Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Kenneth Cukier Looks at What's Next for Machine Learning & Human Knowledge

Quote of the Day

To be a person of virtue you need to be boringly virtuous in every single small action. To be a person of honor all you need is be honorable in a few important things (say risk your life or career or reputation for a just cause, or live up to your word when nobody else has guts to do so, etc.)

- Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Aphorisms, Rules and Heuristics

Monday, September 29, 2014

Maximus & Two Rainbows !!

What is the Best Study Method?

  • Make a timetable; mine was 11 hours for study. It is first step to success. (I was studying, and interested in it, so I was giving my most of time to studying, you may have less than 11 hours of course. It just shows my dedication to study and dreams I had after studying. I was in a poor family; I knew without hard-work, I won’t be able to get along. After getting position, I was able to continue my study free. I also received prize money from government and a special training for more motivation and visits. Yes a Talent Award too.
  • Humans can concentrate for 40 minutes on a subject, or maximum 1 hour. Do change your study material/subject after every 40 minutes or 1 hour. But later on you can increase this time slowly to 2 hours. I did this.
  • Start time table by learning new things, after looking at the last day topics. Later chapters in books mostly have references from former ones. Learning new things at start gives you hope and makes you motivated.
  • Don’t start one subject or module after the other; take a break of 5 to ten minutes. In this time eat some chocolate, fruits and vitamins. Do some sit stands and go out to look in nature and have an analog (natural phenomena) thinking to refresh. This is a right click and refresh for you on your desktop to start another application.
  • Study each subject three times a day, design time table such that every subject has 3 shifts per day.
  • Take notes in the first shift, and rehearse them in second shift and so on. Notes should not be exact copy of the book text.
  • Re-allocate time for your modules in timetable after every, maximum two weeks. Or take your exams after one week and re-allocate based on the exam results.
  • Exam yourself sometime in the middle of the time table.
  • Have some extra time to look topics of this day you have studied, at the end of study time table.
  • Second day, start with looking at the topics of the last day. But never do an exam at the start of study time. Increase difficulty slowly from start to end.
  • Do some statistics on important and less important subjects or difficult and easy subjects and divide time with statistics methods. For example by first assigning the difficulty level to each subject like 40% and 60% etc.
  • If studying something which could be easily implemented in home or lab, don’t miss it. I, when studying biology, had tried to produce a new family of a tree though it was just a try and nothing resulted. I have been programming to simulate the physics concepts which helped a lot.
- More Here

Quote of the Day

All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream in the dark recesses of the night awake in the day to find all was vanity. But the dreamers of day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, and make it possible.

- T.E. Lawrence

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Source of Bad Writing

Call it the Curse of Knowledge: a difficulty in imagining what it is like for someone else not to know something that you know. The term was invented by economists to help explain why people are not as shrewd in bargaining as they could be when they possess information that their opposite number does not. Psychologists sometimes call it mindblindness. In the textbook experiment, a child comes into the lab, opens an M&M box and is surprised to find pencils in it. Not only does the child think that another child entering the lab will somehow know it contains pencils, but the child will say that he himself knew it contained pencils all along!

The curse of knowledge is the single best explanation of why good people write bad prose. It simply doesn't occur to the writer that her readers don't know what she knows—that they haven't mastered the argot of her guild, can't divine the missing steps that seem too obvious to mention, have no way to visualize a scene that to her is as clear as day. And so the writer doesn't bother to explain the jargon, or spell out the logic, or supply the necessary detail.

Anyone who wants to lift the curse of knowledge must first appreciate what a devilish curse it is. Like a drunk who is too impaired to realize that he is too impaired to drive, we do not notice the curse because the curse prevents us from noticing it. Thirty students send me attachments named "psych assignment.doc." I go to a website for a trusted-traveler program and have to decide whether to click on GOES, Nexus, GlobalEntry, Sentri, Flux or FAST—bureaucratic terms that mean nothing to me. My apartment is cluttered with gadgets that I can never remember how to use because of inscrutable buttons which may have to be held down for one, two or four seconds, sometimes two at a time, and which often do different things depending on invisible "modes" toggled by still other buttons. I'm sure it was perfectly clear to the engineers who designed it.

