Sunday, August 31, 2014

Inside Google's Secret Drone-Delivery Program

Google X began to come up with ideas and test them theoretically and experimentally. They considered many different wild options, sketching out new and wacky transportation systems. (“What if you took a glider up on a balloon with a super long string and the glider goes up, releases, and zooms down… You can—on paper—satisfy yourself that’s not the right solution.”) But eventually, Teller realized they needed an expert. They did a search and ended up pulling Roy across the county.

Roy was perhaps a less-than-obvious choice. For one, he’d never worked on drones flying outside. The challenges of the wind were new to him. Roy neither had a traditional aeronautics background nor had he dealt in logistics. Look back on his resume from the early 2000s, as he prepared to finish his PhD at Carnegie Mellon: There are almost no signs that he’d be the guy Google X would one day tap for a drone project. His most prominent work had been on tour guide and nursing robots.But that leaves out one very important detail: Roy's thesis advisor was Sebastian Thrun, the founder of Google X, and one of the most influential people in robotics. In the years before his tour at Google, Roy did important work with the support of the Office of Naval Research on indoor drone navigation in "GPS-denied" environments, where the vehicles can't rely on satellites to position themselves.

When Roy arrived in California, Project Wing’s initial focus was on delivering defibrillators to help people who have had heart attacks. The key factor in the success of using a defibrillator is how quickly it is deployed, so saving a few minutes of transit time could make for a lifesaving application. But as time went on, the Google team realized that tying into the 911 system and other practical exigencies eliminated the speed advantage they thought they could deliver.

So, now, Teller’s—and, by extension, I will assume Brin’s—big-picture vision has shifted to the ways ubiquitous, two-minute delivery can transform people’s relationship to stuff.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

“The New Digital Age” is, beyond anything else, an attempt by Google to position itself as America’s geopolitical visionary — the one company that can answer the question “Where should America go?” It is not surprising that a respectable cast of the world’s most famous warmongers has been trotted out to give its stamp of approval to this enticement to Western soft power. The acknowledgments give pride of place to Henry Kissinger, who along with Tony Blair and the former C.I.A. director Michael Hayden provided advance praise for the book.

In the book the authors happily take up the white geek’s burden. A liberal sprinkling of convenient, hypothetical dark-skinned worthies appear: Congolese fisherwomen, graphic designers in Botswana, anticorruption activists in San Salvador and illiterate Masai cattle herders in the Serengeti are all obediently summoned to demonstrate the progressive properties of Google phones jacked into the informational supply chain of the Western empire.

- Julian Assange reviews The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business by Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Wisdom Of The Week

This is a Google-y approach to the problem of ultra-reliability. Many of Google’s famously computation driven projects—like the creation of Google Maps—employed literally thousands of people to supervise and correct the automatic systems. It is one of Google’s open secrets that they deploy human intelligence as a catalyst. Instead of programming in that last little bit of reliability, the final 1 or 0.1 or 0.01 percent, they can deploy a bit of cheap human brainpower. And over time, the humans work themselves out of jobs by teaching the machines how to act. “When the human says, ‘Here’s the right thing to do,’ that becomes something we can bake into the system and that will happen slightly less often in the future,” Teller said.

- A simple wisdom;  humans collaborating with machines is best bet we currently have for a successful AI solution (via here). 

Quote of the Day

The amount of energy necessary to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.

- Alberto Brandolini

Friday, August 29, 2014

Daphne Koller on MOOCs

Yet another excellent Econtalk interview (If you haven't already started listening to Russ Robert's podcast, you are missing out on Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge):

Russ: You mentioned Udacity. Sebastian Thrun launched Udacity with a great deal of fanfare, and a great deal of resources. And the early offerings, some of them were quite spectacular, and quite successful in the sense that a lot of people took the classes. And he got very demoralized by his experience in trying to take that material into a university. Do you understand why? I don't, fully. And as a result, as you said, they have shifted more toward corporate training and other areas. I don't get it. What are your thoughts?

Daphne: I think one of the experiences that caused Sebastian to shift away from the original trajectory was the experience that he had with San Jose State, where he tried to take some of the courses, or at least the philosophy behind this teaching, and apply it to remedial classes. I think the real struggle is that students in these remedial classes are ones for whom the educational system has largely failed. That is, they didn't develop in school, in high school, the study skills that they needed in order to succeed. Which is why they are in the developmental track. And if you take those students and you just plunk them in front of a computer, I don't think it's a great recipe for success. Whereas there are other populations of learners that this is a much more successful model for.

Russ: So, his discouragement was the fact that they didn't do very well in the tests and retention or whatever measures that were used. But I thought it's sure awfully early to be turning your back on this technology because of, really, one data point. I don't get it. Is there more to it than that? That you think?

Daphne: I agree with you; and that's why we have not turned our back on this technology. I think it's important to identify the right--you are not going to find a silver bullet to education. There's not going to be a single technology that works well for all types of content and all populations. So I think that particular instance was a mismatch between the technology and the kinds of learners at which it was aimed. I think those learners, and there are studies that prove that benefit tremendously from more blended learning approach; and some of the other results even in San Jose State as well as a number of our partners, show significant improvements in learning. Because when you do blended learning that involves both technology and some kind of face-to-face interaction, the technology that we're currently using in terms of the open access, the ones that go direct to consumers, they work really well for a different type of population. And that's great.

Quote of the Day

That's why I'm skeptical of people who look at some catastrophic failure of a complex system and say, "Wow, the odds of this happening are astronomical. Five different safety systems had to fail simultaneously!" What they don't realize is that one or two of those systems are failing all the time, and it's up to the other three systems to prevent the failure from turning into a disaster.

- Raymond Chen

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Sleep Hygiene

Ask a good sleeper for her secret, and she won't reel off a list of elaborate evening rituals or bedroom modifications; she'll probably just look blank and say, "Nothing". That might be because she's lucky enough not to need sleep hygiene. But then again, as the dissenting sleep expert Guy Meadows points out, it could be because there's something wrong with the sleep hygiene approach itself. As every insomniac knows, the one way to guarantee wakefulness is to try really hard to fall asleep – which is why, by 5am, once you're resigned to the next day being ruined, it's often easy to doze off. Could getting obsessed with sleep hygiene have a similar self-defeating effect?

"The problem with all these props is that they erode people's trust in their natural ability to fall asleep," says Meadows, author of The Sleep Book and its accompanying smartphone app. The danger of fixating too much on sleep hygiene (Earplugs? Check! Blackout curtains? Check! Warm milk? Check!) is that it reinforces the belief that you're reliant on such things. Even when these techniques work, Meadows argues, they do so by rendering your sleep more fragile, and more easily disrupted the first night you're away from home, or for some other reason can't get everything just so.

