Thursday, July 31, 2014

What Tech Jerks Can Teach Us

The term #JerkTech was minted recently, complete with hashtag, by Josh Constine, a San Francisco-based writer for the technology website TechCrunch. Constine pointed at ReservationHop, which aimed to make reservations at popular restaurants, then sell the reservations on to eager diners; and at MonkeyParking, which allowed people parked in a public parking space to auction it off when they left. (San Francisco’s city attorney had already sent MonkeyParking a cease-and-desist letter threatening substantial fines to users.)

Two lessons emerge from JerkTech: scarce public resources shouldn’t be given away for free to all comers; and simple technology can make it easier to match scarce resources with people who need those resources. Westminster Council, in London, is rolling out a smartphone app that will help drivers find vacant parking spaces and pay for them. If JerkTech can make a market work, there’s probably a JerkTech-free way to make that market work too.

- Tim Harford

Quote of the Day

Jobs insisted that Apple focus on just two or three priorities at a time. “There is no one better at turning off the noise that is going on around him,” Cook said. “That allows him to focus on a few things and say no to many things. Few people are really good at that.

- Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Debunking Genetic Astrology

We have created these web pages to help interested non-scientists to be skeptical consumers of genetic ancestry information, and to try to distinguish genetic ancestry from genetic astrology.  We highlight some of the doubtful claims that have been brought to our attention: scientific-sounding claims that we think are flawed, exaggerated or not well supported by the evidence, and that appear to be driven by a commercial motive or some agenda other than the advancement of knowledge.  We also aim to help readers find some of the best available scientific evidence, and provide an overview of what can and can't be said about genetic ancestry.

- Bookmark Debunking Genetic Astrology @ UCL

Quote of the Day

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless yet be determined to make them otherwise.

- F. Scott Fitzgerald

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Trust No One

Wright placed his files in his safe each evening on top of tiny pencil marks, so that he could tell if they had been moved. One day, they had been. Only two men knew the safe’s combination: Mitchell and Hollis. “The shadows were gathering; treachery stalked the corridors,” he wrote. He put a camera inside Mitchell’s office behind a two-way mirror and watched him closely. (“It was an unpleasant task; every morning Mitchell came in and picked his teeth with a toothpick in front of the two-way mirror, and repeated the meticulous process again before lunch, after lunch, and then again before he went home.”) Wright searched Mitchell’s wastepaper basket, and painstakingly reconstructed pieces of paper that had been torn into pieces: nothing. Frustrated, he turned his attention to Hollis. Was he the spy? Certainly, that would make sense of Hollis’s “long-standing refusal to entertain any possibility of a penetration of the Service.” Wright began a “freelance” investigation of Hollis, mindful of the career consequences of investigating his own boss. He travelled to Oxford, and hunted through the university’s files for Hollis’s undergraduate transcript. He discovered that Hollis had never got his degree: “He left inexplicably after five terms.” Where did he go? Slowly, Wright built his case: “I had faith in his treachery as another man might have faith in God.”

- More Here from Malcolm Gladwell

Quote of the Day

With parallel boosting, models are guaranteed to get better over time. “We start with an approximate solution and approximate model,” Chandra says. “That model could be really bad…Then we feed the model and all the training data in…At the end of the iteration, the algorithm is guaranteed to produce a better model. So if you keep iterating, the model gets better and better and better.”

- Tushar Chandra, Principal Engineer at Google Research and a co-lead for the Sibyl project.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Antifragility - Eating Food From Plants That Have Struggled To Survive Toughens Us Up As Well

Organic is a good start. I choose plants with lots of color because they are producing these molecules. Some argue that xenohormesis may explain, at least in part, why the Mediterranean diet is apparently so healthful. It contains plants such as olives, olive oil, and various nuts that come from hot, dry, stressful environments. Eating food from plants that have struggled to survive toughens us up as well.

Warding off the diseases of aging is certainly a worthwhile pursuit. But evidence has mounted to suggest that antioxidant vitamin supplements, long assumed to improve health, are ineffectual. Fruits and vegetables are indeed healthful but not necessarily because they shield you from oxidative stress. In fact, they may improve health for quite the opposite reason: They stress you.

That stress comes courtesy of trace amounts of naturally occurring pesticides and anti-grazing compounds. You already know these substances as the hot flavors in spices, the mouth-puckering tannins in wines, or the stink of Brussels sprouts. They are the antibacterials, antifungals, and grazing deterrents of the plant world. In the right amount, these slightly noxious substances, which help plants survive, may leave you stronger.