Multiply these daily frustrations by a few billion, and you begin to see that the curse of knowledge is a pervasive drag on the strivings of humanity, on par with corruption, disease and entropy. Cadres of expensive professionals—lawyers, accountants, computer gurus, help-line responders—drain vast sums of money from the economy to clarify poorly drafted text.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

The man of wisdom is never of two minds;
the man of benevolence never worries;
the man of courage is never afraid.

- Confucius

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Wisdom Of The Week

Imagine you're an isolated brain floating lonely through the vast expanse of the Universe with all your thoughts, memories and perceptions just figments of your imagination. That's a depressing thought, but not a new one. There'd even be a name for you: you'd be a Boltzmann brain.

Boltzmann brains are of interest to physicists, in particular to cosmologists. The idea is that, according to quantum mechanics, there is energy in empty space which can fluctuate, producing particles as it does so. "If you wait long enough then these fluctuations will form, not just a particle here and a particle there, but a whole complex collection of them. A virus, or a little bunny rabbit, or even a functioning human being," explains Sean Carroll, a theoretical physicist at California Institute of Technology. "The idea is that a brain is the simplest thing that can randomly fluctuate into existence and can still be counted as a conscious being." Such a brain is called a Boltzmann brain (after the 19th century physicist Ludwig Boltzmann who studied fluctuations in systems that are made up of many particles, such as gases).


The obvious problem here is the word "know" in the previous sentence. How do we actually know that we are not Boltzmann brains? Well, we don't, but we might as well agree that we are not. "[If you are a Boltzmann brain] then all your ideas about history, your memory, the laws of physics and the rules of logic have all just fluctuated into your brain," explains Carroll. "And therefore you have no right to believe them because other laws, incorrect laws, could also have fluctuated into your brain. So you can't simultaneously believe that you're a Boltzmann brain and have any good reason to believe you're a Boltzmann brain."

Paradoxically, this paradox lets us off the hook: there is no point in doing science if we're not happy to agree that we're not Boltzmann brains and that our observations about the world are real. "I would advocate to try to come up with theories in which we're not likely to be Boltzmann brains and then we're on safe ground," says Carroll.

Cosmologists really do think along those lines. One theory that has suffered Boltzmann brain problems is called eternal inflation. You can find more about it here, but loosely speaking the idea is that our universe constantly sprouts new self-contained regions, like bubbles popping up in a bubble bath. We live in just one of those regions and have no access to the others, which could be very different from ours. Here calculations have suggested that we're extremely unlikely to be normal brains. This discovery sparked lively debate about the theory itself, the way people calculate the probability of our existence, and the question of whether we are "typical" beings or very rare ones.

f all of this makes you wonder whether cosmologists have lost the plot completely, be reassured that most of them urge caution when it comes to untestable theories and such probabilistic arguments. "All of this so beyond what we can immediately observe and test, that we need to be very skeptical and cautious," says Carroll. "We can't be too confident that we are on the right track. We always need to be very, very humble about making these extrapolations."

- More Here

Quote of the Day

As much money and life as you could want! The two things most human beings would choose above all - the trouble is, humans do have a knack of choosing precisely those things that are worst for them.

- J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Friday, September 26, 2014

Things That Cost More Than Space Exploration

  • What costs more than space exploration? Mistakes made by government unemployment benefit programs.
  • What costs more than space exploration? Money that has ‘gone missing’ from the US State Department.
  • What costs more than space exploration? Daylight Savings Time.
  • What costs more than space exploration? The Draft. (Not the NFL draft, the NBA draft, or any other sports league draft—the military draft).
  • What costs more than space exploration? Tea.
  • What costs more than space exploration? Paying off our student loans.
- More Here

India's Mars mission - Picture that spoke 1,000 words

When the crowded command control room of India's Mars mission exploded into applause after it successfully put a satellite into orbit around the Red Planet, photographer Manjunath Kiran of the AFP news agency clicked this remarkable image of scientists congratulating each other.