Oliver Burkeman

Quote of the Day

Books can not be killed by fire. People die, but books never die. No man and no force can abolish memory... In this war, we know, books are weapons. And it is a part of your dedication always to make them weapons for man's freedom.

- Franklin D. Roosevelt

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Quote of the Day

Terrorist', noun: 1. Someone my government tells me is a terrorist; 2. Someone my President decides to kill.

- Glenn Greenwald

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Learning Myth: Why I'm Cautious About Telling My Son He's Smart

My 5-year-­old son has just started reading. Every night, we lie on his bed and he reads a short book to me. Inevitably, he’ll hit a word that he has trouble with: last night the word was “gratefully.” He eventually got it after a fairly painful minute. He then said, “Dad, aren’t you glad how I struggled with that word? I think I could feel my brain growing.” I smiled: my son was now verbalizing the tell­-tale signs of a “growth­ mindset.” But this wasn’t by accident. Recently, I put into practice research I had been reading about for the past few years: I decided to praise my son not when he succeeded at things he was already good at, but when he persevered with things that he found difficult. I stressed to him that by struggling, your brain grows. Between the deep body of research on the field of learning mindsets and this personal experience with my son, I am more convinced than ever that mindsets toward learning could matter more than anything else we teach.

- More here from Salman Khan

Quote of the Day

My biggest problem with modernity may lie in the growing separation of the ethical and the legal.

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

Monday, August 25, 2014

Quote of the Day

Better is possible. It does not take genius. It takes diligence. It takes moral clarity. It takes ingenuity. And above all, it takes a willingness to try.

- Atul Gawande, Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Flatley's Law: How One Company Is Creating Medicine's Genetic Revolution

Flatley is pleasant, but he’s boring. He sits in a cubicle, because he doesn’t believe in offices, wearing a blue dress shirt open at the collar. He’s not prone to excited soliloquies about changing the world. Even his genome seemed boring when he first had it sequenced. The most interesting tidbit was that he had a gene for a disorder called familial cold autoinflammatory syndrome, which, for him, had one symptom: He got a rash in the cold as a child. But because of his focus on execution, he may be one of the most effective CEOs in the life sciences industry–or any industry.

Illumina was founded in 1998 without a product or even a prototype. Flatley was recruited by the founders in 1999 because he’d successfully sold his last outfit, Molecular Dynamics, for $300 million.

At the time Illumina’s goal wasn’t to sequence every letter of a person’s DNA–back then it cost $360 million per person–but to take snapshots of individual genes quickly. Another company, Affymetrix, had that market locked up with its DNA microarrays, tiny glass slides with specific genetic patterns on them. The tech took advantage of the fact that DNA’s four-letter code–A, G, T, C–matches up in a specific way, A to T, G to C, in two opposing strands. If an opposing sequence were present, say, in blood, it would stick to the gene chip like Velcro. But Illumina had a better way: By putting the DNA on beads instead of flat slides, there was more surface area, a better signal-to-noise ratio and, it hoped, more accurate results.

Flatley was able to raise $100 million while genetics stocks were hot. He made sure Illumina had backup plans when its partner, the then-dominant DNA sequencer maker, Applied Biosystems, flaked out. And he kept the personal touch, writing birthday cards to every employee until Illumina hired employee 500 in 2006.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

You ask me why I do not write something.... I think one's feelings waste themselves in words, they ought all to be distilled into actions and into actions which bring results.

- Florence Nightingale, Notes on Nursing: What it is, and what it is not

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Wisdom Of The Week

Quote of the Day

When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.

- John Muir, Travels in Alaska

Friday, August 22, 2014

Convince Me that a Tesla is a Better Use of My Money than ...

Excellent Reditt Thread - A must read !!

  • I haven't been to a gas station in a year and a half. In the 1.5 years I've had it, that would have been ~60 gas station visits with another car. Ain't nobody got time for that shit.
  • I haven't had my oil changed. In the 1.5 years I've had it, that would have been 3-4 oil changes with another car.
  • I don't have to get smogged this year, or ever in the future. In another car, I would have to do it in the next few months.
  • I have generated more electricity off the solar panels on my roof than I've used in the car. In my other car that would have been about 750 gallons of gasoline, or about $3,000 in gas, and I would have dumped about 7.5 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere.
  • I HAVE had a few issues that I've needed to drop the car off for, but it was hassle free - I dropped the car off and hopped in 1) a faster, better Tesla, 2) a faster, better Tesla, 3) a Roadster for the day while they worked on mine. Each time they've taken it they've fixed my issue and improved my car in some other way (wind noise above windshield gone, creak in pano roof gone, titanium underbody shield added, etc.).
  • A few months ago I got hill hold (Let go of brake on a hill and the car doesn't roll until you apply gas) downloaded on my car over wirelessly while I slept. A whole bunch of other minor improvements have come through as well.
  • In my Tesla I can peel off the line to get around other cars without making an obnoxious "look how big my dick is" engine rev.
  • I can fit every ounce of kitesurfing gear in my car and still have room for a couple suitcases... in the back alone and then fill the front up with groceries or bags, and you can't see anything from outside the car.
  • I can fit 5 people in there easy.
  • I dunno man, sometimes I see other really, really nice, much more expensive cars on the road, and I'm sure they go faster, handle better, something something than my car, but I wouldn't trade mine in for any of them (except a higher model Tesla).

Quote of the Day

Humans are a story telling species. Throughout history we have told stories to each other and ourselves as one of the ways to understand the world around us. Every culture has its creation myth for how the universe came to be, but the stories do not stop at the big picture view; other stories discuss every aspect of the world around us. We humans are chatterboxes and we just can't resist telling a story about just about everything.

However compelling and entertaining these stories may be, they fall short of being explanations because in the end all they are is stories. For every story you can tell a different variation, or a different ending, without giving reason to choose between them. If you are skeptical or try to test the veracity of these stories you'll typically find most such stories wanting. One approach to this is forbid skeptical inquiry, branding it as heresy. This meme is so compelling that it was independently developed by cultures around the globes; it is the origin of religion—a set of stories about the world that must be accepted on faith, and never questioned.

- Nathan Myhrvold

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Antarctica’s secret garden

The researchers have been studying the samples since they reached the lake and have found that an abundance of life lurks beneath Antarctica's blanket of ice. In this week's issue of Nature, Priscu and his team report finding 130,000 cells in each millilitre of lake water — a density of microbial life similar to that in much of the world's deep oceans. And with nearly 4,000 species of bacteria and archaea, the community in the lake is much more complex than might be expected from a world sealed off from the rest of the planet. “I was surprised by how rich the ecosystem was,” says Priscu. “It's pretty amazing.”

