to Making Over Your Mornings--and Life by Laura Vanderkam.

The best morning rituals are activities that don’t have to happen and certainly don’t have to happen at a specific hour. These are activities that require internal motivation . The payoff isn’t as immediate as the easy pleasure of watching television or answering an email that doesn’t require an immediate response, but there are still payoffs. The best morning rituals are activities that, when practiced regularly, result in long-term benefits. The most successful people use their mornings for these things: 
  • Nurturing their careers—strategizing
  • Nurturing their relationships—giving their families and friends their best
  • Nurturing themselves—exercise and spiritual and creative practices
I am morning person and I think, I have been trying to do the hardest thing (which requires internal motivation) in the mornings - namely meditation and brushing Max !! And yes, it works.

Ultimately the amazing thing about mornings—they always feel like a new chance to do things right. A win scored then creates a “cascade of success". Once your brain records a victory it’s more likely to take the next step and the next step. Believing that your actions matter is how the human mind learns optimism or, to use a better word, hope.

Quote of the Day

Humans need to complain just as they need to breathe. Never stop them; manipulate them by controlling *what* they complain about.

- Nassim Taleb

Monday, March 17, 2014

What the Fox Knows

Nate Silver today launches the "new" FiveThirtyEight - good luck Nate; give them hell!!

I would never have launched FiveThirtyEight in 2008, and I would not have chosen to broaden its coverage so extensively now, unless I thought there were some need for it in the marketplace. Conventional news organizations on the whole are lacking in data journalism skills, in my view. Some of this is a matter of self-selection. Students who enter college with the intent to major in journalism or communications have above-average test scores in reading and writing, but below-average scores in mathematics. Furthermore, young people with strong math skills will normally have more alternatives to journalism when they embark upon their careers and may enter other fields.

This is problematic. The news media, as much as it’s been maligned, still plays a central a role in disseminating knowledge. More than 80 percent of American adults spend at least some time with the news each day. (By comparison, about 25 percent of Americans of all ages are enrolled in educational programs.)

There are some handicaps that conventional journalism faces when it seeks to move beyond reporting on the news to explaining it. One problem is the notion of “objectivity” as it’s applied in traditional newsrooms, where it’s often taken to be synonymous with neutrality or nonpartisanship. I prefer the scientific definition of objectivity, where it means something closer to the truth beyond our (inherently subjective) perceptions. Leave that aside for now, however. The journalistic notion of objectivity, however flawed, at least creates some standard by which facts are introduced and presented to readers.

But while individual facts are rigorously scrutinized and checked for accuracy in traditional newsrooms, attempts to infer causality sometimes are not, even when they are eminently falsifiable. (The increased speed of the news-gathering process no doubt makes this problem worse.7) Instead, while the first two steps of the process (collecting and organizing information in the form of news stories) are thought to fall within the province of “objective” journalism, explanatory journalism is sometimes placed in the category of “opinion journalism.” My disdain for opinion journalism (such as in the form of op-ed columns) is well established, but my chief problem with it is that it doesn’t seem to abide by the standards of either journalistic or scientific objectivity. Sometimes it doesn’t seem to abide by any standard at all.

And he will be sharing the data and code on Github:

Our team also has a broad set of skills and experience in methods that fall under the rubric of data journalism. These include statistical analysis, but also data visualization, computer programming and data-literate reporting. So in addition to written stories, we’ll have interactive graphics and features. Within a couple of months we’ll launch a podcast, and we’ll be collaborating with ESPN Films and Grantland to produce original documentary films. You’ll find us on television and radio, and on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. We’ll share data and code on Github.

What I've Been Reading

Warren Buffett and the Interpretation of Financial Statements: The Search for the Company with a Durable Competitive Advantage by Mary Buffet and David Clark.  An excellent book to start the education on how to read the financial statements; highly recommended.

From 1965 to 2007, Berkshire's expanding pool of retained earnings helped grow its pretax earnings from $4 a share in 1965 to $13,023 a share in 2007, which equates to an average annual growth rate approximately 21%. 

The theory is simple: the more earnings that a company retains, the faster it grows its retained earnings pool, which, in turn will increase the growth rate for future earnings. The catch is, of course, that it has to keep buying companies that have durable competitive advantage. 

Baby Yeasts, Barely 43 minutes Old & Already Forced to Work for the Cheap Thrills of Others

An influential Washington DC- based biotechnology ethics oversight group has called on Barack Obama to end the exploitation of Saccharomyces cerevisiae on March 17th each year. 

“This is 2014, for goodness sake”, said Prof Brew Baker of the “Biotech Exploitation Ends Rightnow” group, “what kind of society condones such exploitation and what does it say about us?” 

“Every year billions of yeasts are forced to work their little TCA cycles off in hot smelly conditions in giant metal prisons so that other people can have cheap green beer”. 

“We have taken photographs, but they are simply too graphic to show – baby yeasts, barely 43 minutes old and already forced to work for the cheap thrills of others” “Yes, some of these yeasts are very proud that they are responsible for an entire nation being able to celebrate their national holiday and stereotype, but for most yeast it is a miserable existence”.

“Do you have any idea how much Pyruvic acid burns?”

- More Here. Try to go Beer-less this St. Patricks Day

Quote of the Day

There are many men of principle in both parties in America, but there is no party of principle.

- Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (Penguin Classics)

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Now You Can Buy Art Created From Your & Your Dogs DNA !!

Decorating an apartment is all about infusing your space with a sense of you. And what could be more integral to your style and your sense of self than DNA? Genetic Ink, a New York City-based startup, aims to elevate genetic sequencing to high design with a system for turning genetic information into a wall-ready piece of art.

