Saturday, May 31, 2014

Wisdom Of The Week

In fastidiously avoiding any reference to the oppressive realities of the Mao years, academics were faithful followers of conventional opinion. The predominant western perception of Mao’s regime was of a progressive political project – if at times it got a little out of hand, that was no more than the exuberance that goes naturally with such a liberating enterprise. When in the 1970s I raised with a British communist the millions who were killed in rural purges in the years immediately after Mao came to power, he told me, “Those sorts of numbers are just for western consumption.” Further conversation showed that his estimates of the actual numbers were significantly lower than those conceded by the regime. No doubt unwittingly, he had stumbled on a curious truth: the prestige of the Mao regime in the west was at its height when the leadership was believed to be at its most despotic and murderous. For some of its western admirers, the regime’s violence had a compelling charm in its own right.

Julian Bourg recounts how in France Mao’s thoughts became à la mode with the August 1967 release of La Chinoise, Jean-Luc Godard’s film about a youthful Parisian Maoist sect. Among French thinkers, Bourg notes, “Mao’s language of violence had a certain rhetorical appeal.” In fact, it was his combination of rhetorical violence with sub-Hegelian dialectical logic that proved so irresistible to sections of the French intelligentsia. Eulogising Mao’s distinction between principal and secondary contradictions, Louis Althusser deployed Maoist categories as part of an extremely abstract and, indeed, largely meaningless defence of “the relative autonomy of theory”.

In the west, Maoism had two defining characteristics: it bore no relation to conditions in China, in regard to which its proponents remained invincibly ignorant; and it was embraced by sections of an intellectual class that was, for political purposes, almost entirely irrelevant. In Italy, Mao’s thought had for a time a slightly wider influence.

As Dominique Kirchner Reill writes, discussing Maoism in Italy and Yugoslavia, “In Italy Mao-mania was not purely a left-wing phenomenon. Some ultra-right groups quoted their Little Red Books to justify their arguments.” In 1968-73 the neo-fascist party Lotto di Popolo (“the people’s fight”) lauded Mao as an exemplary nationalist and resolute opponent of US global hegemony. In a footnote Reill observes that the “Nazi-Maoist movement in Italy included many other figures and groups” besides the Lotto di Popolo. It is a pity this aspect of Mao’s influence is not explored in greater detail.

Despite its inevitable limitations as an academic text, Mao’s Little Red Book contains much that is of interest. In a programmatic introductory essay Alexander C Cook compares the Chinese leader’s book to a “spiritual atom bomb” and considers its global fallout. Showing how it reflects the influence of the choral singing introduced into China by 19th-century Christian missionaries, Andrew F Jones provides an illuminating account of the rise of the Maoist pop song. Taking as her starting point the global distribution of the Little Red Book to over a hundred countries in the eight months between October 1966 and May 1967, Xu Lanjun examines the process of translation in the context of Maoist ideas of global revolution. Quinn Slobodian discusses the impact the book had in eastern and western Germany. In the concluding essay, Ban Wang considers the Little Red Book and “religion as politics” in China. Elsewhere, its influence in Tanzania, India, Peru, Albania and the former Soviet Union is discussed.

How the west embraced Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book by John Gray

The Moon is Now a Wi-Fi Hotspot

In order to bring broadband to the moon, scientists used four separate telescopes based in New Mexico to send an uplink signal to a receiver mounted on a satellite orbiting the moon. Each telescope is about 6 inches in diameter and is fed by a laser transmitter that beams information in coded pulses of infrared light.

Since our atmosphere bends the signal as it travels to the moon, the four telescopes transmit the light through different columns of air, each with different bending effects. This setup increases the chance that at least one of the laser beams will interact with the receiver, and establish a connection with the moon.

And if you’re fixing to binge on Netflix on the moon, the connection isn’t too bad, either. Scientists managed to send data from Earth to the moon at a rate of 19.44 megabits per second — on par with slower broadband speeds — and could download information from the moon at a rate of whopping 622 megabits per second. According to Wired UK, that’s over 4,000 times faster than current radio transmission speeds.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

No one cares what you did. They just care what you’re doing.

- Bob Lefsetz

Friday, May 30, 2014

10 Lessons to Help Change the World - Admiral McRaven

If you want to change the world get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward. Every day during training you were challenged with multiple physical events—long runs, long swims, obstacle courses, hours of calisthenics—something designed to test your mettle. Every event had standards—times you had to meet. If you failed to meet those standards your name was posted on a list and at the end of the day those on the list were invited to—a “circus.” A circus was two hours of additional calisthenics—designed to wear you down, to break your spirit, to force you to quit.

No one wanted a circus. A circus meant that for that day you didn’t measure up. A circus meant more fatigue—and more fatigue meant that the following day would be more difficult—and more circuses were likely. But at some time during SEAL training, everyone—everyone—made the circus list.

But an interesting thing happened to those who were constantly on the list. Overtime those students-—who did two hours of extra calisthenics—got stronger and stronger. The pain of the circuses built inner strength-built physical resiliency. Life is filled with circuses. You will fail. You will likely fail often. It will be painful. It will be discouraging. At times it will test you to your very core. But if you want to change the world, don’t be afraid of the circuses.

Overcoming the Weakness of Will - Walter Mischel

The most sincere resolutions to exert willpower—to diet, stop smoking, control anger—too often turn into failed good intentions. Beginning decades ago with Mischel’s “marshmallow test” experiments on delay of gratification with preschoolers, this lecture unpacks the conditions that enable self-control, and the basic cognitive and brain mechanisms that underlie resistance to temptation and the regulation of emotions. Mischel examines the implications of these discoveries for mastering self-control in everyday life, public policy, and the conception of human nature.

- via here

Quote of the Day

The discoveries that grew out of the marshmallow studies add up to one of the most insightful research stories in the history of psychology. Whatever it is now, your view of human nature will change profoundly as you read this brilliant book.

- Daniel Kahneman on Waler Mischel's new book The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control

Thursday, May 29, 2014

What I've Been Reading

I want to thank my dog, Hanno— not that she is reading this— because she is a constant reminder of living in the present and of pure and honest joy. 

- Ryan Holiday

The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph by Ryan Holiday.

Overcoming obstacles is a discipline of three critical steps. It begins with how we look at our specific problems, our attitude or approach; then the energy and creativity with which we actively break them down and turn them into opportunities; finally, the cultivation and maintenance of an inner will that allows us to handle defeat and difficulty. It’s three interdependent, interconnected, and fluidly contingent disciplines:

There are a few things to keep in mind when faced with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. We must try: 
  • To be objective 
  • To control emotions and keep an even keel 
  • To choose to see the good in a situation 
  • To steady our nerves 
  • To ignore what disturbs or limits others 
  • To place things in perspective 
  • To revert to the present moment 
  • To focus on what can be controlled.
No one is coming to save you. And if we’d like to go where we claim we want to go— to accomplish what we claim are our goals— there is only one way. And that’s to meet our problems with the right action. Therefore, we can always (and only) greet our obstacles:
  • With energy 
  • With persistence 
  • With a coherent and deliberate process 
  • With iteration and resilience 
  • With pragmatism with strategic vision 
  • With craftiness and savvy
  • And an eye for opportunity and pivotal moments
Will is fortitude and wisdom— not just about specific obstacles but about life itself and where the obstacles we are facing fit within it. It gives us ultimate strength. As in: the strength to endure, contextualize, and derive meaning from the obstacles we cannot simply overcome (which, as it happens, is the way of flipping the unflippable). In every situation, we can Always prepare ourselves for more difficult times. 
  • Always accept what we’re unable to change. 
  • Always manage our expectations. 
  • Always persevere. 
  • Always learn to love our fate and what happens to us. 
  • Always protect our inner self, retreat into ourselves. 
  • Always submit to a greater, larger cause. 
  • Always remind ourselves of our own mortality. 
  • And, of course, prepare to start the cycle once more.