Samples from the lake show that life has survived there without energy from the Sun for the past 120,000 years, and possibly for as long as 1 million years. And they offer the first look at what may be the largest unexplored ecosystem on Earth — making up 9% of the world's land area. “There's a thriving ecosystem down there,” says David Pearce, a microbiologist at Northumbria University, UK, who was part of a team that tried, unsuccessfully, to drill into a different subglacial body, Lake Ellsworth, in 2013. “It's the first time that we've got a real insight into what organisms might live beneath the Antarctic continent,” he says.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

The only recorded instance of Philip Larkin shedding tears was in March 1979. His secretary Betty Mackereth remembers how, “He just stood at the window of his office, looking out, and said: ‘I mowed the lawn last night; and I killed the hedgehog.’ And tears rolled down his face.” The hedgehog had been a frequent visitor to his garden. The next day he wrote a poem about the incident, as if the animal shared his humanity. It is sobering to think of the master of poetic gloom as a lachrymose Mr Tiggy-Winkle.

Larkin was nuts about animals. His letters to girlfriends were full of little drawings, showing them as cute squirrels or bunnies or honey bears. Letters to his mother pictured her as a seal in a frock. One of his library assistants, Mary Wrench, visiting his flat, was startled to hear her boss making a miaowing noise behind her; when she turned round, he was wearing a cat mask he had made himself. When his Oxford Book of 20th-Century English Verse was published, reviewers remarked on the high incidence of poems he had chosen about horses, lions, birds and bulls.

- Review of Philip Larkin: Life, Art and Love by James Booth

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Why Twitter Will Outlast Facebook

  • Twitter is a news source.
  • News media members have embraced Twitter. 
  • Engage with "famous" people on Twitter. 
  • Twitter is easier to use on a mobile device. 
  • It's easier to avoid annoying people on Twitter.
  • Commercialization will kill the Facebook experience.

- More Here

The App Store for Algorithms

Diego Oppenheimer was all too aware of this as a program manager at Microsoft, where he helped design data analysis features for tools such as Excel and Power Pivot. He was always searching for better algorithms to integrate into these applications, and often found the answers he needed at Microsoft Research, the company’s blue-sky research division. “I would find that people had been working on these algorithms for years, but we’d never heard of them,” he says.

Meanwhile, Oppenheimer’s college friend Kenny Daniel was working on his PhD in artificial intelligence at the University of Southern California. He had published multiple algorithms that were well received by academics, but had little chance of making their way into real-world applications. So the two of them teamed up to solve their mutual problem. Their answer is Algorithmia, which is essentially an “app store” for algorithms.

The idea is to give algorithm creators the chance to have their work used in the real-world, and get paid for it, while making it easier for companies that don’t have the resources of Microsoft or Google to tap into the world of algorithm development and find the best solutions to their problems.

There are a few other algorithm marketplaces out there already, including DataXu, which offers algorithms for ad placement, SnapAnalytics, which specializes in selling pre-made predictive models, and LumenData’s, which focuses on machine learning algorithms. But Algorithmia is different in that it will accept and sell any type of algorithm.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

THE GAP - Ira Glass

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.

THE GAP by Ira Glass from frohlocke on Vimeo.

Quote of the Day

Observe constantly that all things take place by change, and accustom thyself to consider that the nature of the Universe loves nothing so much as to change the things which are, and to make new things like them.

- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Monday, August 18, 2014

How the Zebra Got its Stripes, with Alan Turing

The essence of a Turing system is that you have two components, both of which can spread through space (or at least behave as if they do). These could be anything from the ripples of sand on a dune to two chemicals moving through the sticky goop holding cells together in a developing embryo. The key thing is that whatever they are, the two things spread at different speeds, one faster than the other.

One component is to be auto-activating, meaning that it can turn on the machinery that makes more of itself. But this activator also produces the second component – an inhibitor that switches off the activator. Crucially, the inhibitor has to move at a faster pace than the activator through space.

The beauty of it is that Turing systems are completely self-contained, self-starting and self-organising. According to Green, all that one needs to get going is just a little bit of activator. The first thing it does is make more of itself. And what prevents it from ramping up forever? As soon as it gets to a certain level it switches on the inhibitor, which builds up to stop it.

“The way to think about it is that as the activator builds up it has a head start,” says Green. “So you end up with, say, a black stripe, but the inhibitor then builds up and spreads more quickly. At a certain point it catches up with the activator in space and stops it in its tracks. And that makes one stripe.”

From these simple components you can create a world of patterns. The fearsome equations are just a way of describing those two things. All you need to do is adjust the conditions, or ‘parameters’. Tweaking the rates of spreading and decay, or changing how good the activator is at turning itself on and how quickly the inhibitor shuts it down, subtly alters the pattern to create spots or stripes, swirls or splodges.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Lucky people generate good fortune via four basic principles. They are skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities, make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition, create self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations, and adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.

- Findings from research psychologist Richard Wiseman, author of The Luck Factor

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Early Antibiotics Change Gut Microbes, Fuel Obesity

There are tens of trillions of microbes in our guts, which are important for our digestion and our health. The antibiotics that we take to kill off disease-causing bacteria also indiscriminately nuke these beneficial bugs. Now, a new set of experiments in mice have shown that low, regular doses of antibiotics at an early age can disrupt these microbe communities, leading to weight gain later in life. The increase in body weight was small, but compounded by a high-fat diet. If the results apply to humans, they would add to the large body of evidence suggesting that antibiotics should be used more carefully in infants and children.

“I’m not saying people should never take antibiotics,” says Martin Blaser from the NYU Langone Medical Centre, who led the study. “But we need to be more judicious. Antibiotics can have long-term consequences. I hope that knowledge will enter the examining room, so that parents don’t demand antibiotics and doctors are more cautious about using them.”

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Before his return home, he gave a number of speeches attacking the country’s corruption problems and warning of the risks of Russian-style “oligarchy”. Does this still worry him?

He pauses, as if weighing the risks of such a controversial topic, before ploughing ahead, referring to recent scandals in areas such as telecoms and mining rights. A puzzling question links them, he says: “Why do we tolerate the venal politician?” Inspired by Richard Hofstadter, a historian who studied America’s own era of robber-baron capitalism, Rajan says the answer lies in India’s threadbare public services. Because the state is weak, voters demand that local politicians help them secure jobs or gain government benefits. For this, the politicians need funding, which they get by soliciting bribes. “So it’s sort of an unholy nexus, so to speak. Poor public services, politician fills the gap. Politician gets the resources from the businessman, politician gets re-elected by the electorate for whom he’s filling the gap. And electorate turns a blind eye to the deals done with the businessman.” A related problem comes when industrialists win favours in return, for instance via cheap loans. “Many business groups treat public sector banks as their equity kitty,” he explains, meaning that lenders are lenient when times are bad, but businesses take the benefits when matters improve. “So it’s heads I win, tails you lose. And I want to change that.”