Parallel studies, meanwhile, have undercut decades-old assumptions about the dangers of free radicals. Rather than killing us, these volatile molecules, in the right amount, may improve our health. Our quest to neutralize them with antioxidant supplements may be doing more harm than good.

The idea that pro-oxidant molecules are always destructive is “oversimplified to the point of probably being wrong,” says Toren Finkel, chief of the center for molecular medicine at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute in Bethesda, Maryland. “Oxidants may be a primordial messenger of stress in our cells, and a little bit of stress, it turns out, may be good for us.”

Although far from settled, a wave of compelling science offers a remarkably holistic picture of health as a byproduct of interactions among people, plants, and the environment. Plants’ own struggle for survival— against pathogens and grazers, heat and drought—is conveyed to us, benefitting our health. This new understanding begins, in part, on a treadmill.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Students of social science, must fear popular approval: Evil is with them when all men speak well of them.

- Alfred Marshall

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Forest Bathing - Your Health & Nature

Zarr told me that exhorting patients to “get more exercise” was too vague. Last year, he decided to start trying something different. He stopped asking his patients, “Do you move?” and began asking “Where do you move?” He discovered that many spent very little time outdoors, and he began prescribing time outside for conditions as wide-ranging as ADHD, high blood pressure, asthma, obesity, anxiety, diabetes, and depression.

The Japanese Society of Forest Medicine’s Shinrin yoku plan, an effort to promote health through “forest bathing” (short visits to forests), has been fertile ground for scientific inquiry. Yoshifumi Miyazaki of Chiba University found lower cortisol levels in those who took forest walks when compared with those who walked the same distance in a lab. Qing Li and his colleagues from Nippon Medical School found that visits to the forest (compared with urban trips) can have a long-lasting influence on immune system markers, increasing the activity of antiviral cells and intracellular anti-cancer proteins—and these changes remained significant for a full week after the visit.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

A man always has two reasons for doing anything: a good reason and the real reason.

- J.P. Morgan

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Wisdom Of The Week

I started reading Models of My Life by Herbert A. Simon and the book oozes with wisdom in every page. A sample:

He understood both the uses and the dangers of opportunism. After I had moved to Berkeley, we once had breakfast together when he was visiting the Bay area. He was describing to me some new activities he planning. I asked, "Will the Spellman Fund approve of that?" (The Spellman Fund was, apart from membership dues, ICMA's main source of income.) He turned to sternly, and said, "I earned my living before I ever heard of the Spellman Fund, and I think I could earn it again if they went away." I stored the lesson and usefully recalled it on a number of later occasions.

Why Do Americans Stink at Math?

Carefully taught, the assignments can help make math more concrete. Students don’t just memorize their times tables and addition facts but also understand how arithmetic works and how to apply it to real-life situations. But in practice, most teachers are unprepared and children are baffled, leaving parents furious. The comedian Louis C.K. parodied his daughters’ homework in an appearance on “The Late Show With David Letterman”: “It’s like, Bill has three goldfish. He buys two more. How many dogs live in London?”

One of the most vivid arithmetic failings displayed by Americans occurred in the early 1980s, when the A&W restaurant chain released a new hamburger to rival the McDonald’s Quarter Pounder. With a third-pound of beef, the A&W burger had more meat than the Quarter Pounder; in taste tests, customers preferred A&W’s burger. And it was less expensive. A lavish A&W television and radio marketing campaign cited these benefits. Yet instead of leaping at the great value, customers snubbed it.

Only when the company held customer focus groups did it become clear why. The Third Pounder presented the American public with a test in fractions. And we failed. Misunderstanding the value of one-third, customers believed they were being overcharged. Why, they asked the researchers, should they pay the same amount for a third of a pound of meat as they did for a quarter-pound of meat at McDonald’s. The “4” in “¼,” larger than the “3” in “⅓,” led them astray.

How could you teach math in school that mirrors the way children learn it in the world? That was the challenge Magdalene Lampert set for herself in the 1980s, when she began teaching elementary-school math in Cambridge, Mass. She grew up in Trenton, accompanying her father on his milk deliveries around town, solving the milk-related math problems he encountered. “Like, you know: If Mrs. Jones wants three quarts of this and Mrs. Smith, who lives next door, wants eight quarts, how many cases do you have to put on the truck?” Lampert, who is 67 years old, explained to me.