The philosopher and writer Nassim Nicholas Taleb defined a Stoic as someone who 

“transforms fear into prudence, pain into transformation, mistakes into initiation and desire into undertaking.”

It’s a loop that becomes easier over time.

Quote of the Day

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Better Data Centers Through Machine Learning

What Jim designed works a lot like other examples of machine learning, like speech recognition: a computer analyzes large amounts of data to recognize patterns and “learn” from them. In a dynamic environment like a data center, it can be difficult for humans to see how all of the variables—IT load, outside air temperature, etc.—interact with each other. One thing computers are good at is seeing the underlying story in the data, so Jim took the information we gather in the course of our daily operations and ran it through a model to help make sense of complex interactions that his team—being mere mortals—may not otherwise have noticed.

After some trial and error, Jim’s models are now 99.6 percent accurate in predicting PUE. This means he can use the models to come up with new ways to squeeze more efficiency out of our operations. For example, a couple months ago we had to take some servers offline for a few days—which would normally make that data center less energy efficient. But we were able to use Jim’s models to change our cooling setup temporarily—reducing the impact of the change on our PUE for that time period. Small tweaks like this, on an ongoing basis, add up to significant savings in both energy and money.

- More Here

Did the Evolution of Animal Intelligence Begin With Tiktaalik?

In 2004, when the fossil bones of Tiktaalik roseae were dug from the ground of Ellesmere Island, in the Canadian Arctic, the discovery was hailed as a breakthrough not just for paleontology, but for beleaguered science teachers trying to keep creationism out of their classrooms. A fish (with scales and gills) clearly resembling a tetrapod (with a flat head, a neck and prototypes of terrestrial limb bones in its lobelike fins), it precisely filled one of the gaps in the fossil record that creationists cited as evidence against Darwinian evolution.

Scientists can’t say whether Tiktaalik itself is the ancestor of any species alive today; there were likely several related genera making the same transition around the same time. But the marvelously preserved fossil sheds new light on how the vertebrate invasion of land took place, some 375 million years ago.

Until this year, Tiktaalik was known only from its front half, but in January, evolutionary biologist Neil Shubin of the University of Chicago and his colleagues reported excavating the posterior skeleton of their original specimen. The hip and pelvis were surprisingly robust, suggesting more powerful rear limbs than previously believed. Although almost certainly still encased in fleshy lobes, appendages could have helped support or even propel the animal in shallow water or mud flats. If so, it changes our view of the evolution of tetrapods, whose ancestors were believed to drag themselves by their forefins, only developing useful hind legs once ensconced on land.

As for what drove this epochal migration, “it’s extremely bloody obvious: There were resources on land, plants and insects, and sooner or later something would evolve to exploit them,” says vertebrate paleontologist Mike Benton of the University of Bristol. It’s also possible, says Shubin, that fear played a part. “If you look at the other fish in the water at the time, they’re big monstrous predators,” he says. Some exceeded 20 feet in length. Even for Tiktaalik, a toothy carnivore itself, this was a “predator-rich, competitive environment.” If you can’t be the biggest fish in the pond, maybe it’s better to get out of the water altogether.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

The lazy man does not stand in the way of progress. When he sees progress roaring down upon him he steps nimbly out of the way. 

- Christopher Morley, On Laziness

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

What I've Been Reading

The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human by Jonathan Gottschall. A must read book for all those "rationalists" out there.

Story, in other words, continues to fulfill its ancient function of binding society by reinforcing a set of common values and strengthening the ties of common culture. Story enculturates the youth. It defines the people. It tells us what is laudable and what is contemptible. It subtly and constantly encourages us to be decent instead of decadent. Story is the grease and glue of society: by encouraging us to behave well, story reduces social friction while uniting people around common values. Story homogenizes us; it makes us one.

And in this there is an important lesson about the molding power of story. When we read nonfiction, we read with our shields up. We are critical and skeptical. But when we are absorbed in a story, we drop our intellectual guard. We are moved emotionally, and this seems to leave us defenseless.

History of Stories:
As the linguist Noam Chomsky showed, all human languages share some basic structural similarities— a universal grammar. So too, I argue, with story. No matter how far we travel back into literary history, and no matter how deep we plunge into the jungles and badlands of world folklore, we always find the same astonishing thing: their stories are just like ours. There is a universal grammar in world fiction, a deep pattern of heroes confronting trouble and struggling to overcome.

Revisionist historians such as Howard Zinn and James Loewen have argued that American history texts have been whitewashed so thoroughly that they don’t count as history anymore. They represent determined forgetting— an erasure of what is shameful from our national memory banks so that history can function as a unifying, patriotic myth. Stories about Columbus, Squanto and the first Thanksgiving, George Washington’s inability to lie, and so on, serve as national creation myths. The men at the center of these stories are presented not as flesh-and-blood humans with flaws to match their virtues, but as the airbrushed leading men of hero stories. The purpose of these myths is not to provide an objective account of what happened. It is to tell a story that binds a community together— to take pluribus and make unum.

Neuroscience of Stories:
These are representative examples of a pattern Gazzaniga and his colleagues exposed again and again in split-brain subjects. The left brain is a classic know-it-all; when it doesn’t know the answer to a question, it can’t bear to admit it. The left brain is a relentless explainer, and it would rather fabricate a story than leave something unexplained. Even in split-brain subjects, who are working with one-half of their brains tied behind their backs, these fabrications are so cunning that they are hard to detect except under laboratory conditions.

We each have a little Sherlock Holmes in our brain. His job is to “reason backwards” from what we can observe in the present and show what orderly series of causes led to particular effects. Evolution has given us an “inner Holmes” because the world really is full of stories (intrigues, plots, alliances, relationships of cause and effect), and it pays to detect them. The storytelling mind is a crucial evolutionary adaptation. It allows us to experience our lives as coherent, orderly, and meaningful. It is what makes life more than a blooming, buzzing confusion. But the storytelling mind is imperfect. After almost five decades of studying the tale-spinning homunculus who resides in the left brain, Michael Gazzaniga has concluded that this little man— for all of his undeniable virtues— can also be a bumbler. The storytelling mind is allergic to uncertainty, randomness, and coincidence. It is addicted to meaning. If the storytelling mind cannot find meaningful patterns in the world, it will try to impose them. In short, the storytelling mind is a factory that churns out true stories when it can, but will manufacture lies when it can’t.

Religion and Stories:
According to Dawkins and Dennett, human life would be a lot better if the mental parasite of religion could simply be eradicated. I’m not so sure. I think the by-product explanation of religion captures a major part of the truth: humans conjure gods, spirits, and sprites to fill explanatory voids. (This is not to deny the possibility of gods, spirits, or sprites; it is to deny that one culture’s supernatural story can be more valid than another’s.) But does this mean that religion is, in evolutionary terms, useless or worse? A growing number of evolutionists think not. 

In his trailblazing book Darwin’s Cathedral, the biologist David Sloan Wilson proposes that religion emerged as a stable part of all human societies for a simple reason: it made them work better. Human groups that happened to possess a faith instinct so thoroughly dominated nonreligious competitors that religious tendencies became deeply entrenched in our species. Wilson argues that religion provides multiple benefits to groups. 