- FT Lunch with Raghuram Rajan

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Wisdom Of The Week

You've probably never heard of the fat-tailed dwarf lemur, a nocturnal primate (native to Madagascar) that hops around in trees and is about the size of a rat. But these little guys are pretty closely related to humans—relative to most other life on Earth, anyway—and they are able to do something quite extraordinary. Like bears, marmots, and bats—but unlike any other primates—they hibernate (or, as some researchers put it, enter into a prolonged "period of increased torpor") during Madagascar's winter season. For as much as half the year, they huddle together, dramatically slow their metabolism, and (hence the name) live off of their plentiful tail fat.

This primate species, explains University of Pennsylvania professor of medicine David Casarett, may provide a roadmap for how humans themselves might someday enter a hibernationlike state. After all, despite the dramatic differences between us, we share 97 percent of our DNA with this tiny (and super cute) mammal, according to one Duke University lemur expert. "There's hope out there, maybe, for a wonder drug, a simple injection that will reduce somebody's metabolism by 99 percent, and put victims in a state of suspended animation," says Casarett, author of the new book Shocked: Adventures in Bringing Back the Recently Dead.

Why would anyone want to enter a state of suspended animation? Hibernation is characterized by a slower metabolism, a decreased heart rate, slower breathing, and much colder body temperatures. And while there are several reasons why a person might want to go there, perhaps the most common one involves staving off death. People who have just been shot or injured in a car wreck, or who are having a heart attack, all share one danger: Vital organs, like the brain, are easily damaged after going just a few minutes without receiving sufficient oxygen from their bloodstream.

More and more evidence suggests that traditional practices of resuscitation, which may include keeping the body warm and trying to kick-start the heart (using hormones like epinephrine), can sometimes do more harm than good. Warm body temperatures and a quickly beating heart keep the organs of the body functioning at top speed, using up oxygen and other nutrients in the bloodstream. After as few as four minutes without oxygen, say from a heart attack, brain damage can set in.

So maybe we should consider putting away the epinephrine and instead encourage the body to cool down and slow its metabolism, as in hibernation, so that the organs most in danger of being irreparably harmed require less energy, and therefore less oxygen, to survive. "By cooling cells, you decrease their metabolism," Casarett says. "You decrease the rate at which they use some of the building blocks of energy…cells also reduce the rate at which they use oxygen. And so by reducing the metabolic rate of those cells, [you] can essentially trick the body into thinking that it's in a state of hibernation." Casarett says that this technique holds the potential to stave off brain damage for 20 or 30 minutes—maybe even an hour.

- Will Humans Ever Learn to Hibernate? brilliant piece based on David Casarett's new book Shocked: Adventures in Bringing Back the Recently Dead

8 Reasons You Should Learn To Love These Under-Appreciated Animals

They can help us learn.

A pioneering 2013 study from the University of Kentucky discovered that spending time with horses can help people develop a sense of empathy as well as enhance their social and leadership skills. The small group of nurses from UK Chandler Hospital who participated in the study noted the importance of self-awareness and non-verbal communication during their time in the stables.

“If horses can increase our ability to understand ourselves and others better, then the healthcare industry is a perfect place for studies like these,” study project manager Lissa Pohl said in a statement. “When nurses and doctors benefit from collaborating with horses then ultimately their patients also benefit.”

They can be our best therapists.

Equine therapy activities, including everything from grooming and feeding to walking and riding, can substantially improve psychological health — particularly in people who don’t feel comfortable with the more traditional verbal therapy methods. Alongside a licensed therapist and horse professional, people can find relief for behavioral issues, attention deficit disorder, substance abuse, eating disorders and abuse issues, to name a few.

“The horse is the perfect mirror, they are very emotional beings; we’re only starting to realise how intelligent they are,” Gabrielle Gardner, a therapy counselor of Shine For Life, told The Guardian. The benefits of working with horses are also being increasingly recognized by therapists who work with autistic children.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

The Four Noble Truths are pragmatic rather than dogmatic. They suggest a course of action to be followed rather than a set of dogmas to be believed. The four truths are prescriptions for behavior rather than descriptions of reality. The Buddha compares himself to a doctor who offers a course of therapeutic treatment to heal one’s ills. To embark on such a therapy is not designed to bring one any closer to ‘the Truth’ but to enable one’s life to flourish here and now, hopefully leaving a legacy that will continue to have beneficial repercussions after one’s death.

- Stephen Batchelor, Confession of a Buddhist Atheist

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Mercy of Sickness before Death

Is cancer ever a blessing?

No, but only because no human experience, not even marriage, not even the birth of a child, is a sign of God’s favor and a promise of unbroken happiness. Cancer may be a death sentence, but there are many ways to read the sen­tence. Resignation is only one of them, and a particularly arrogant one at that, because it pre­sumes to know, as it cannot, the outcome in every detail.

But if you are ignorant of the suffering that awaits you when you are first diag­nosed, you are equally ignorant of the changes that cancer will work in your thinking and emotional life, some of which may even be improve­ments in old habits of thought and feeling.

You may, for instance, become more conscious of time. What once might have seemed like wastes of time—a solitaire game, a television show you would never have admitted to watching, the idle poking around for useless information—may become unex­pected sources of joy, the low-key celebrations of being alive. The difference is that when you are conscious of choosing how to spend your time, and when you discover that you enjoy your choices, they take on a meaning they could never have had before.

You no longer waste or mark time. You fill it, because now you can see the brim from where you are lying.

D.G. Myers is dying of cancer...

Quote of the Day

How can one be compelled to accept slavery? I simply refuse to do the master's bidding. He may torture me, break my bones to atoms and even kill me. He will then have my dead body, not my obedience. Ultimately, therefore, it is I who am the victor and not he, for he has failed in getting me to do what he wanted done.

- Mahatma Gandhi

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Illegal Poaching - Where Do We Stand?

- More Here

Robin Williams, Depression, and Stephen Fry

Williams’ passing thus gave us some moments of humanity that provided respite, however brief, from the troubles and brutality besetting our world right now. We can mourn Williams not only as a purveyor of joy and laughter, but also for the knowledge that he died from an affliction far commoner than we think, and perhaps we can learn to help those so afflicted.

How do we respond to the severely depressed? Stephen Fry, who has been suicidally depressed, shows us how. Read this post from From Letters of Note:Early-2006, during a bout of depression, a young lady by the name of Crystal Nunn wrote a desperate letter to Stephen Fry. Says Crystal:

“I had no idea who to turn to. But I really needed someone to turn to and to ease the pain. So I wrote to Stephen Fry because he is my hero, and he has been through this himself. And low and behold, he replied to my letter, and I will love him eternally for this.”