She knew there must be a way to tap into what students already understood and then build on it. In her classroom, she replaced “I, We, You” with a structure you might call “You, Y’all, We.” Rather than starting each lesson by introducing the main idea to be learned that day, she assigned a single “problem of the day,” designed to let students struggle toward it — first on their own (You), then in peer groups (Y’all) and finally as a whole class (We). The result was a process that replaced answer-getting with what Lampert called sense-making. By pushing students to talk about math, she invited them to share the misunderstandings most American students keep quiet until the test. In the process, she gave them an opportunity to realize, on their own, why their answers were wrong.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Rush Hour, a board game about search algorithms; Set, a study in higher-dimensional geometry in the form of a viciously competitive card game; and DragonBox, an app for phone or tablet that teaches the formalisms of algebra. Every one of these games shows kids mathematical ideas in a spirit of play, which is a big and often hidden part of the true spirit of math.

These games are difficult, but also, for many kids, kind of addictive. Which means they also teach sitzfleisch, the ability to focus on a complicated skill for the length of time it takes to master it. Math needs that. (Baseball does, too.) It fits with the research of the psychologist Carol Dweck, which suggests that mentors should emphasize effort over native ability. We can’t really teach kids to do things; we can only teach them to practice things.

Don’t Teach Math, Coach It

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Private Habits of a Latter-Day Dictator

He is obsessed with information. The thickest, fattest folders at his request are not intelligence reports: they are press clippings. His hands first open the Russian press digest. The most important papers come at the front: the obsequious national tabloids – such as Komsomolskaya Pravda and Moskovsky Komsomolets. These matter most, with their millions of readers. Their headlines, their gossip columns, their reactions to the latest Siberian train wreck affect the workers’ mood.

The President rarely uses the internet. He finds the screens within screens and the bars building up with messages confusing. However, from time to time, his advisers have shown some satirical online videos: he must know how they mock him. His life has become ceremonial: an endless procession of gilded rooms. His routine is parcelled up into thousands of units of 15 minutes and planned for months, if not years ahead. Following his morning review the schedule folders embossed with the eagle are presented to him. After glancing at them, he follows the plan: without a smile or a joy.

Mostly, these meetings are meaningless. There are those who come to pay homage to him: receiving the crown Prince of Bahrain, awarding bronze medals to Udmurt Heroes of Labour, or reviewing promotions in the management of the federal space industry.


There are no stories of extravagance: only of loneliness. The President has no family life. His mother is dead. So is his father. His wife suffered nervous disorders, and after a long separation, there has been a divorce. There are two daughters. But they are a state secret and no longer live in Russia. There are rumours of models, photographers, or gymnasts that come to him at night. But there is a hollow tick to these stories, which no courtier can quite explain.

The President loves animals. He smiles at the sight of creatures that refuse to obey him. The President finds solace in the company of a black Labrador, who is not afraid of him. He enjoys the hunting parties. He enjoys the helicopter rides with camera-crews over the grey-white tundra looking for tigers and bears – the beauty of Russia.

- On Vladimir Putin by Ben Judah author of  Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell In and Out of Love with Vladimir Putin

Quote of the Day

The man whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations, of which the effects are perhaps always the same, or very nearly the same, has no occasion to exert his understanding or to exercise his invention in finding out expedients for removing difficulties which never occur. He naturally loses, therefore, the habit of such exertion, and generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become.

- Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations: An Inquiry into the Nature & Causes of the Wealth of Nations

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Don't Fly Drones Here

Currently, the 3 no fly zones are:
  • US National Parks
  • US Military Bases
  • 5 mile radius around medium to large size airports

- via Kottke

Decades of Communism = Russians are Living in an Alternate Reality

I recently moved to Moscow, and it’s hard to miss the extent to which Russian society exists in an alternate universe. Even well-educated, sophisticated people who have traveled widely in Europe and North America will frequently voice opinions that, in an American context, would place them alongside people wearing tinfoil hats. Russia is not living in the reality-based community.

One particularly easy and glaring example is Russian TV reporters, filing from Eastern Ukraine, who say they are reporting from the “Lugansk People’s Republic” or the “Donetsk People’s Republic.” Regardless of your views on the worsening civil war in Ukraine, which is not a neat story of black and white or right and wrong, it is obvious that these republics are almost entirely fictitious and that their “territory” is largely confined to a handful of government buildings. Despite their extremely dubious claims to legitimacy, the non-existent states are treated with deadly earnestness by both the state media and large numbers of ordinary Russians. (Ukraine has been a problem for Russian media ever since protests there began at the end of 2013.)