"There is this story of our Mars mission costing less than the Hollywood movie 'Gravity.' ... Our scientists have shown the world a new paradigm of engineering and the power of imagination."

The $74 million Mars Orbiter Mission, also known by the acronym MOM or the Hindi word Mangalyaan ("Mars-Craft"), didn't just cost less than the $100 million Hollywood blockbuster starring Sandra Bullock. The price tag is a mere one-ninth of the cost of NASA's $671 million Maven mission, which also put its spacecraft into Mars orbit this week.

- More Here and Here

Quote of the Day

You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.

- The Future of Food Is Data—Mountains of It

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Can Data Aggregation Cure Healthcare?

Tracking health information is an evolutionary step when we need a revolution. America is buckling under the cost of healthcare. More than 115 million people have at least one chronic disease and these conditions account for 84 percent of healthcare spending.This is both bad news and a tremendous opportunity. The World Health Organization estimates that 80 percent of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes cases could be prevented if we simply tackled major risk factors. In addition, 40 percent of cancers could be prevented with the same approach.

However, we cannot generate these changes by grafting new technologies onto a broken system. We need to make prevention the centerpiece of a redesigned healthcare infrastructure. We need a system of physician extenders: nutritionists, fitness professionals, health coaches and nurses to interact frequently with patients.By continuously engaging with patients, these professionals can interpret aggregated data (from HealthKit or any other source) and provide the personalized feedback so critical to motivate new behaviors and improve health. In addition, a “smart” clinical interface would sort the data to present the most relevant information—in other words, separating signal from noise.

We know this approach can work because it has been proven, over and over. The University of Pittsburgh’s SMART Trial measured activity in three groups. One used a paper nutrition/activity diary; one received a personal digital assistant (PDA) and tracking software; and one received daily feedback from trained coaches to complement their PDAs. Not unexpectedly, the third group had better results—adhering to their goals, increasing their activity and losing weight.

Another study, conducted by Partners Center for Connected Health, compared participants who were given a pedometer with those who received both a pedometer and coaching. Again, the second group increased their activity significantly compared to those who received no coaching.

What this tells us is the human interaction is central to any successful long-term intervention.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

True, sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between authentic anger and bullshit and that’s why the following exercise is designed to help you express your resentments with integrity, and not with demoralizing bullshit.

- Will Jelbert, The Happiness Animal

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Resilience - How to Train a Tougher Mind

Still, there’s no silver bullet when it comes to resiliency in kids, says Ron Palomares, a school psychologist at Texas Woman’s University. Between 2000 and 2013 he worked on the American Psychological Association’s Road to Resilience campaign, which it set up after 9/11 to provide public information on how to become more resilient. For adolescents with depressive symptoms, perhaps the Penn Resiliency Program approach may work best, he says. The mindfulness programmes being developed in schools in the US and the UK are focused more on emotional regulation, which some kids may need help with but others won’t.

The multifaceted approach of the Lantieri’s Inner Resilience Programme (IRP), meanwhile, may be best for a group, like an entire school, because it’s more likely to cover the various needs of most of the pupils. Yet, compared to the formal programmes, Lantieri’s IRP is more of a ‘bag of tricks’ – or “a bag of practical strategies” – as she describes it. She says she wants to give adults and kids options, as many as possible, to help children cope with whatever life throws at them. “As much as we like to think we can protect our children from what may come their way, we live in a very complex and uncertain world,” she says. “We have to give them all the skills of inner resilience, so they’re ready for just everyday life.”

- More Here

Quote of the Day

True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.

- Seneca

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Why Barbells Are Better Than Machines

Keeping the weight close to the body is the normal way to handle any load you work with. You already do it this way without thinking about it. For instance, pay attention the next time you pick up something heavy from the floor. You stood as close to it as you could before you lifted it, because your experience has taught you that the closer the load is to your feet, the easier it is to lift. Chances are that when you’ve gotten hurt handling your lawnmower, it happened because the weight was not close enough to your center of balance.

The increased use of various types of benches altered the basic nature of barbell training, and this enabled the bench press to replace the standing press as the basic upper-body exercise in the gym. Benches allow the center of balance to be moved to your back or your butt, and this is how the bench press or any seated barbell exercise works. But otherwise, the default position in barbell training should be standing with the load, both feet evenly spaced under the weight.