First, it defines a group as a group. As the sociologist Émile Durkheim wrote, “Religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices . .  . which unite into one single moral community called a Church all those who adhere to them.” Second, religion coordinates behavior within the group, setting up rules and norms, punishments and rewards. Third, religion provides a powerful incentive system that promotes group cooperation and suppresses selfishness. The science writer Nicholas Wade expresses the heart of Wilson’s idea succinctly: the evolutionary function of religion “is to bind people together and make them put the group’s interests ahead of their own.”

Future of Stories:
Stories have been a great boon to our species. But are they becoming a weakness? There’s an analogy to be made between our craving for story and our craving for food. A tendency to overeat served our ancestors well when food shortages were a predictable part of life. But now that we modern desk jockeys are awash in cheap grease and corn syrup, overeating is more likely to fatten us up and kill us young. Likewise, it could be that an intense greed for story was healthy for our ancestors but has some harmful consequences in a world where books, MP3 players, TVs, and iPhones make story omnipresent— and where we have, in romance novels and television shows such as Jersey Shore, something like the story equivalent of deep-fried Twinkies. I think the literary scholar Brian Boyd is right to wonder if overconsuming in a world awash with junk story could lead to something like a “mental diabetes epidemic.”

Quote of the Day

The best cure for one’s bad tendencies, is to see them fully developed in someone else.

- Alain de Botton

Monday, May 26, 2014

Check Your Pet's Health On Your Smartphone

If you are worried about your pet's health, you take them to a vet. But for those who want a more DIY diagnosis of how a dog or cat is doing, a company called Scanostics has made a device to measures levels of chemicals in urine, as a proxy for health. Petnostics, as its called, consists of a device and an app. The device is a strip atop a pee cup, with chemical-sensitive boxes that change color when exposed to certain chemicals. The strip can then be photographed with a smart phone, and the Petnostics app then analyzes the image of the strip, and tells you for example how much bilirubin is in the blood, and if that's a problem.

The BBC has an interview with the company founder, Stephen Chen, who further explains how it works. Asked if Petnostics may just add to owner's anxieties about their dog or cat's health without really telling them anything definitive, Chen replied that it isn't meant to be a diagnostic tool for owners, but that the info could help veterinarians with their analysis of the animal's health. While interesting, it sounds like more of a novelty or curiosity at this point. Besides offering the likelihood of getting dog or cat pee on your hands, it seems like it would be easy to misinterpret the results, since the app lists medical conditions that could explain the readings from the strip without much context.

- More Here

The Story of One Whale Who Tried to Bridge the Linguistic Divide Between Animals and Humans

“They come to think of us as family,” Ridgway said. “And that’s the reason they stay with us. We have no way of completely controlling them, and yet they do their job and come back. They kind of view themselves as part of a team. Or at least we view them as seeing themselves as part of a team.”

Ridgway said he didn’t remember there being anything particularly strange or different about Noc over the course of the first seven years preceding his sudden speech episodes. He did describe him as being somewhat lazy and unfocused at first during open-sea training sessions, often delighting in purposely delaying the proceedings through an avoidance behavior known as “mucking” (diving down to suck invertebrates from the seafloor). Sometimes he’d just bow out completely, swimming the 70 miles back to his enclosure in San Diego Bay.

“My office was on the end of a pier in San Diego Bay,” Ridgway recalled over coffee that morning. “Noc had his home enclosure next to the pier. I would hear these ‘talking sounds’ late in the day as I headed down the pier toward the parking lot. I assumed these talking sounds resulted from a conversation on one of the two adjacent piers about 150 feet away from me.”

Also that May, two Navy divers were making underwater repairs on the Point Loma whale enclosures. Throughout these sessions they would talk with their onshore dive supervisor through an audible underwater communications device known as a “wet phone.” In the middle of that day’s outing, one of the divers, a Navy veteran in his late 30s, Miles Bragget, abruptly surfaced and asked a puzzled supervisor: “Who told me to get out?” Informed of the incident later, Ridgway and his team decided to start keeping a closer eye and ear on their beluga recruits.

“After a set period of time,” Ridgway explained, “or after the divers completed a task, the supervisor would typically order them out. It was also not uncommon for Noc to be in the vicinity when the underwater communications systems were being used. But Bragget had come up at a point when the supervisor had said nothing. It turns out that Bragget heard Noc. The ‘out’ he thought he’d heard, we realized, had come from Noc. He repeated the word several times.”

“I didn’t observe Miles’ initial interaction,” Jeffries said of Bragget, who died in 1990, “but I was at the facility that day. I remember when Miles got out of the water he was sure the dive monitor and the guys around the pens were kidding him when they said they did not call him out of the water. He thought they were pulling his leg. But we realized pretty quickly what was going on, maybe because of the way Noc reacted to the divers, watching them from his pen, following them, focusing on Miles in particular. Belugas are very aware of people and their actions, especially Noc, and Miles had a nice touch with Noc. He was a gentle man. And once we figured out that it was Noc, we were all excited, laughing, and, I think, completely humbled by this amazing animal.”

- More Here

Quote of the Day

The Afghan war has been a tragedy costing untold thousands of lives and lasting far too long. The Afghans were never advocates of terrorism yet they bore the brunt of the punishment for 9/11. Pakistan, supposedly an ally, has proved to be perfidious, driving the violence in Afghanistan for its own cynical, hegemonic reasons. Pakistan’s generals and mullahs have done great harm to their own people as well as their Afghan neighbors and NATO allies. Pakistan, not Afghanistan, has been the true enemy.

- The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan, 2001–2014 by Carlotta Gall

Sunday, May 25, 2014

What I've Been Reading

A Life Worth Living: Albert Camus and the Quest for Meaning by Robert Zaretsky. An insightful book which will mould and shape the way we think and live life. I think, Camus has just helped me change the course of my life. Yes, there were some confirmation biases but I learned a lot.


To the only philosophical question worth asking—whether suicide must be our response to an absurd world— Camus’ reply was clear : it cannot and must not be. If, as he wrote in The Myth of Sisyphus, “revolt gives life its value,” suicide instead accepts—embraces, even— a life and world devoid of meaning and importance. It is essential, he affirmed, “to die unreconciled and not of one’s own free will. Suicide is a repudiation. The absurd man can only drain everything to the bitter end.… The absurd is his extreme tension, which he maintains constantly by solitary effort, for he knows that in that consciousness and in that day-to-day revolt he gives proof of his only truth, which is defiance.”

Orwell & Camus on Nature & Beauty

Yet, ignored by many commentators, both men also insisted on the necessity of beauty. In an essay published shortly after the war, “Some Thoughts on the Common Toad,” Orwell dwelt on the abiding and necessary joys of nature. Is it, Orwell asked, “politically reprehensible … to point out that life is frequently more worth living because of a blackbird’s song, a yellow elm tree in October, or some other natural phenomenon which does not cost money and does not have what the editors of left-wing newspapers call a class angle?” Orwell in fact offers an English equivalent to Camus’s :

“Mediterranean” philosophy— a kind of pensée de Cotswalds: I think that by retaining one’s childhood love of such things as trees, fishes, butterflies and— to return to my first instance— toads, one makes a peaceful and decent future a little more.

Like an ocean current, the themes of the beauty and happiness he found in nature flow through Camus’ writings. A telling instance is his essay “Return to Tipasa.” Camus wrote the essay in 1953— a particularly trying time. Not only had there been the violent quarrel with Sartre over The Rebel, but Camus was also dogged by fears that his creative reserves had run dry, leaving him feeling betrayed and becalmed. He flew to Algiers, where he was greeted by several days of rain. But the skies then cleared and Camus drove to Tipasa, overwhelmed by memories of his earlier visits— visits filled with an innocence and confidence he had since lost.