On almost any other issue you can think of, Russian views differ radically from the consensus here in America. Russians have extremely different opinions about the conflict in Syria, viewing the war in that unlucky country not as a brave struggle for freedom but as a chaotic war of all against all. They have different views about the war in Libya, where they see the overthrow of Gaddafi not as a new beginning but as the start of chaos and disorder. They have different views about 9/11, with shockingly large numbers of Russians supporting “alternate” explanations of one of history’s most carefully studied and well-documented terrorist attacks. (I was recently asked what “theory” of the attacks I supported only to be told that it was “my opinion” after I noted that al-Qaeda was clearly and obviously responsible.) Even something as seemingly straightforward and non-political as a meteor strike attracted a range of bizarre theories and pseudo-scientific “explanations” like the onset of an alien invasion or the testing of a new American super weapon. These wacky ideas (“the aliens are attacking Siberia!” “The grand masons are responsible for 9/11!”) would be extremely funny if they didn’t represent such a tragic deficit of reason.

Like many Americans, I used to think that these differences would recede with time, and that, as they traveled the world, got jobs, and got rich, Russians would eventually start to think more and more like us. After Ukraine and the Malaysia Airlines crash, I’m a lot less optimistic. Despite ditching communism and its call to world revolution, Russia appears to becoming more, not less, different from the United States. It doesn’t just have its own system; it now has its own facts

- More Here

Quote of the Day

The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.

- Vladimir Nabokov,  Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Why Readers, Are The Best People To Fall In Love With

Ever finished a book? I mean, truly finished one? Cover to cover. Closed the spine with that slow awakening that comes with reentering consciousness?

You take a breath, deep from the bottom of your lungs and sit there. Book in both hands, your head staring down at the cover, back page or wall in front of you.

You’re grateful, thoughtful, pensive. You feel like a piece of you was just gained and lost. You’ve just experienced something deep, something intimate… Full from the experience, the connection, the richness that comes after digesting another soul.

It’s no surprise that readers are better people. Having experienced someone else’s life through abstract eyes, they’ve learned what it’s like to leave their bodies and see the world through other frames of reference. They have access to hundreds of souls, and the collected wisdom of all them.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

It is not the conscience which raises a blush, for a man may sincerely regret some slight fault committed in solitude, or he may suffer the deepest remorse for an undetected crime, but he will not blush... It is not the sense of guilt, but the thought that others think or know us to be guilty which crimsons the face.

- Charles Darwin, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

What is Wisdom?

The kind of wisdom I have in mind is an intellectual virtue that cannot be reduced to cleverness or raw IQ. Without it, philosophy becomes a kind of game, the solving of logical problems generated by other philosophers for no apparent reason other than that it gives them all something to do.

I remember realising that a lot of philosophy was like this when I came across an apparently important problem concerning the time of a killing. Fred shoots Barney, and Barney’s bodyguards shoot Fred dead. Barney hangs on in there for a while and dies later. Fred clearly killed him, but when? Not at the time of the shooting, because you can’t have been killed if you’re not even dead. But not when Barney died either, since you can’t kill someone when you’re dead yourself.

Although I am assured that this has serious ramifications for the metaphysics of events, I cannot believe it matters for anyone other than the philosophers who argue about it. After all, the absence of an agreed solution has not stopped murder cases being solved or quantum physics dealing with much more bizarre states of affairs.

For me this is an example of intelligence without wisdom. Intellectual wisdom is the capacity to not just solve problems but to see which problems matter and which of their aspects are crucial. In that sense it is a kind of good judgment, an ability to identify what is truly important. Cleverness by itself may be enough to get you a good career in philosophy but it is wisdom that gets you a legacy.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

We need more understanding of human nature, because the only real danger that exists is man himself . . . We know nothing of man, far too little. His psyche should be studied because we are the origin of all coming evil.

- Carl Jung

We need more understanding of human nature, because the only real danger that exists is man himself . . . We know nothing of man, far too little. His psyche should be studied because we are the origin of all coming evil. - See more at:
We need more understanding of human nature, because the only real danger that exists is man himself . . . We know nothing of man, far too little. His psyche should be studied because we are the origin of all coming evil. - See more at:

Monday, July 21, 2014

The End of ‘Genius’

Pairs also naturally engage each of the two people involved. In a larger group, an individual may lie low, phone it in. But nobody can hide in a pair.

It’s going to take some time to truly accept the significance of pairs in creative life, in part because so many partners, if they do their job well, remain hidden to the outside world. Most Vera Nabokovs never get acknowledged. Partnership is also obscured when the two people have distinct public identities. C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien didn’t “collaborate” in the traditional sense, but, as a scholar of their work, Diana Pavlac Glyer, has shown, the influence of each on the other was critical to the work of both.