Here’s Fry’s reply to her (there’s a transcript at the site if you can’t read this):


- More Here

Why Techies Love CrossFit

"People ask me, how do you network to find engineers?" Kim says. "CrossFit's one of the best ways to meet engineers because it attracts a certain type of person. Tim Dymmel, the founder of CrossFit Palo Alto, has seen more than one startup founded by sweaty, chalk-dusted techies at his gym, and pitched to investors using the same set of barbells. "Limited partners, VCs, founders, engineers who work for those guys, and people who work for the larger companies. That's who come to my gym." One wealthy venture capitalist switched from CrossFit Palo Alto's 7am class to the 5am class, to weed out entrepreneurial fitness buffs who weren't willing to get up early. "If they want to find me at 5am," Dymmel recalls him saying, "they know where to find me."

"CrossFit's a filter," Dymmel says of the connections forged under the pull-up bar. "It's the ability to suffer. Are they mailing it in on the workouts? Or are they really working hard?"

There is a ruthless logic to this. It's a war for talent, sure. But why stop at talent, when you could be recruiting talent with a tolerance, even an appetite, for grueling group suck-fests? Sure, that Stanford computer science major can code. But will he take leisurely water breaks when the clock is ticking? Will that mobile e-commerce ninja stop to stare at the barbell between rounds of "Fran?" Or will she power through it, high-five everyone afterwards and describe the ordeal as awesome?

- More Here from J.C. Herz's based on her new book Learning to Breathe Fire: The Rise of CrossFit and the Primal Future of Fitness

Quote of the Day

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Happy Demise of the 10X Engineer

How long before we have a billion-dollar acquisition offer for a one-engineer startup?

The way to describe this software coding continuum might be pre-foundation – where in its extremist form, every piece of software started in Assembly — and post-foundation – where software is like Legos, just snap the pieces together.

Pre-foundation, even the simplest tasks took a tremendous amount of knowledge and labor, because you had to build up from the bottom. For a website this might have meant (going up the stack) a server OS you patched and managed yourself, running your homegrown or hand-tuned web server, caching system, database, account management system, rendering engine and front-end libraries, with your own hand built analytics platform, build process and bug reporting tool. If that sounds like a lot of stuff to manage, that’s because it was.

Post-foundation, one need only focus on the user-facing function at hand, working with only one level of abstraction. It will one day be laughable that building Facebook required tuning web server software, let alone building entire data centers. The other layers of the stack will be abstracted away entirely and writing software will continue to look more like assembling a collection of Github-hosted libraries and APIs.


But we are getting there, and software is eating software development. The foundation of open source based software platforms, infrastructure, knowledge and best practices continues to grow. I bet Stackoverflow alone has increased programming productivity by a few percentage points. Now add fifteen years of free or inexpensive developer tools (Github, too many IDEs to list), automated infrastructure (Mesosphere, AWS, Google App Engine, Heroku, DigitalOcean and more), databases (MySQL, MongoDB, PostgreSQL, Firebase and more), high level languages (Python, Ruby, PHP and more) and frameworks (Meteor, Angular, Django, Rails, Bootstrap and more): the faucets, pipes and water pumps of programming. All rooted in open source and all removing levels of detail that a creator making software for users shouldn’t have to care about.

Software engineering is not yet plumbing — or Legos — because our standards are incomplete, our libraries incompatible, scaling is still not free and our software still buggy.

Now, what does this mean for the 10x engineer? The “10x engineer” is still needed to build the foundation — building AWS or Mesos remains very difficult. But as we build out the common foundation, the skill and experience an individual needs to accomplish a task on top of the platform decreases.

More Here

Quote of the Day

Wealthy families have always struggled with this issue. But the same drama is now playing out on a smaller scale for millions of baby boomers, who are poised to give away $30 trillion over the next 30 years — the largest transfer of wealth in U.S. history, according to consulting firm Accenture. What used to be a private family matter has become a public discussion about wealth, privilege and personal responsibility. Who gets the big money? Should it be the heirs? Or are they better off without it?

Why the super-rich aren’t leaving much of their fortunes to their kids?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Good Bye Robin Williams

it's been a long road,
getting from there to here.
it's been a long time,
but my time is finally near.

and I can feel the change in the wind right now,
nothings in my way
and they're not gonna hold me down no more,
no they're not gonna hold me down

cause i've got faith of the heart
i'm going where my heart will take me
i've got faith to believe,
i can do anything
i've got strength of the soul
no one's gonna bend nor break me
i can reach any star
sponsored links
i've got faith
i've got faith
faith of the heart

it's been a long night,
trying to find my way
been through the darkness
now i finally have my day
and i will see my dream come alive at last
i will touch the sky
and they're not gonna hold me down no more,
no they're not gonna change my mind

i've known a wind so cold,
i've seen the darkest days,
but now the winds i feel,
are only winds of change
i've been through the fire,
and i've been through the rain
but, i'll be fine.

i've got faith of the heart,
i'm going where my heart will take me,
i've got strenth of soul,
no one's gonna bend nor break me.
i can reach any star,
i've got faith
i've got faith
faith of the heart

it's been a long road

In Darwin’s Footsteps - 40 Years in Galápagos Islands

Charles Darwin spent only five weeks on the Galápagos Islands, and at first, the British biologists Peter and Rosemary Grant didn’t plan to stay very long either — a few years at most.

They landed in 1973 on the tiny uninhabited island of Daphne Major, the cinder cone of an extinct volcano. (Darwin himself never set foot there.) Daphne is as steep as a roof, with cliffs running all around the base, and just one small spot on the outer slope flat enough to pitch a tent.

Their goal, as they relate in their new book, “40 Years of Evolution,” was to study finches in the genus Geospiza — the birds that gave Darwin some of his first inklings of evolution by natural selection — and to try to reconstruct part of their evolutionary history. Instead, they made an amazing discovery.

After several years of meticulous measurements, the Grants and their students realized that the finches’ dimensions were changing before their eyes. Their beaks and bodies were evolving and adapting from year to year, sometimes slowly, sometimes strikingly, generation after generation. The researchers were watching evolution in real time, evolution in the flesh.

- More Here about British biologists Peter and Rosemary Grant and their time in the Island is captured brilliant in their new book 40 Years of Evolution: Darwin's Finches on Daphne Major Island

Quote of the Day

The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure.