As he climbed toward the Roman ruins, Camus carried the scars of the battles he had fought on behalf of those who could not: starving Berbers, oppressed pieds-noirs, tortured resistance fighters, silenced political prisoners. He heard the voices of these “humiliated ones,” but he also began to hear “the imperceptible sounds that made up the silence” that had first greeted him: the calls of birds enfolded in bushes, the scrabble of lizards across the hot stones, the whispering of the absinthe plants and “the short, light sighing of the sea” below. Despite his battered lungs, Camus scrambled up the rocky path. As he ascended, he heard “the happy torrents rising within me. It seemed to me that I had at last come to harbor, for a moment at least, and that from now on this moment would never end.”

Among the crumbling arches— once the backdrop to his youthful forays with friends— an older and wearier Camus experienced a simple epiphany.

“Yes, there is beauty and there are the humiliated. Whatever the difficulties the enterprise may present, I would never like to be unfaithful either to one or the other.” Yes, injustice exists, but so too does the sun— the source of measure. Indeed, Camus “measured [his] luck, realizing at last that in the worst years of our madness the memory of that sky had never left me. This was what in the end had kept me from despairing.… In the middle of winter, I at last discovered that there was in me an invincible summer.” 

Montaingne's Influence on Camus

The Myth of Sisyphus is instead a salvo of impressions, some intimate, others literary, all of them urgent and lucid. The Myth is an essay, similar to those written by one of Camus’ models, Michel de Montaigne.

In fact, Camus achieves with the Myth what the philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty claimed for Montaigne’s Essays: it places “a consciousness astonished at itself at the core of human existence.”

By then, Camus had, like Montaigne, also retired from public affairs— at least in regard to his native Algeria. After the failure of his effort to convince the warring sides to adopt a civilian truce, Camus retreated into public silence. In February 1956, shortly after the still-born civilian truce, Camus had quit his position at L’Express, telling friends he could no longer write or speak publicly on events in Algeria. What more could he say at this point? Silence seemed, if not the sole option, the most meaningful one. As he wrote to his friend, the Kabyle writer Mouloud Feraoun: “When language is thoughtlessly used to dispose of human lives, being silent is not a negative quality.”

Montaigne would have immediately recognized Camus’ plight as his own. In sixteenth-century France, extremists among both Catholics and Protestants despised les politiques: moderates devoted to negotiation and compromise. But in a nation increasingly polarized, in which each religious camp saw the other as evil incarnate, the politiques were not just distrusted, but often powerless in the face of repeated spasms of violence. Mayor of a volatile city divided between Huguenots and Catholics, where the fanatics of the Catholic League terrorized Protestants and politiques, Montaigne was acutely aware of his thankless and desperate task. As he observed: “Our zeal does wonders when it is seconding our leaning towards hatred, cruelty, ambition, avarice, detraction, rebellion. Against the grain, toward goodness, benignity , moderation, unless as by a miracle some rare nature bears it, it will neither walk nor fly.”

Yet Montaigne, though a politique, was not an amoralist— to the contrary. 
“Among other vices,” he wrote with rare intensity, “I cruelly hate cruelty, both by nature and by judgment, as the extreme of all vices.”

Quote of the Day

Designing a product is keeping 5,000 things in your brain, these concepts, and fitting them all together in new ways; kind of continuing to push to fit them together in new and different ways to get what you want, and every day you discover something new, that is a new problem or a new opportunity, to fit these things together a little differently.

- Steve Jobs

Saturday, May 24, 2014

In Dogs’ Play, Researchers See Honesty & Deceit, Perhaps Something Like Morality

But when Bekoff began looking at videos of dogs romping in super slow motion, he began to realize that there was more going on in the canine mind than science had acknowledged. He noticed the “play bow,” for example. What’s more, he found that canines “role-reverse” or “self-handicap” during play. When a big dog played with a smaller one, for example, the big dog often rolled on her back to give the smaller dog an advantage, and she allowed the other dog to jump on her far more often than she jumped on him. Bekoff also spotted a number of other blink-and-you’d-miss-them behaviors, such as a sudden shift in the eyes — a squint that can mean “you’re playing too rough” — and a particular wag of the tail that says, “I’m open to be approached.” Humping a playmate during a romp, meanwhile, was often an invitation to nearby dogs to come join the fun. Such signals are important during play; without them, a giddy tussle can quickly turn into a vicious fight.

In the wild, coyotes ostracize pack members that don’t play by the rules. Something similar happens in dog parks: If three dogs are playing and one bites or tackles too hard, the other two are likely to give him the cold shoulder and stop playing with him, Bekoff says. Such behavior, he says, suggests that dogs are capable of morality, a mind-set once thought to be uniquely human.

Even morality hints at something deeper, however. To enforce moral conduct, dogs must be able to experience a spectrum of emotions, from joy to indignation, guilt to jealousy. They must also be able to read these emotions in others, distinguishing accident from intent, honesty from deceit. And indeed, recent studies by other scientists have shown evidence of these abilities (confirming what many dog owners already feel about their pets).

Other studies have revealed that dogs yawn when they see humans yawning and that they nuzzle and lick people who are crying; scientists consider both behaviors displays of empathy, a rarely documented trait in the animal kingdom. Dogs have even been shown to be pessimistic: When a group of canines in one study learned that a bowl placed on one side of the room contained a treat and a bowl on the other side contained nothing, some of the dogs just sat there when the empty bowl was placed in the center of the room; they figured it was empty and didn’t waste their time. These same dogs evinced what researchers said was a similar pessimistic attitude when their masters left for work: They were more likely to howl and tear up the couch when their owner disappeared, possibly because they didn’t believe their master would return.

Bekoff’s recent work suggests another remarkable canine skill: the ability to know what another animal is thinking — a so-called “theory of mind.” Dogs seem to display a rudimentary form of this skill during play. He has noticed, for example, that one dog won’t begin trying to play with another dog until he has her attention. To get her to notice, he may nip the other dog or run into her field of view. That, Bekoff says, shows that the one wanting to play knows that she’s not paying attention to him. Though this may seem like a simple skill, it’s incredibly important to our species. Without it, we can have a hard time learning or interacting with the world around us.

- More Here

Wisdom Of The Week

If I offered evidence that jellyfish are displacing penguins in Antarctica -- not someday, but now, today -- what would you think? If I suggested that jellyfish could crash the world's fisheries, outcompete the tuna and swordfish, and starve the whales to extinction, would you believe me?

The question of jellyfish death is vexing. If jellyfish fall on hard times, they can simply "de-grow." That is, they reduce in size, but their bodies remain in proportion. That's a very different outcome from what is seen in starving fish, or people. And when food becomes available again, jellyfish simply recommence growing. Some individual jellyfish live for a decade. But the polyp stage survives pretty much indefinitely by cloning. One polyp colony started in 1935 and studied ever since is still alive and well in a laboratory in Virginia.

One kind of jellyfish, which might be termed the zombie jelly, is quite literally immortal. When Turritopsis dohrnii "dies" it begins to disintegrate, which is pretty much what you expect from a corpse. But then something strange happens. A number of cells escape the rotting body. These cells somehow find each other, and reaggregate to form a polyp. All of this happens within five days of the jellyfish's "death," and weirdly, it's the norm for the species. Well may we ask of this astonishing creature, "Sting, where is thy death?"

- via Kottke review of the new book Stung! On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean by Lisa-ann Gershwin

Synthetic Meat Made From Stem Cells

From Regenerative Medicine To Food On The Table

Inspired by the way current research labs go about their stem cell work, van der Weele and Tramper devised a manufacturing process that starts with a vial of cells taken from a cell bank and ends with a pressed cake of minced meat.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

- via FS

Friday, May 23, 2014

Don't Learn to Code. Learn to Think.