The pair is the primary creative unit — not just because pairs produce such a staggering amount of work but also because they help us to grasp the concept of dialectical exchange. At its heart, the creative process itself is about a push and pull between two entities, two cultures or traditions, or two people, or even a single person and the voice inside her head. Indeed, thinking itself is a kind of download of dialogue between ourselves and others. And when we listen to creative people describe breakthrough moments that occur when they are alone, they often mention the sensation of having a conversation in their own minds.

This phenomenon is so uncanny that the writer Elizabeth Gilbert has proposed that we return to the myth of the muses to help characterize it. That doesn’t mean there literally are “fairies who follow people around rubbing fairy juice on their projects and stuff,” Ms. Gilbert has said. But the core experience described by the muse-creator interaction — that of one entity helping to inspire another — is almost always true.

This raises vital questions. What is the optimal balance between social immersion and creative solitude? Why does interpersonal conflict so often coincide with innovation? Looking at pairs allows us to grapple with these questions, which are as basic to the human experience as the push and pull of love itself. As a culture, we’ve long been preoccupied with romance. But we should also take seriously something just as important, but long overlooked — creative intimacy.

- More Here from Joshua Wolf Shenk author of forthcoming book Powers of Two: Finding the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs

The State of the American Dog

America is two countries now—the country of its narrative and the country of its numbers, with the latter sitting in judgment of the former. In the stories we tell ourselves, we are nearly always too good: too soft on criminals, too easy on terrorists, too lenient with immigrants, too kind to animals. In the stories told by our numbers, we imprison, we drone, we deport, and we euthanize with an easy conscience and an avenging zeal. We have become schizophrenic in that way, and pit bulls hold up the same mirror as the 2.2 million souls in our prisons and jails and the more than 350,000 people we deport every year. Every year, American shelters have to kill about 1.2 million dogs. But both pro- and anti-pit-bull organizations estimate that of these, anywhere from 800,000 to nearly 1 million are pit bulls. We kill anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 pit bulls a day. They are rising simultaneously in popularity and disposability, becoming something truly American, a popular dog forever poised on the brink of extermination. There is endless argument over the reliability of bite statistics and breed identification and over the question of whether aggression in dogs is associated with specific genes or environmental triggers common to all dogs: that is, whether pit bulls who bite do so because they are pit bulls or because they are more likely to be intact male dogs at the end of a chain. But even if you concede the worst of the statistics—even if you concede the authority of a fourteen-year-old CDC report that implicated pit bulls and rottweilers in a majority of fatal dog attacks—one thing is certain about pit bulls in America: They are more sinned against than sinning.

My daughter is an only child who has found her sibling in her dog, Dexter. She feeds him; he allows her to take his food. She rides her bike when I walk him; he cries and whimpers and moans when she strays from his side. He has been, from the start, the most obedient dog we've ever had, the quickest to learn and most eager to please; and so when she had to write an essay for school, she wrote one extolling his intelligence. When she had to write a poem, she wrote a cycle of four with him as her muse, including one that contemplated his difficult passage to our home: "trying/sighing/crying/not dying—Dexter." She calls him Bro and writes him letters; and when her school asked her to do her spring project on the subject of change, she decided to raise money for an advocacy group called StubbyDog.

StubbyDog is dedicated to changing how people think about pit bulls. It offers online education and resources; its leaders also join the debate when states and cities contemplate breed-specific legislation. When Cedar City, Utah, contemplated banning pit bulls, StubbyDog's chairman, Russ Mead, began his presentation to the city council this way: "In looking at your dog-bite statistics, you don't have a pit-bull problem, you have a cocker-spaniel problem." When my daughter found StubbyDog, she found an ally for her own cause, and so one afternoon in March she perfected a spiel, rigged a cardboard box for the purpose of taking donations, and went door-to-door in our neighborhood. My wife went with her. So did Dexter.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

...element of comedy is never completely eliminated from irony. But irony is something more than comedy. A comic situation is proved to be an ironic one if a hidden relation is discovered in the incongruity. If virtue becomes vice through some hidden defect in the virtue; if strength becomes weakness because of the vanity to which strength may prompt the mighty man or nation; if security is transmuted into insecurity because too much reliance is placed upon it; if wisdom becomes folly because it does not know its own limits – in all such cases the situation is ironic.
The ironic situation is distinguished from a pathetic one by the fact that the person involved in it bears some responsibility from it. It is differentiated from tragedy by the fact that the responsibility is related to an unconscious weakness rather than a conscious resolution. While a pathetic or a tragic situation is not dissolved when a person becomes conscious of his involvement in it, an ironic situation must dissolve, if men or nations are made aware of their complicity in it…. or it leads to a desperate accentuation of the vanities to the point where irony turns into pure evil.

- Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Turban Makes Anyone An Indian

I spoke with Paul Kramer, a historian and professor at Vanderbilt University, who found that the turban was also used by African-Americans. They sometimes added robes, accents and carefully cultivated personas to bypass segregation laws and other kinds of discrimination.

He's written about about a black Lutheran minister, the Rev. Jesse Routté, who pulled off what Kramer calls the "turban trick."

Routté had traveled to Alabama in a turban and robes, put on an accent, and quickly realized that it was quite easy to fool everyone there into thinking he was a foreign dignitary — and to be received as one.

"Then it kind of goes viral in 1940s terms," says Kramer, "where the press picks it up, it becomes this colorful story that people are talking about." When an article appeared in The New York Times, he says, people started pulling up examples of other cases.

- More Here

Business Adventures

Both Bill Gates and Warren Buffet—according to an essay this week from Gates—count John Brooks’ Business Adventures as their single favorite book about business. Why is this compendium of 1960s New Yorker articles catnip for billionaires?

Perhaps the eeriest and most edifying piece to read from a modern-day perspective is Brooks’ look inside Xerox during a moment of transition. Here was a firm that experienced massive success at whiplash speeds, rising so far, so fast, that it wasn’t quite sure where to go next. Consider: In the mid-1950s, Americans made about 20 million copies annually, using bad technology that produced worse results. By 1964, after Xerox introduced xerography—a vastly superior, proprietary process that at last let copies be made on regular paper and with great velocity—that figure climbed to 9.5 billion. Two years later, we were making 14 billion copies a year.

Xerography was a technological revolution that some observers at the time put on par with the invention of the wheel. Brooks describes a burgeoning “mania” for copying—“a feeling that nothing can be of importance unless it is copied, or is a copy itself.” Marshall McLuhan fretted that xerography would “bring a reign of terror into the world of publishing,” and warned, “there is no possible protection from technology except by technology.”

In short, the arrival of xerography spurred hopes and fears not unlike those stirred up in the early days of the World Wide Web. It was a piece of tech that we might now call “disruptive.” It turned office culture on its head, changed the nature of text propagation more than anything since the days of Gutenberg, and coined a new dual noun/verb: I’ll Xerox it; let me make a Xerox. As for Xerox the company, it was generating so much profit that it seemed as though its copier drums were spitting out U.S. currency. When Brooks pays a visit to the corporate campus in Rochester, New York, he finds the executives’ biggest concerns revolve around Xerox’s charitable support for the United Nations—a cause the company championed but one that bore little relation to its core business.

At the height of its success, Xerox neglected to foresee its own demise. Then as now, disruption begat adaptation. Copying grew commonplace. Xerox plowed its revenue into R&D in a search for the next hit, but never managed to translate its breakthroughs into best-selling products.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Wisdom Of The Week

Brilliant profile of Elizabeth Holmes - CEO of Theranos was a refreshing read; yet another human being deeply influenced by Stoicism via Marcus Aurelius:

Elizabeth and her brother–who is now director of product management at Theranos–had both been intrigued by their father’s work in China. So when Elizabeth was about 9, her parents found them both a tutor to teach them Mandarin on Saturdays. Elizabeth then supplemented those lessons with summer language programs at Stanford and, later, at two universities in Beijing. Captivated by computer programming in high school, she was struck by how the Chinese universities’ information technology facilities lagged behind what she was used to. To rectify that situation, she started her first business while still in high school, selling C++ compilers to Chinese universities.

Whether it grew out of her father’s experiences at Tenneco or family lore–they are descendants of a founder of the Fleischmann’s Yeast company–Elizabeth grew up admiring private industry. “At a relatively early age I began to believe that building a business was perhaps the greatest opportunity for making an impact,” she says, “because it’s a tool for making a change in the world.”

Holmes was admitted by early decision to Stanford. As she headed off to college, her father gave her a copy of Meditations, by the Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius. “I wanted it to reinforce the message of a purposeful life,” her father explained to me. “I think it really affected her.”

Quote of the Day

Friday, July 18, 2014

Growing meat in Labs Could Cut Hunger, Tackle Climate Change & End Animal Slaughter ...