-  Joseph Campbell

Monday, August 11, 2014

Political Order & Political Decay - From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy

Francis Fukuyama's new book Political Order & Political Decay - From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy (this a sequel to this one) is scheduled release on September 30th and there are already some raving reviews:

Former neoconservative academic Fukuyama (International Studies/Stanford Univ.) is concerned about the functionality of government, specifically what he sees as the current “vetocracy” in the United States, which signals the beginning of political decay. Moving from the French Revolution onward and using myriad examples from Prussia to Nigeria, the author lays out the evolution of three essential political institutions: the state, the rule of law and democratic accountability. Fukuyama is commenting on (and updating) his teacher Samuel P. Huntington’s Political Order in Changing Societies (1968), in which Huntington argued that “before a polity could be democratic, it had to provide basic order”—e.g., the introduction of the Napoleonic Code in France. Fukuyama defines institutions, after Huntington, as “stable, valued, recurring patterns of behavior” around which humans act for the greater good. Why have some countries developed stable institutions like public safety, a legal system and national defense while others have not? The author delves into the making of the first stable and effective modern states, notably in Prussia, where Calvinist doctrine infused in leaders a sense of austerity, thrift and intolerance of corruption, and spurred a substantial army and education and taxation systems. Elsewhere, particularly in Greece, Italy and Argentina, where stable institutions should have developed, states were stymied by an absence of social trust and by clientelism, which depends on patronage. Fukuyama also looks at the roles of geography, climate and colonialism. Shaking off patronage-laden bureaucracies, as Britain and America managed to do, is essential to a stable state. In the U.S., Fukuyama decries the creeping “repatrimonialization” in the form of lobbyists and special interest groups.

Quote of the Day

First, animals, as well as people, learn from experience that the same events will follow from the same causes. A horse learns from experience the height it can jump. A dog learns from experience to answer to its name and not to another.

Second, this learning is not from reasoning for animals any more than it is for children. Nature has provided another principle. But for mankind and animals, it is instinct that acts unknown to us and them, that teaches a man to avoid fire and a bird to know the art of incubation and nursing its young.

Why, then, do humans surpass animals in reasoning and one person can surpass another, if the difference is not in the reasoning itself? Answer: the difference is in the giving of attention, in memory, and in observation. One mind may be larger and better able to comprehend, or better able to remember a chain of consequences, or better able to discern between ideas, not mistaking one for another. One mind in observation may be better able to form general maxims, to see beyond prejudice, or to have greater social confidence and be able to enlarge one's own experiences by those of others. And there are many other circumstances that can be factors.

- David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Quote of the Day

Some care is needed in using Descartes' argument. "I think, therefore I am" says rather more than is strictly certain. It might seem as though we are quite sure of being the same person to-day as we were yesterday, and this is no doubt true in some sense. But the real Self is as hard to arrive at as the real table, and does not seem to have that absolute, convincing certainty that belongs to particular experiences.

- Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Wisdom Of The Week

Concepts such as “justice,” “freedom” or “economics” can be turned over in the mind without ever resorting to mental pictures. While there is never final resolution between word and image, we are a species dependent on the abstractions of language and in the main, the word eventually supplants the image.

When we reflect, ruminate, reminisce, muse and imagine, generally we revert to the visual mode. But in order to perform the brain’s highest function, abstract thinking, we abandon the use of images and are able to carry on without resorting to them. It is with great precision that we call this type of thinking, “abstract.” This is the majesty and the tyranny of language. To affix a name to something is the beginning of control over it. . . . Words, more than strength or speed, became the weapons that humans have used to subdue nature.


Both art and physics are unique forms of language. Each has a specialized lexicon of symbols that is used in a distinctive syntax. Their very different and specific contexts obscure their connection to everyday language as well as to each other. Nevertheless, it is noteworthy just how often the terms of one can be applied to the concepts of the other… While physicists demonstrate that A equals B or that X is the same as Y, artists often choose signs, symbols and allegories to equate a painterly image with a feature of experience. Both of these techniques reveal previously hidden relationships.


Revolutionary art and visionary physics attempt to speak about matters that do not yet have words. That is why their languages are so poorly understood by people outside their fields. Because they both speak of what is certainly to come, however, it is incumbent upon us to learn to understand them.

- Brainpickings review's the book Art & Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time, and Light

How Animals Deal with Infection?

When a colony member dies, surviving ants go out of their way to remove the lifeless body from the colony. It isn't yet known what sorts of bacteria, viruses, or fungi grow on the bodies of dead ants, but biologists have long thought that corpse removal was a behaviour that evolved to keep the colony healthy, because the deceased individual could have been, or could become, infected. But it had never been proven, until now.

Earlier this year, Belgian researcher Lise Diez and colleagues finally found concrete evidence to bolster the hypothesis. The researchers maintained several colonies of common red ants, Myrmica rubra in their laboratory for 50 days. Half of the colonies were free to dispose of their corpses as they naturally would, but the others were blocked from doing so. Starting from the eighth day, adult workers from colonies that were permitted to remove corpses naturally were significantly more likely to survive than adults from the restricted ones. Impressively, the ants in the restricted colonies found alternative mechanisms for reducing their exposure to corpses. The dead ants were moved to the corners and the colony to reduce the number of individuals who could pass near them, and especially to keep them away from the developing larvae. Some restricted colonies also managed to "bury" their dead under some cotton wool they had removed from artificial water dispensers.

Behaviours that reduce an animal's exposure to infectious parasites, from hiring cleaner fish to hiding dead corpses, probably evolved to combat the deadly pressure of disease, just as animals evolved camouflage to escape being gobbled up by toothy predators.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. in the question.

- Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

Friday, August 8, 2014

Null Hypothesis & The Big Foot

The null hypothesis they developed was this: The hairs purported to come from Bigfoot (or the Abominable Snowman or other regional varieties of the creature) belonged not to a previously unknown primate, but to known mammals. They extracted DNA fragments from 30 different hair samples and were able to isolate the same short stretch of DNA from each. They then compared that stretch to the corresponding stretch of DNA sequenced from many living mammals.

The results were clear: The scientists found precise matches for all 30 samples in previously known mammals.

Does this mean Sykes and his colleagues have proved that Bigfoot does not exist? No. It simply means that Sykes, unlike Fisher with his tea test, could not reject the null hypothesis. The question remains open, and—if Bigfoot doesn’t exist—always will.

That’s not to say Sykes’ study didn’t offer its own surprises. Two hair samples from the Himalayas matched a DNA sequence that was extracted from a 40,000-year-old fossil of a polar bear. Stranger still, their DNA was not a match to living polar bears.

In their report, Sykes and his colleagues offer a scenario for how such a result could have come about. It’s possible that ancient polar bears and brown bears interbred, and some living bears in the Himalayas still carry a bit of that ancient polar bear DNA.

Some skeptics have offered up an alternative explanation for Sykes’ finding. It’s possible that the polar bear-like DNA actually comes from a living mammal—perhaps a brown bear—that happened to pick up a few mutations that created a false resemblance to that ancient polar bear DNA.

What these skeptics have done, in effect, is create a null hypothesis. And there’s a straightforward way to set about disproving it. Scientists would need to find more DNA from these mysterious bears. If other regions of the DNA also matched ancient polar bears, then scientists could reject the null hypothesis.