  • Computer science is a new way of thinking. The concepts in it are useful for every single person in a technology-filled world.
  • Programming is an essential part of learning computer science by applying the new way of thinking. However, by itself, programming is not nearly as general purpose.
Confusing these two concepts is causing problems for the learn-to-code movement. Slate published an article called Maybe Not Everybody Should Learn to Code; the Atlantic wrote Should Journalism Schools Require Reporters to 'Learn Code'? No; Jeff Atwood wrote Please Don't Learn To Code, where he asks a question that neatly summarizes the confusion:

"How [would] Michael Bloomberg be better at his day to day job of leading the largest city in the USA if he woke up one morning as a crack Java coder?"

This is, of course, the wrong question. It is the result of public campaigns that suggest that learning to code, as opposed to learning to think, is the end goal. If even Jeff Atwood, an experienced and respected programmer, is fooled by this distinction, then the average person has no chance of getting it right. The question we should be asking is:

Would Bloomberg - or anyone else - be better at their job if they improved their ability to think by learning new problem solving strategies and developing a better grasp of logic?
I think the answer here is obvious. As the world fills up with more and more technology, I think the answer becomes even more obvious. This is why we need to focus on teaching computer science and not just coding.

- More Here

Aliens Are Out There, Astronomers Tell Congress

"In the last 50 years, evidence has steadily mounted that the components and conditions we believe necessary for life are common and perhaps ubiquitous in our galaxy," Dan Werthimer, the director of the SETI [search for extraterrestrial intelligence] Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley, told the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology on Wednesday. He put the chances of alien life "close to 100 percent." His written testimony has additional compelling reasons why SETI's research must be funded.

"The possibility that life has arisen elsewhere, and perhaps evolved intelligence, is plausible and warrants scientific inquiry," Werthimer said.

Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer at the SETI Institute, told Congress that the chance of finding extraterrestrial life in the next 20 years is high, but it all depends on the funding.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

The ultimate measure of humanity’s success as a species is its ability to increase the overall global output of goods and services by at least five percent per year. The problem is that it is becoming increasingly obvious that if we continue along these lines much longer, we’re likely to destroy everything.

- David Graeber

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Walking Dogs With Drones

cognitive lode

Bye-Now Effect (2014)

Reading the word ‘bye’ makes us more likely to buy.

Research just released suggests that when we read words like ‘bye’ or ‘wait’, we automatically think of and act on words that have the same sound, such as ‘buy’ or ‘weight’, especially when we’re tired.

Davis & Herr (2014) From Bye to Buy: Homophones as a Phonological Route to Priming
This is such an interesting and new-found bias!! It all revolves around two separate concepts. The first, and most specific is that of the homophone - a word that has the same pronunication as another word, but with a different meaning and spelling.

This is twinned with the concept of priming - exposing you to one piece of information affects your response to something else afterwards. We’ll cover Priming in more detail as a separate gem, but for example, if you read a list of words including the word ‘brain’, and are later asked to complete a word starting with ‘bra’, the chance that you’ll answer ‘brain’ is greater than if you’re not primed.

Mashing them together, you get Homophone priming, which happens when your brain can’t ignore the meaning of the other related word. For instance, if I said the word ‘Ewe’ (A female sheep), you might think of the word ‘you’, and its related meaning. Research shows that it’s not only the meaning that goes into your head, but also any judgements you might make, such as what you think of a person’s character (Sela and Shiv 2009), or any choices you might make (Wheeler and Berger 2007).

Takeaways for decision-makers:
  1. This is a new, powerful method of nudging a certain behaviour, and potentially encouraging people to buy more. And though it has solid application in commerce, the Bye-Now Effect can be used for many things, such as a healthy promotion of weight loss (wait / weight) or encouraging people to write longer, or more frequently (right / write), for instance.
  2. Think about your brand, and how it might be perceived when applying the Bye-Now Effect. A travel company called “Beech & Son”, for instance, may give allusions of the positives of the product you sell (Yorkston and Menon 2004).
  3. Be mindful about your target audience, knowing that lower-skilled readers are more affected by the bias.
  4. Following questioning, nobody from the experiments in the research knew they were being primed. That said, be careful with blatant overuse, as it may devalue the brand.
  5. It’s currently unclear whether the bias works in China, as Mandarin is a less phonetic language (Cheng and Yang 1989; Yik 1978)
- Check out more at the new website cognitive lode

Wiring the Amazon

Quote of the Day

I always say, as you know, that if my fellow citizens want to go to Hell I will help them. It's my job.

- Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Python Gives You Wings!!

- via xkcd

Brain Changes in College Football Players Raise New Concerns

And there were differences, as it turned out. As a group, the football players had less volume in the hippocampus, a part of the brain involved in memory and emotional processing, than did the nonplayers. Among the players who had no history of concussions, hippocampal volume was as much as 16 percent smaller than the control group’s. And the difference in size was even more striking among the players who had experienced a confirmed concussion, whose hippocampal volume was about 25 percent smaller than in young men who’d never played.

“That was a greater differential than we’d anticipated,” said Patrick Bellgowan, a faculty member at both the Laureate Institute and the University of Tulsa and the study’s senior author.

The results are particularly baffling for the players with no history of concussion. Interestingly, those athletes in each group who had played the most seasons of football tended to have the least hippocampal volume, suggesting that, at least potentially, cumulative playing time and repeated tackles might affect the brain, even without a formal concussion.

Of course, the findings, although provocative, do not in fact show that playing a contact sport shrinks hippocampal volume. “This is a single snapshot” of the players’ brains, Dr. Bellgowan said, and reveals nothing about changes over time. Indeed, the results could indicate that, in some indeterminate fashion, having a smaller hippocampus predisposes someone to enjoy or excel at football — meaning that the anomalous brain structure predated the playing.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Idleness … may be enjoyed without injury to others; and is therefore not watched like Fraud, which endangers property, or like Pride, which naturally seeks its gratifications in another’s inferiority. Idleness is a silent and peaceful quality, that neither raises envy by ostentation, nor hatred by opposition; and therefore no body is busy to censure or detect it.

- Samuel Johnson, The Idler

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Bridge Between Suicide & Life - Kevin Briggs

Suicide is not just something I've encountered on the job. It's personal. My grandfather committed suicide by poisoning. That act, although ending his own pain, robbed me from ever getting to know him. This is what suicide does. For most suicidal folks, or those contemplating suicide, they wouldn't think of hurting another person. They just want their own pain to end. Typically, this is accomplished in just three ways: sleep, drugs or alcohol, or death. In my career, I've responded to and been involved in hundreds of mental illness and suicide calls around the bridge. Of those incidents I've been directly involved with, I've only lost two, but that's two too many. One was Jason. The other was a man I spoke to for about an hour. During that time, he shook my hand on three occasions. On that final handshake, he looked at me, and he said, "Kevin, I'm sorry, but I have to go." And he leapt. Horrible, absolutely horrible.

I do want to tell you, though, the vast majority of folks that we do get to contact on that bridge do not commit suicide. Additionally, that very few who have jumped off the bridge and lived and can talk about it, that one to two percent, most of those folks have said that the second that they let go of that rail, they knew that they had made a mistake and they wanted to live. I tell people, the bridge not only connects Marin to San Francisco, but people together also. That connection, or bridge that we make, is something that each and every one of us should strive to do. Suicide is preventable. There is help. There is hope.

Quote of the Day

The only journey is the one within.

- Rainer M. Rilke

Monday, May 19, 2014

What I've Been Reading

Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. What else one can except other than surprises and a fun read from Freaknomics? The duo hint that this could be their last Freaknomics book; I hope not.