Here’s how it works: Genetic Ink sends you a DNA collection kit. You swab the inside of your cheek, send it back to the company, and they sequence your DNA in their FDA-approved lab. (Your sample is anonymized to protect your privacy.) Using an algorithm, they turn that sequence--your individual arrangement of A, T, C, and G nucleotides--into a work of art, based on an original design called Spark, by Swiss-Canadian artist and designer Mathieu Daudelin. The final product comes in 17 different color schemes and four different sizes. They'll even image your dog's or cat's genetic material.

- More Here

The Essential Value of a Classic Education - Jeffrey Brenzel

Jeffrey Brenzel's excellent selection criteria on picking a classic out of thousands of unread books:
  1. The work addresses permanent, universal concerns about the human conditions.
  2. The work has been a game changer.
  3. The work has stimulated or informed or influenced many other important works, whether directly or indirectly.
  4. Best readers and the most expert critics have rated the work highly as one of the best and most important of its kind, even if those experts and readers shared no other views than that and even if they voilently disagreed with the work.
  5. The work usually requires a strenuous effort to engage and understand, but it also rewards the hard work strongly and in multiple fashions.

Quote of the Day

The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.

- Carl Sagan, Cosmos

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Wisdom Of The Week

On a hot summer day in 2012, allergies hit me very bad. I woke up on that Sunday morning and had bad bulges (not exactly rashes) all over my upper body. After the customary visit to the doctor, I was told that I had tree-nut, shell fish and no kidding.. dog/cat fur allergies. I was devastated for a moment and but become very skeptic after the doctor gave an abstract explanation for the cause - Our bodies change every 7 years, this "happens" and yeah, you can continue taking pills and/or shots for pretty much rest of your life.

Of-course, the smartass that I am - I just took pills for few days until the bulges faded and stopped eating tree-nuts. I was determined to "cure" these allergies without any pills or shots. I don't eat fish leave alone shell fish so that wasn't an issue. No matter what, I would continue to play, sleep, walk and do everything with Max with or without allergies, so that wasn't an issue either. But whenever I ate any kind of nuts, I started getting those allergies back. So I stayed away from them but also I changed my diet. I become a full time "born" again Indian. I started cooking every dish with all the ingredients that my grandmother and my mom used and I stayed away from processed food except eating out in the restaurants once or twice a month. And surprise, surprise , sometime in 2013 I could eat all kinds of nuts except peanuts without having those allergies. Which remains true to this day.

I can live without eating peanuts for rest of my life but I never had a proper answer on why I become allergic to peanuts in the first place. This week, I derived a hypothesis while listening to Moises Velasquez-Manoff talk about his new book An Epidemic of Absence: A New Way of Understanding Allergies and Autoimmune Diseases.

What happened in Buenos Aires when their economy collapsed. So, the economy was in turmoil. Basically this was in the early 2000s. There was some sanitary backsliding--people stopped picking up trash, the sewer maybe stopped working. And what happened is, there was a neurology clinic there that served some of the poor neighborhoods, the people from poor neighborhoods. Lots of multiple sclerosis patients. And multiple sclerosis, for the listeners, is basically when your immune system attacks the fatty coating of your neurons and it sort of causes this creeping paralysis. And the coating is called myelin. So it's an autoimmune disease where you are attacking some aspect of your central nervous system. Some of those patients started showing up with parasite infections because of this sanitary backsliding that was occurring in this broader context of economic turmoil. And so these neurologist, Jorge Correale, he knew about Joel Weinstock's book; he knew also about this sort of revisionist thinking on parasites, that there was this evolutionary component, that maybe they'd always been there applying pressure to our immune system, and that they could strengthen your immune system's ability to not overreact. And so he gave his patients a choice. 

He said: look, we can keep the worms--that is, I can deworm you or you can keep the worms and we'll see what happens. So, some of his patients decided to keep the worms. I think it was about 14. Yes, very small sample. Again, the reason that some of this stuff is even considered in humans of course is that it's first shown in animals. Animals are obviously far more conclusive. Again, though, rodents are not people, as we well know. And often what happens is that what seems to work in animals does not work in people. But at that point I think there were a number of rodent studies that showed that parasites could have this magical effect to stop a number of autoimmune diseases. And in that case they just used an extract of one of the parasite eggs for the multiple sclerosis animal animals. In any case, what happens essentially is that the multiple sclerosis, which is this kind of advancing disease, comes to an almost complete halt. It doesn't completely stop, but it almost completely stops. And this is viewable by objective measures, by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). He also does blood work. And then he monitors them for about 5 years. And then some of the patients are sick of having parasites; they are sick of the side effects. And so he deworms some of the patients at their request. The whole time he's been taking blood samples, measuring immune system transmitters, immune system molecules that give you a gauge if you are in an inflamed state, if you are not in an inflamed state. In any case, what he sees is that the whole balance of the immune system shifts from pre-deworming to post-deworming, where those molecules that indicate strong anti-inflammatory capacity decline dramatically, immediately after you deworm. And then the disease started right back up again for those patients he dewormed. Now, again, this is not an experiment. This is something that occurred naturally. It's observational. 

Growing up in India, my dad used to give me de-worming pills if I had tapeworms (which was common in India that time, I donna if its still common). I remember taking those pills once in a while until I was 10 or 12 years old. But after I went to college, started eating out often. My mind filled with new scientific knowledge and that arrogance made a self diagnosis and started talking de-worming pills twice a year. I kept that habit yearly until 2001/2002 even when there was no worms and I wasn't eating at any filthy restaurants. And that stupid habit of mine probably caused the allergy a decade later during the summer of 2012. I might be wrong but nevertheless the lesson is don't mess with nature. We know so little (remember the doc was so abstract giving me an answer) and its not prudent to disturb the body that took million years to evolve. Our minds cannot  comprehend this complexity and that's probably our Achilles' heel.