And so science carries on, from one null hypothesis to another.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

A robot that carries a notion of its own uncertainty and that acts accordingly is superior to one that does not.

- Sebastian Thrun, Probabilistic Robotics (Intelligent Robotics and Autonomous Agents series)

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age by Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha and Chris Yeh

Improving the microcosm of workplace relationships can have a major impact on society -- job by job, team by team, company by company. The alliance may seem like a small thing next to macroeconomic proposals like overhauling the education system or reforming our regulatory regime, but it's a small thing we can all adopt today that will generate big cumulative returns in the years to come.

Review of the new book by  The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age by Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha and Chris Yeh:

The Alliance shows how the workplace has changed in recent decades, and how these changes have broken down the trust in the relationship between employers and employees, to everyone's detriment. And then it shows a way forward so that all benefit.

Essentially, the authors write, we've gone from a model predicated on stable, longtime (if not lifetime) employment to one of constant flux and change. "The world changed, both philosophically and technologically," they write. "The rise of shareholder capitalism led companies and managers to focus on hitting short-term financial targets to boost stock prices."

As a result, the employer-employee relationship has become legalistic and transactional, characterized by mutual distrust and "based on a dishonest conversation." Employers still talk about the value of talent retention and use the language of "family" and "team," but when short-term and quarterly expectations aren't met, employees suddenly find themselves without a family, cut from the team. Since employees know this, they're -- not unreasonably -- always looking for a better gig and not fully committing to what they're doing now. "No one wants to risk being jilted," the authors write, "so no one invests in the long-term relationship."

When no one wants to make that investment, it's bad for everybody, including companies. And this isn't good for anyone:

A business without loyalty is a business without long-term thinking. A business without long-term thinking is a business that's unable to invest in the future. And a business that isn't investing in tomorrow's opportunities and technologies -- well, that's a company already in the process of dying.

Quote of the Day

They said this before the iPhone came, and then when the iPad came, they said, 'What's the big deal? It's just a big iPhone.' New platforms--the reason it's hard to conceptualize is that the things you are going to use those platforms for don't yet exist. And thus you can say I can already see the weather on my iPhone. Why do I need--field division? And you don't. That not what the really cool thing is going to be. The reason you are going to need some wearable computer is for some reason you haven't even thought about yet. It always makes it difficult to conceptualize what's going to do well. But the history of tech pundits saying we're going to need or not need some new technology is horrible. In both directions.

- Sam Altman, President of Y Combinator on Econ Talk

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Crisis of Antibiotic Resistance

Physicians and scientists have been warning of the relentless rise in the numbers of antibiotic resistant bacteria for half a century. But while dozens of reports and recommendations, including by the World Health Organization, have been published on the issue, there has been a noticeable absence of political will, which in turn has meant the public has remained largely unaware of the problem.

Meanwhile, an increasingly complex, and in turn expensive, regulatory environment for the pharmaceutical industry has meant that the development of antibiotics has become a high-risk activity with diminished returns for shareholders. As the number of pharmaceutical companies producing new antibiotics have declined, so have the number of new antibiotics reaching the market – only two systemic antibacterial agents were approved for use in humans from 2008-2012, compared to the 16 discovered from 1983-1987.

It is difficult to imagine how loud the outcry would be if there were so few new cancer treatments in the pipeline, yet the potential size of the antibiotic arsenal available to defeat a growing number of multidrug-resistant bacterial infections is troublingly small despite the efforts of organizations such as the Alliance for Prudent Antibiotic Use, CDDEP and the Pew Trust in the United States, and ReAct and Antibiotic Action in Europe. All are aware of the enormity of the task ahead, and hope that their collective messages will be received.

And their voices might finally be being heard.

The Transatlantic Taskforce on Antimicrobial Resistance (TATFAR) was established by U.S. presidential declaration in 2009 and issued its first report in September 2012, identifying the need for intensified cooperation between the United States and Europe. In the European Union, the European Medicines Agency has been reviewing the requirements for clinical trials of antibacterial treatments. In India, meanwhile, the publication of the Chennai Declaration led to changes in Indian law aimed at ending the sale of over the counter antibiotics. And here in the U.K., the government last year published a five-year strategy on antimicrobial resistance, while in July, Prime Minister David Cameron declared the need for urgent and global action as he announced the launch of a commission on antibiotic resistance.

- More Here but the biggest contributor of antibiotic resistance, the 800 pound Gorilla called Industrial meat is missing !!

The New Science of Evolutionary Forecasting

Each new example of predictable evolution is striking. But, as Losos warned, we can’t be sure whether scientists have stumbled across a widespread pattern in nature. Certainly, testing more species will help. But Doebeli has taken a very different approach to the question: He’s using math to understand how predictable evolution is overall.

Doebeli’s work draws on pioneering ideas that geneticists like Sewall Wright developed in the early 1900s. Wright pictured evolution like a hilly landscape. Each point on the landscape represents a different combination of traits — the length of a lizard’s legs versus the width of its trunk, for example. A population of lizards might be located on a spot on the landscape that represents long legs and a narrow trunk. Another spot on the landscape would represent short legs and a narrow trunk. And in another direction, there’s a spot representing long legs and a thick trunk.

The precise combinations of traits in an organism will influence its success at reproducing. Wright used the elevation of a spot on the evolutionary landscape to record that success. An evolutionary landscape might have several peaks, each representing one of the best possible combinations. On such a landscape, natural selection always pushes populations up hills. Eventually, a population may reach the top of a hill; at that point, any change will lead to fewer offspring. In theory, the population should stay put.

The future of evolution might seem easy to predict on such a landscape. Scientists could simply look at the slope of the evolutionary landscape and draw a line up the nearest hill.

“This view is just simply wrong,” said Doebeli.

That’s because the population’s evolution changes the landscape. If a population of bacteria evolves to feed on a new kind of food, for example, then the competition for that food becomes fierce. The benefit of specializing on that food goes down, and the peak collapses. “It’s actually the worst place to be,” Doebeli said.

“Over short periods of time, it is predictable, if you have enough information. But you can’t predict it over long periods of time.”

To keep climbing uphill, the population has to veer onto a new course, toward a different peak. But as it travels in a new direction, it alters the landscape yet again.