One reason is that it’s easy to let your biases— political, intellectual, or otherwise— color your view of the world. A growing body of research suggests that even the smartest people tend to seek out evidence that confirms what they already think, rather than new information that would give them a more robust view of reality. It’s also tempting to run with a herd. Even on the most important issues of the day, we often adopt the views of our friends, families, and colleagues. On some level, this makes sense: it is easier to fall in line with what your family and friends think than to find new family and friends! But running with the herd means we are quick to embrace the status quo, slow to change our minds, and happy to delegate our thinking. Another barrier to thinking like a Freak is that most people are too busy to rethink the way they think— or to even spend much time thinking at all. When was the last time you sat for an hour of pure, unadulterated thinking? If you’re like most people, it’s been a while. Is this simply a function of our high-speed era?

Perhaps not. The absurdly talented George Bernard Shaw— a world-class writer and a founder of the London School of Economics— noted this thought deficit many years ago. “Few people think more than two or three times a year,” Shaw reportedly said. “I have made an international reputation for myself by thinking once or twice a week.”

Quote of the Day

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Learn to Say “Fuck You” to the World Once in a While

In 1960 two American artists met for the first time: Sol LeWitt and Eva Hesse. The meeting sparked a bond that resulted in “countless inspirational discussions and rich exchanged of ideas” until Hesse passed away in 1970.

In 1965 Hesse was facing a creative block, plagued with self-doubt. She told LeWitt who replied with this work of art found in Letters of Note. “An invaluable letter of advice, it has since inspired many other artists, and copies now grace the walls of art studios the world over.”

Dear Eva,
April 14

It will be almost a month since you wrote to me and you have possibly forgotten your state of mind (I doubt it though). You seem the same as always, and being you, hate every minute of it. Don’t! Learn to say “Fuck You” to the world once in a while. You have every right to. Just stop thinking, worrying, looking over your shoulder, wondering, doubting, fearing, hurting, hoping for some easy way out, struggling, grasping, confusing, itching, scratching, mumbling, bumbling, grumbling, humbling, stumbling, numbling, rambling, gambling, tumbling, scumbling, scrambling, hitching, hatching, bitching, moaning, groaning, honing, boning, horse-shitting, hair-splitting, nit-picking, piss-trickling, nose sticking, ass-gouging, eyeball-poking, finger-pointing, alleyway-sneaking, long waiting, small stepping, evil-eyeing, back-scratching, searching, perching, besmirching, grinding, grinding, grinding away at yourself. Stop it and just Do.

rom your description, and from what I know of your previous work and your ability; the work you are doing sounds very good “Drawing— clean— clear but crazy like machines, larger and bolder . . . real nonsense.” That sounds fine, wonderful—real nonsense. Do more. More nonsensical, more crazy, more machines, more breasts, penises, cunts, whatever— make them abound with nonsense. Try and tickle something inside you, your “weird humor.” You belong in the most secret part of you. Don’t worry about cool, make your own uncool. Make your own, your own world. If you fear, make it work for you— draw & paint your fear & anxiety. And stop worrying about big, deep things such as “to decide on a purpose and way of life, a consistant approach to even some impossible end or even an imagined end.” You must practice being stupid, dumb, unthinking, empty. Then you will be able to 


- More here from Farnam Street

Moralist vs. Moralizer

A moralist is not a moralizer. The latter has the answer before he is asked the question, while the former has only questions after she hears the available answers. And it is the questions that, as the French say, déranger— disturb, or more literally, disarrange what has already been arranged. Camus was, in this respect, a moralist. These questions did not lead Camus to solitude and nihilism, but instead pulled him toward solidarity and a form of ethical exigency. He was a moralist who insisted that while the world is absurd and allows for no hope, we are not condemned to despair; a moralist who reminded us that, in the end, all we have is one another in an indifferent and silent world:

I have sought only reasons to transcend our darkest nihilism. Not, I would add, through virtue, nor because of some rare elevation of the spirit, but from an instinctive fidelity to a light in which I was born, and in which for thousands of years men have learned to welcome life even in suffering.… To the unworthy but nonetheless stubborn sons of Greece who still survive in this emaciated century, the scorching heat of our history may seem unendurable, but they endure it in the last analysis because they want to understand it. In the center of our work, dark though it may be, shines an inexhaustible sun, the same sun that shouts today across the hills and plain. 

The experience of suffering is central to the life and work of a moralist. Certainly, this conviction girds the visceral opening of Camus’ early essay The Myth of Sisyphus: “Judging whether or not life is worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.” For many of us— perhaps including those not yet aware they belong to this number— this remains the fundamental question. Are our lives, filled inevitably as they are with pain and loss, worth our while? The ancient Greeks, the deep source of Camus’ inspiration, had no doubts: suffering had its advantages. As Camus’ beloved Aeschylus has his chorus announce in the Oresteia, “We must suffer, suffer into truth.” Martha Nussbaum’s remark on the educative role of suffering in Greek tragedy also applies in spades to Camus:

“There is a kind of knowing that works by suffering because suffering is the appropriate acknowledgement of the way human life, in these cases, is.” 

The genius of Greek tragedy is that it refuses answers or resolutions. Instead, its value lies in its ability “to describe and see the conflict clearly and to acknowledge that there is no way out. The best the agent can do is to have his suffering, the natural expression of his goodness of character, and not to stifle these responses out of misguided optimism.”

This observation applies to Camus’ work and his life, of course, but we must be careful. Suffering was no more an answer to the world for Camus than was the recognition of our absurd condition. As early essays such as “Nuptials at Tipasa,” as well as his last work, The First Man, recall with ravishing power, Camus loved the world. He was uneasy with those indifferent to its beauty, blind to the sensuous allure of the landscapes of his native Mediterranean, and faithless toward their fellow human beings. To be a moralist, as the Epicureans understood, means one must be a sensualist. It was not just the reality of his suffering, but also his rootedness in our world that allowed Camus to declare, without a hint of sentimentality, that even though “it was the depths of winter, I finally learned that, within me, there lay an invincible summer.”

- Excerpts from the new book A Life Worth Living: Albert Camus and the Quest for Meaning by Robert Zarestsky

Quote of the Day

Don’t confuse physical bravery with intellectual bravery. It’s easier to jump out of a plane—hopefully with a parachute—than it is to change your mind about an opinion.

- Kareem Adbul-Jabbar

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Phew !! Thank goodness!! Fools Aren't Omnipresent !!

Wisdom Of The Week

Last week, a study published in Nature revealed that lab mice react differently to their male and female researchers:
Mice, and rats, it turned out, are made especially stressed out by men. One way to watch the rising anxiety and depression of a mouse is to force it to swim. “Mice can swim very well, and they can swim for a long time, but they don’t really like it,” [psychologist Robert] Sorge said. Over a series of experiments, the team determined that even if a female scientist is working with a mouse, “just having a man in a room was similar to three minutes of forced swim.” …

The team determined that the rodents were responding to the scent of men, not the sight. … To confirm the smell theory, Sorge went on, “we’d have the man wear a T-shirt overnight in bed, with no cologne or anything. We’d have him take the shirt, put it in a bag, and drape it over a chair.” Sorge couldn’t detect the smell, though others in the lab could; the stink depends on the dose, he explained.

The team conducted the same musk test with other males—guinea pigs and cats and dogs, fixed and unfixed. (All male mammals, including humans, produce testosterone.) “We just used the bedding,” Sorge said. He brought in the pillow that his daughter’s cat sleeps on. In each case, the masculine scent provoked the same response from the mice. And it wasn’t just the introduction of a strong odor: “We tried vanilla smell. We tried banana—none of them did anything. It didn’t have to do with being a novel smell. It had to do with a testosterone smell.”
 - via Andrew

Another fascinating piece I read this week was Animal magnetism:Humans are fascinated by our fellow animals – is that just an evolutionary hangover or something more profound?