Last summer you unveiled the world's first lab-grown – or "in vitro" hamburger. How did it feel when you had it fried up, and you gave it to the first person to test? What if they had spat it out and said: "Ugh, this is awful"?
Well, yes. We'd selected food critics who said they wanted to taste synthetic meat at some point. But still, they are food critics, so they have to live up to their own standards. So, it was a nerve-racking moment. I felt they were pretty polite.

It's a paradox, isn't it? When I said to my sister: "I am going to interview a scientist who's created artificial meat," she went: "Ugh". And I said: "Yeah, because slaughtering animals to eat sounds so much more appetising."
Exactly. Part of the process is that we are thinking more and more about what meat is. If something comes out of the laboratory and you analyse it under the microscope and it's exactly the same, why wouldn't we consider it just as meat?

Could it be that people think – because you haven't bashed it over the head and slit its throat – that it can't have that same degree of deliciousness?
Right. People find it hard to think about these terms in the absence of any real alternative. I think [lab-grown meat] will change our attitude to animal welfare. Those issues are there today but we ignore them because we don't have an alternative. If we had an alternative, we could no longer ignore them. It will change our whole attitude towards meat, I think.

So do you think there is as much of a philosophical hurdle to overcome as a technological one?
Absolutely. We actually have philosophers on our team. You have to. If nobody wants to accept it, and nobody wants to eat it, then what's the point?

It was unveiled at the press conference that your anonymous donor was Sergey Brin. How did he get involved?
He approached me. Well, his investment company approached me. They identified this as a programme that they wanted to support – the idea of culturing beef. Mostly, from an animal-welfare perspective. That was the personal motivation to do this. Then they looked around the world for who is doing this, and they approached a couple of people including me.

- Interview with Professor Mark Post

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Billionaire Mathematician’s Life of Ferocious Curiosity

James H. Simons likes to play against type. He is a billionaire star of mathematics and private investment who often wins praise for his financial gifts to scientific research and programs to get children hooked on math.

But in his Manhattan office, high atop a Fifth Avenue building in the Flatiron district, he’s quick to tell of his career failings.

He was forgetful. He was demoted. He found out the hard way that he was terrible at programming computers. “I’d keep forgetting the notation,” Dr. Simons said. “I couldn’t write programs to save my life.”

After that, he was fired.

His message is clearly aimed at young people: If I can do it, so can you.

Down one floor from his office complex is Math for America, a foundation he set up to promote math teaching in public schools. Nearby, on Madison Square Park, is the National Museum of Mathematics, or MoMath, an educational center he helped finance. It opened in 2012 and has had a quarter million visitors.

Dr. Simons, 76, laughs a lot. He talks of “the fun” of his many careers, as well as his failings and setbacks. In a recent interview, he recounted a life full of remarkable twists, including the deaths of two adult children, all of which seem to have left him eager to explore what he calls the mysteries of the universe.

- More Here

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Microsoft’s ‘Project Adam’ Identifies Dog Breeds

Project Adam takes its cues from the human brain to absorb new data and teach itself new skills — such as distinguishing among different breeds of dogs.

That was the demonstration at the company’s Faculty Summit in Redmond this morning, as Microsoft brought out several different breeds of dogs on stage and showed how the technology could automatically distinguish among them in real time, using computer vision and insights from large sets of data.

Microsoft says Project Adam has achieved breakthroughs in machine learning by using distributed networks and an asynchronous technique that improves the overall efficiency and accuracy of the system over time. This is a critical area of technology as Microsoft and tech giants race to build intelligent, predictive systems that leverage mobile technologies and the cloud.

- More Here

How to Teach a Robot to Write

In the case of AP style, a lot of the work has already been done. Every Associated Press article already comes with a clear, direct opening and a structure that spirals out from there. All the algorithm needs to do is code in the same reasoning a reporter might employ. Algorithms detect the most volatile or newsworthy shift in a given earnings report and slot that in as the lede. Circling outward, the program might sense that a certain topic has already been covered recently and decide it's better to talk about something else. Automated Insights CEO Robbie Allen, the man responsible for the system, describes it as more complicated than it looks. "It can’t be Madlibs. If it starts to sound automated, it gets stilted or highly repetitive," he says. "It’s very complicated to avoid that."