- More from Carl Zimmer

Quote of the Day

Without ambition one starts nothing. Without work one finishes nothing. The prize will not be sent to you. You have to win it.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Google Glass Is Helping Save The Rhino

Naturalists are equipped with much more than baggy shorts and binoculars these days – they need the latest tech on side

“In fact, I am one of those chaps in baggy shorts with binoculars! I love nothing more than waking up in a place and hearing new birdsongs and going out and figuring out who’s singing. I love being in the field. That’s why I got into this business. But I also know that we are increasingly outgunned by the bad guys. The poachers have night-vision goggles, AK47s and helicopters and, unless we’re prepared bring in the same level of resources to stop what has become a massacre of elephants, tigers and rhinos, we’re not going to win. Technology is important for understanding where animals are, understanding where poachers are, tracking illegal goods, seeing where the food we eat comes from. We have a partnership with Google that looks to experiment with all kinds of different technologies to track animals – and also track poachers. We’ve experimented with Google Glass in Nepal for monitoring rhinos, using cell-phone technology and tracking poachers from the air so the law enforcement authorities can be in the right place to intercept them. We’re very much in the experimentation stage as it’s really important to have the best tech – but it also has to be practical and simple. If it breaks down, it has to be repairable in the most remote locations. Nepal has just declared its second year of no poaching, setting a standard for the rest of world, and a lot of that is down to technology and monitoring. We keep to the rule of law, we work closely with governments, but we’re not going to win if we’re too nice about it. When you get on the front lines and you see communities and governments that have the right resources and are fighting back, it makes your heart sing.”

- Interview with Carter Roberts the President and CEO of World Wildlife Fund

What’s The Point In Life?

There’s a story-line that many of us follow in life. It goes like this:

In the beginning I was a happy-go-lucky innocent, without a care in the world or a distressing thought in my head. I lived in a Happy Valley of childhood. Then something went wrong. Something bad happened to me, and now I’m exiled from Paradise, and I’m stuck in a world where everything seems grey and miserable and somehow lacking in warmth and colour and joy and purpose. And I can’t get back to the Happy Valley. I can’t find my way back home.


People get out of the darkness two ways. Firstly, some people just fall asleep again. Life changes, and they stop thinking such deep thoughts, and get caught up in the game once more.  Actually, this happens to everyone. You fall in love, you get a great job, you go on holiday, and things are fun again, and you shelve your inner Hamlet and enjoy the festivities.

There is nothing wrong with this at all. Sometimes the game of charades is a really fun game, and it’s fun to get involved, though unfortunately we often forget it’s just a game and end up totally believing in it and taking it very seriously.

Secondly, some people get out of the darkness by discovering a philosophy or an attitude that helps them through it and gives them a sense of meaning. Their old philosophy – ‘be happy-go-lucky’ -  doesn’t quite work anymore, but they discover a new philosophy which works better.

I’ve turned to different philosophies to help me when I’m lost: Buddhism, Stoicism, Sufism, Taoism, Christianity. These are all quite different philosophies, but I think they have a core message to them.

Which is this: We’re here to know ourselves, to discover our nature, and to help other people do the same.


But what is the point? That question hangs over us like a cloud when we’re starting out on the journey, just as we find ourselves outside the Happy Valley. Why bother going on, when everything looks so dark and gloomy?

You won’t find an answer right now. It’s not like there is a Fortune Cookie slogan I can give you, which tells you The Point. First you need to practice taking care of yourself. Epictetus said: ‘practice, for heaven’s sake, in the little things, and then proceed to greater’.

Practice taking care of yourself. Practice taking care in the little things. Practice not letting your negative thoughts beat you up and cause you suffering. Why be so mean to yourself? Would you let someone be that mean to your sister, or your boyfriend, or your dog? So why be so mean to yourself?

Practice taking care of your body. The health of your consciousness is connected to your physical health – when you’re tired or hungover, you’re more susceptible to the automatic negative thoughts. Practice taking exercise, going for walks or jogs or swims or yoga, practice getting out into parks or the countryside. Feed your body with good things, feed your soul with good things.

Practice being appreciative of little things – a cup of tea, a good book, a beautiful song, a funny film. Practice being appreciative of other people – little moments where people are kind to each other, despite all the hurt and confusion in the world. Practice loving other people. See them in all their beauty and vulnerability, and how much they want to love and be loved.  (I am rubbish at this, I’m usually an utter misanthrope – I need to practice being kinder and softer-hearted.)

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Don't be afraid to move around and try different things, no matter how old you are. The most important thing you want to find out is who you are and what capabilities you have.

- Karl Pillemer, 30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans

Monday, August 4, 2014

"So, Chill Out" says Tyson on Anti-GMO Nonsense

 "What most people don't know, that they should, is that practically every food you buy in a store for consumption by humans is genetically modified food. There are no wild seedless watermelons, there's no wild cows, there's no long-stem roses growing in the wild ...

We have systematically genetically modified all the foods, the vegetables and animals, that we have eaten ever since we cultivated them. It's called artificial selection. That's how we genetically modify them. So now that we can do it in a lab, all of a sudden, you're going to complain?

So we are creating and modifying the biology of the world to serve our needs. I don't have a problem with that because we've been doing that for tens of thousands of years. So, chill out."

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Beauty of Mathematics

All of these objects are defined by numbers, whether they be their electric charge, their lepton number or their rotational value. In fact, science is yet to find a non-mathematic object or characteristic. Every object that exists or will ever exist is a number, every human that exists or will ever exist is a number; you and I, are just numbers. All the emotions you feel — love, hatred, jealousy, fear and anger to name a few — no matter how primal they may be, can be defined by a mere number. Hence, for example, a cat is cute because of a number, a flower is beautiful because of another one.

Therefore, since numbers are logical, everything that you, a number, do may be determined by an algorithm, at least in theory. You make your decisions based upon a pattern; a pattern that is perhaps unique to you because you are a unique number or maybe a pattern that is extremely common because you are not a unique number at all.

We can then take a look at pi; a nonrepeating infinite decimal, meaning that it never repeats itself and contains every single number pattern imaginable, and then an infinite more. Hence, converting pi to ASCII text reveals everything in the universe; your hopes, your dreams, everything you have done, everything you will ever do, what has happened and what will be, and even all that will never be. It contains the answer to all the questions in the world, the secret to immortality and eternal happiness, the meaning of life; it contains within itself, the entire universe.

Therefore, if we are able to harness the power of numbers, then we will be able to tap into infinity itself. Do you still think the study of numbers is useless?

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Montaigne attributed our problems with our bodies in part to an absence of honest discussion about them in polite circles. Representative stories and images do not tend to identify feminine grace with a strong interest in love-making, nor authority with the possession of a sphincter or penis. Pictures of kings and ladies did not encourage one to think of these eminent souls breaking wind or making love. Montaigne filled out the picture in blunt, beautiful French:

"Au plus eslevé throne du monde si ne sommes assis que sus nostre cul."

"Upon the highest throne in the world, we are seated, still, upon our arses."
"Les Roys et les philosophes fientent, et les dames aussi."
"Kings and philosophers shit: and so do ladies."

- Alain de Botton, The Consolations Of Philosophy