At ethology’s core is Rodin’s and Rilke’s deep, mindful, detailed and patient observation, watching one’s subjects with exquisite care and attention in order to penetrate their world, rather than forcibly adjusting them to ours. The naturalist Henry Beston captured this in 1928, in what I believe to be the finest paragraph ever written about animals, and the best advice I know for watching them:

We need another and a wiser… concept of animals. Remote from universal nature and living by complicated artifice, man in civilisation surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronise them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate for having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein do we err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.

My advice to all would-be animal-watchers is, in E M Forster’s words ‘only connect… live in fragments no longer’. Simply open your eyes, ideally with benefit of binoculars, to the reality of animal lives separate from your own. Prepare to lose yourself in one of the most positive ‘trips’ available this side of hallucinogenic drugs, drawn through the lenses and deposited into the world of the animal being watched, losing yourself while expanding – however briefly – into another’s life, resonant of your own, while also ineffably different.

‘There is a crack in everything,’ sang Leonard Cohen. ‘That’s how the light gets in.’ Watching animals opens that crack just a little wider, and through it we get a better view – not only of animals, but of ourselves.

Quote of the Day

There is one type of person who, whenever he has done a good deed to another, expects and calculates to have the favour repaid. There is a second type of person who does not calculate in such a way but who, nevertheless,deep within himself regards the other person as someone who owes him something and he remembers that he has done the other a good deed.

But there is a third type of person who, in some sense, does not even remember the good deed he has done but who, instead, is like a vine producing its grape, seeking nothing more than having brought forth its own fruit, just like a horse when it has run, a dog when it has followed its scent and a bee when it has made honey. This man, having done one good deed well, does not shout it about but simply turns his attention to the next good deed, just like the vine turns once again to produce its grape in the right season

- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Friday, May 16, 2014

Nassim Taleb Talks Antifragile, Libertarianism, and Capitalism's Genius for Failure

(i.e. the negative Golden Rule, i.e., broader skin in the game: Nobody should expose others to harm for which he is not himself directly or indirectly exposed).

It seems that people get only one part of the rule: the disincentive or deterrent. But that's not what it is about: it is mainly a filter, which has been missed.

Bad drivers who tend to kill others by incompetence end up leaving the gene pool. Same with academics who trade and blow up: they become history. Same with people who give bad advice.

But there are many areas for which only TIME is a judge of competence --not the reasoning of men. The Silver Rule cancels the effect of rationalizations and intelligent-sounding BS: survival taks and bullshit walks.

There is also a main element that is missed: prediction. Predictors have an incentive to predict likely-events-of-low-consequence when they are not harmed by their errors. But in the real world, what matters is warning about events of high consequence. In the real world, the latter can only be revealed through skin-in-the-game as the supposedly "good predictors" go bankrupt.

Likewise a population that ignores signals goes extinct.


The Silver Rule was a chapter in the back of ANTIFRAGILE, missed because people could not connect it to asymmetry of payoff in general. I am tempted to issue a political policy pamphlet or short book on a deepening and broadening version of skin-in-the-game that would stand outside the *Incerto*.

Would add some elements of "inequality" and the Soviet aberration of manufacturing artificial equality without silver rule.

- Nassim Taleb

Quote of the Day

Every habit and faculty is formed or strengthened by the corresponding act - walking makes you walk better, running makes you a better runner. If you want to be literate, read, if you want to be a painter, paint. Go a month without reading, occupied with something else, and you'll see what the result is. And if you're laid up a mere ten days, when you get up and try to talk any distance, you'll find your legs barely able to support you. So if you like doing something, do it regularly; if you don't like doing something, make a habit of doing something different. The same goes for the affairs of the mind...So if you don't want to be hot-tempered, don't feed your temper, or multiply incidents of anger. Suppress the first impulse to be angry, then begin to count the days on which you don't get angry. 'I used to be angry every day, then only every other day, then every third....' If you resist it a whole month, offer God a sacrifice, because the vice begins to weaken from day one, until it is wiped out altogether. 'I didn't lose my temper this day, or the next, and not for two, then three months in succession.' If you can say that, you are now in excellent health, believe me.

- Epictetus, The Discourses of Epictetus - The Handbook

Thursday, May 15, 2014

What I've Been Reading

The mind, then, passes from sensation to thought through a middle disposition in which sensuousness and reason are active at the same time, but just because of this they are mutually destroying their determining power and through their opposition producing negation. This middle disposition, in which our nature is constrained neither physically nor morally and yet is active in both ways, preeminently deserves to be called a free disposition; and if we call the condition of sensuous determination the physical, and that of rational determination the logical and moral, we must call this condition of real and active determinacy the aesthetic.

On the Aesthetic Education of Man by Friedrich Schiller. Schiller portrayal of beauty as the roots of morality to politics to everything is a timeless wisdom. This is one of those books which needs to re-read every few years to preserve that aesthetic fire.
  • Man can be at odds with himself in a double fashion: either as savage if his feelings rule his principles, or as barbarian if his principles destroy his feelings. The savage despises Art and recognizes Nature as his sovereign mistress; the barbarian derides and dishonours Nature, but—more contemptible than the savage—he continues frequently enough to become the slave of his slave. The cultured man makes a friend of Nature and respects her freedom while merely curbing her caprice.
  • Athletic bodies are certainly developed by means of gymnastic exercises, but only through the free and equable play of the limbs is beauty formed. In the same way the exertion of individual talents certainly produces extraordinary men, but only their even tempering makes full and happy men. And in what relation should we stand to past and future ages if the cultivation of human nature made such a sacrifice necessary? We should have been the bondslaves of humanity, we should have drudged for it for centuries on end, and branded upon our mutilated nature the shameful traces of this servitude—in order that a later generation might devote itself in blissful indolence to the care of its moral health, and develop the free growth of its humanity!
  • It is, therefore, not enough to say that all intellectual enlightenment deserves our respect only insofar as it reacts upon the character; to a certain extent it proceeds from the character, since the way to the head must lie through the heart. Training of the sensibility is then the more pressing need of our age, not merely because it will be a means of making the improved understanding effective for living, but for the very reason that it awakens this improvement.
  • But why call it a mere game, when we consider that in every condition of humanity it is precisely play, and play alone, that makes man complete and displays at once his twofold nature? What you call limitation, according to your conception of the matter, I call extension according to mine, which I have justified by proofs. I should therefore prefer to put it in exactly the opposite way: Man is only serious with the agreeable, the good, the perfect; but with Beauty he plays. Certainly we must not here call to mind those games which are in vogue in actual life, and which are commonly concerned only with very material objects; but in actual life we should also seek in vain for the Beauty of which we are now speaking.
  • But now Reason says: the Beautiful is not to be mere life, nor mere shape, but living shape—that is, Beauty—as it dictates to mankind the twofold law of absolute formality and absolute reality. Consequently it also pronounces the sentence: Man shall only play with Beauty, and he shall play only with Beauty. For, to declare it once and for all, Man plays only when he is in the full sense of the word a man, and he is only wholly Man when he is playing. This proposition, which at the moment perhaps seems paradoxical, will assume great and deep significance when we have once reached the point of applying it to the twofold seriousness of duty and of destiny; it will, I promise you, support the whole fabric of aesthetic art, and the still more difficult art of living. But it is only in science that this statement is unexpected; it has long since been alive and operative in Art, and in the feeling of the Greeks, its most distinguished exponents; only they transferred to Olympus what should have been realized on earth.
  • So melting Beauty is essential for a man under the constraint either of matter or of form; since he has been moved by greatness and strength long before he began to become sensitive to harmony and grace. The need of a man swayed by the indulgence of taste is for energizing Beauty; since in the state of refinement he fritters away only too lightly a strength which he brought over from the state of savagery.
  • Melting Beauty, we maintained, was for a taut nature, and energizing Beauty for a relaxed one. But I call a man taut as much when he is under the constraint of sensations as when he is under that of ideas. Every exclusive domination of either of his two fundamental impulses is for him a condition of constraint and of force, and freedom consists solely in the co-operation of both his natures. The man who is one-sidedly swayed by feelings, or sensuously straitened, is therefore relaxed and set free by form; the man who is one-sidedly swayed by laws, or spiritually straitened, is relaxed and set free by matter. In order to do justice to this twofold task, therefore, melting Beauty will reveal herself in two distinct shapes.
  • But if both are real, and if Man has had by means of sensation the experience of a definite existence, and through apperception the experience of his own absolute existence, both his fundamental impulses will be aroused directly their objects are present. The sensuous impulse awakens with the experience of life (with the beginning of the individual), the rational with the experience of law (with the beginning of the personality), and only at this point, after both of them have come into existence, is his humanity established. Until this has happened, everything in him has proceeded according to the law of necessity; but now Nature’s hand abandons him, and it is his own business to assert the humanity which she planned and disclosed in him. As soon, that is to say, as both the opposite fundamental impulses are active in him, they both lose their sanction, and the opposition of two necessities gives rise to freedom.