The staffers who keep the copy fresh are scribes and coders in equal measure. (Allen says he looks for "stats majors who worked on the school paper.") They're not writers in the traditional sense — most of the language work is done beforehand, long before the data is available — but each job requires close attention. For sports articles, the Automated Insights team does all its work during the off-season and then watches the articles write themselves from the sidelines, as soon as each game’s results are available. "I’m often quite surprised by the result," says Joe Procopio, the company’s head of product engineering. "There might be four or five variables that determine what that lead sentence looks like." Even if you wrote the program yourself, it’s hard to know what’s coming.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Reason generates the list of possibilities. Emotion chooses from that list.

- Dale Peterson, Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Help Elephants - Tell Governor Christie to End New Jersey's Ivory Trade !!

New Jersey lawmakers recently passed Senate bill 2012/Assembly bill 3028, which would shut down the state’s ivory market. Urge Governor Christie to sign this critical legislation that will ban the sale of ivory objects in New Jersey and help save elephants from extinction.

- You can sign the petition here

What I've Been Reading

If the science of statistics can benefit me in anything, I will use it. If it poses a threat, then I will not. I want to take the best of what the past can give me without its dangers. Accordingly, I will use statistics and inductive methods to make aggressive bets, but I will not use them to manage my risks and exposure. Surprisingly , all the surviving traders I know seem to have done the same. They trade on ideas based on some observation (that includes past history) but, like the Popperian scientists, they make sure that the costs of being wrong are limited (and their probability is not derived from past data). Unlike Carlos and John, they know before getting involved in the trading strategy which events would prove their conjecture wrong and allow for it. They would then terminate their trade. This is called a stop loss, a predetermined exit point , a protection from the black swan. I find it rarely practiced.

Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets (Incerto) by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Believe it or not, I have never read Taleb's first book and I think, this is his best book (call it recency effect, ask me again when I re-read Antifragile & Black Swan)
  • Note also that the implication that wealth does not count so much into one’s well-being as the route one uses to get to it. Some so-called wise and rational persons often blame me for “ignoring” possible valuable information in the daily newspaper and refusing to discount the details of the noise as “short-term events.” Some of my employers have blamed me for living on a different planet. My problem is that I am not rational and I am extremely prone to drown in randomness and to incur emotional torture. I am aware of my need to ruminate on park benches and in cafés away from information, but I can only do so if I am somewhat deprived of it. My sole advantage in life is that I know some of my weaknesses, mostly that I am incapable of taming my emotions facing news and incapable of seeing a performance with a clear head. Silence is far better.
  • There are instances where I like to be fooled by randomness. My allergy to nonsense and verbiage dissipates when it comes to art and poetry. On the one hand, I try to define myself and behave officially as a no-nonsense hyperrealist ferreting out the role of chance; on the other, I have no qualms indulging in all manner of personal superstitions. Where do I draw the line? The answer is aesthetics. Some aesthetic forms appeal to something in our biology, whether or not they originate in random associations or plain hallucination. Something in our human genes is deeply moved by the fuzziness and ambiguity of language; then why fight it?
  • Karl Popper came up with a major answer to the problem of induction. No man has influenced the way scientists do science more than Sir Karl— in spite of the fact that many of his fellow professional philosophers find him quite naive (to his credit, in my opinion). Popper’s idea is that science is not to be taken as seriously as it sounds (Popper when meeting Einstein did not take him as the demigod he thought he was). There are only two types of theories: 1. Theories that are known to be wrong, as they were tested and adequately rejected (he calls them falsified). 2. Theories that have not yet been known to be wrong, not falsified yet, but are exposed to be proved wrong. Why is a theory never right? Because we will never know if all the swans are white (Popper borrowed the Kantian idea of the flaws in our mechanisms of perception). The testing mechanism may be faulty. However, the statement that there is a black swan is possible to make. A theory cannot be verified. To paraphrase baseball coach Yogi Berra again, past data has a lot of good in it, but it is the bad side that is bad. It can only be provisionally accepted. A theory that falls outside of these two categories is not a theory. A theory that does not present a set of conditions under which it would be considered wrong would be termed charlatanism— it-would be impossible to reject otherwise. Why? Because the astrologist can always find a reason to fit the past event, by saying that Mars was probably in line but not too much so (likewise to me a trader who does not have a point that would make him change his mind is not a trader). Indeed the difference between Newtonian physics, which was falsified by Einstein’s relativity, and astrology lies in the following irony . Newtonian physics is scientific because it allowed us to falsify it, as we know that it is wrong, while astrology is not because it does not offer conditions under which we could reject it. Astrology cannot be disproved, owing to the auxiliary hypotheses that come into play. Such point lies at the basis of the demarcation between science and nonsense (called “the problem of demarcation”).

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