Quote of the Day

Train yourself to think only those thoughts such that in answer to the sudden question 'What is in your mind now?' you could say with immediate frankness whatever it is, this or that: and so your answer can give direct evidence that all your thoughts are straightforward and kindly, the thoughts of a social being who has no regard for the fancies of pleasure or indulgence, for rivalry, malice, suspicion, or anything else that one would blush to admit was in one's mind.

- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Coral and Parrotfish - A Love Story

A Sense of Purpose Helps You Live Longer

The findings come from a study of more than 6,000 people who were followed over 14 years (Hill & Turiano, 2014).

The results showed that people who strongly agreed with statements like the following were less likely to die over the course of the study:

“Some people wander aimlessly through life, but I am not one of them.”

The researchers were surprised that these findings held, even for younger people.

Lead researcher, Patrick Hill, said:

“There are a lot of reasons to believe that being purposeful might help protect older adults more so than younger ones.

For instance, adults might need a sense of direction more, after they have left the workplace and lost that source for organizing their daily events.

In addition, older adults are more likely to face mortality risks than younger adults.

These findings suggest that there’s something unique about finding a purpose that seems to be leading to greater longevity.”

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Say to yourself first thing in the morning: today I might meet with people who are meddling, ungrateful, aggressive, treacherous, malicious and unsocial. All this has afflicted them through their ignorance of true good and evil. But I have seen that the nature of good is what is right, and the nature of evil what is wrong; and I have reflected that the nature of the offender himself is akin to my own - not a kinship of blood or seed, but a sharing in the same mind, the same fragment of divinity. Therefore I cannot be harmed by any of them, as none will infect me with their wrong. Not can I be angry with my fellow human being or hate him. We were born for cooperation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of upper and lower teeth. So to work in opposition to one another is against nature: and anger or rejection is opposition.

- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Transform Any Text Into a Patent Application

I wrote a program that transforms literary and philosophical texts into patent applications. In short, it reframes texts as inventions or machines. You can view the code on github.

I was partially inspired by Paul Scheerbart’s Perpetual Motion Machine, a sort of technical/literary diary in which Scheerbart documents and reflects on various failed attempts to create a perpetual motion machine. Scheerbart frequently refers to his machines as “stories” – I wanted to reverse the concept and transform stories into machines.

In this post I’ll provide some details about how I wrote the program, and describe some of the tools that I used.

First, here’s some sample output, listed by invention title and source text:

A method and device for comprehending theoretically the historical movement” (The Communist Manifesto)

An apparatus and device for staring into vacancy” (The Hunger Artist by Kafka)
A device and system for belonging to bringing-forth” (The Question Concerning Technology by Heidegger)

- Read the whole thing (and the Python code)

A Bias

My recent column about acquiring Max drew more comments from readers than any I have written since this column began in 1976. Many came from older people who had adopted dogs. I was especially moved by one from a retired judge, H. Lee Sarokin, who lives in San Diego County:

“At age 85, I begged my wife like a 7-year-old to let me have a dog,” he wrote. “We acquired a rescue dog we’ve since learned is a Lhasa apso. If I leave him for a moment to take out the garbage, he greets me as though I had been at sea for years. None of my children ever demonstrated such love. Without him, I would just be some old guy walking the streets, but everybody stops me to pet him, ask his breed, and just be friendly.

“If I were in my 20s, I think I would be getting marriage proposals just because of him. Dog-owning has its burdens, as you’ve stated, but of all the decisions I have made in this life, next to marrying my wife, this was the very best.”

- But the column, The Drawbacks of Puppy Love has not much to those above lines

Quote of the Day

It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it. Life is long enough, and it has been given in sufficiently generous measure to allow the accomplishment of the very greatest things if the whole of it is well invested. But when it is squandered in luxury and carelessness, when it is devoted to no good end,forced at last by the ultimate necessity we perceive that it has passed away before we were aware that it was passing. So it is the life we receive is not short, but we make it so, nor do we have any lack of it, but are wasteful of it. Just as great and princely wealth is scattered in a moment when it comes into the hands of a bad owner, while wealth however limited, if it is entrusted to a good guardian, increases by use, so life is amply long for the one who orders it properly.

- Seneca, On the Shortness of Life

Monday, May 12, 2014

Stoicism Today Seven Day Course - Stoic Philosophy as a Way of Life

This week long online course starts today ( but the format is flexible and you can pick your own week and practice yourself) - Stoicism Today Seven Day Course: Stoic Philosophy as a Way of Life:

The course is especially helpful for:
  • building resilience
  • approaching normally stressful or difficult daily situations wisely
  • cultivating a more purposeful and meaningful life
  • understanding what you cannot change whilst flourishing in what you can do, including in your relationships with others
  • developing greater self-awareness of thoughts and emotions, and making wiser choices
Also, download the free Handbook:

What I've Been Reading

By putting down Machiavelli and taking up Cyrus, you can discover the only genuine approach to leadership. Xenophon’s advice is always wise and never vicious, not even in the context of war. Thus we remember Socrates’s disciple as a great man, and we elevate his calm, collected Cyrus— not Machiavelli’s paranoid prince— to the title of ideal leader.

Xenophon's Cyrus the Great: The Arts of Leadership and War by Xenophon (edited by Larry Hedrick). One the best leadership books I have read in a long time.

There is a deep— and usually frustrated— desire in the heart of everyone to act with benevolence rather than selfishness, and one fine instance of generosity can inspire dozens more. I experienced over and again how my own temperance made others more temperate. When they perceived moderation and self-control in the actions of their leader, my subjects were eager to curb their own antisocial instincts.

I made my people understand the crucial difference between modesty and self-control. The modest person, I told them, will do nothing blameworthy in the light of day, but a true paragon of self-control— which we all should strive to be— avoids unworthy actions even in the deepest secrecy of his private life. Self-restraint would take root in my friends if they recognized me as a leader who wasn’t distracted from the pursuit of virtue by the pleasure of the moment— a leader who chose hard work before all else.

Thus I established a stately court, where all my friends showed respect to each other and cultivated courtesy until it bloomed into perfect harmony. In my palace I never heard harsh words of anger or a burst of scornful laughter.