The barbell offers a way to load the body’s normal movement patterns with progressively heavier weights, a process that essentially forces the body to get stronger whether it wants to or not. After all, if you start with an empty 45-pound barbell laying on the floor and add just 5 pounds to it every week, in 6 months you’re deadlifting 175 pounds. In a year, you’re up to 305. And almost nobody starts with only 45 pounds – your mom is stronger than that from having picked your ungrateful ass up off the floor all those years.

Barbell training is simple, logical, effective, inexpensive, and most importantly, proven. It has worked in its current form for decades for millions of people, and it has formed the successful strength training foundation for athletes since the early 20th century. So why is it that modern gyms are loaded with machines rather than just barbells and weights?


An even more important consideration for machine exercisers is the constrained, artificial movement patterns enforced by the design of the device. The normal way for legs to move is knees and hips flexing and extending in a coordinated fashion. Agonists and antagonists functioning simultaneously; calves, hamstrings, quads, and hip muscles all working together – you know, squats and deadlifts, running and walking. Sitting on a machine with your butt held down in the seat by your hands with your knees extending all by themselves, or flexing your elbows while your shoulders and upper arms are held motionless…well, that’s just stupid. And it’s an excellent recipe for overuse injuries, since one moving joint amid several others held artificially motionless forces tendons and ligaments to do things they aren’t designed for. Moving Arthur Jones’s Nautilus machine through Arthur’s idea of the perfect movement for an isolated muscle group falls woefully short of adequate physical preparation, for both sports and life.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

The trick to this solution is that you’d have to be 100% honest. Meaning not just sincere but almost naked. Worse than naked - more like unarmed. Defenseless. ‘This thing I feel, I can’t name it straight out but it seems important, do you feel it too?’ - this sort of direct question is not for the squeamish. For one thing, it’s perilously close to “Do you like me? Please like me,” which you know quite well that 99% of all interhuman manipulation and bullshit gamesmanship that goes on goes on precisely because the idea of saying this sort of thing straight out is regarded as somehow obsene. In fact one of the very last few interperonal taboos we have is kind of obscenely naked direct interrogation of somebody else. It looks pathetic and desperate. That’s how it’ll look to the reader. And it will have to. There’s no way around it.

- David Foster Wallace, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men: Stories

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Pomodoro Technique Trains Your Brain Away From Distractions

- More Here and you can download software version of Pomodoro Technique here

Quote of the Day

Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer. Oh, I grant you that the wheel was also a fine invention, but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza.

- Dave Berry

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Random Noise in Biology

Noise sounds like bad news for biology. How can a plant or animal organize its development and behavior when all the processes involved are inherently messy? Indeed, sometimes noise causes real problems. For instance, researchers from the Scott Rifkin lab at the University of California–San Diego have shown that when a certain strain of completely identical, genetically engineered nematode worms are raised in the same environment, some will develop normally while others spontaneously die. In this case, noise means the difference between life and death.

Usually the effects of noise are not so dire. Most organisms have evolved systems to protect themselves from noise. And in fact, biologists have begun to understand that in some cases noise can be a good thing. Cells, organisms, and populations exploit this seemingly detrimental feature of the natural world, sometimes in surprisingly ingenious ways.


Genetic determinism is the view that our genes make us who we are. Popular articles abound describing genes for daredevilishness, creativity, empathy, even being a Republican. Futurists and science-fiction authors predict that genetic engineering will someday allow designer children, built to order, with whatever smarts, looks, and personalities their parents prefer. But biology’s new recognition of the role of noise in development gives us one more reason to think that this simply isn’t going to happen. Gene mapping can’t tell you whether or not your kid will be a skydiver or a conservative, because gene expression is a far more complex phenomenon than biologists long imagined. Even if we can get the genes right, and somehow completely control environments, there will always be noise to make life richly unpredictable.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Test the wife at time when your wealth is lost, a friend when in need, relatives at the time of crises, and a servant on some important mission.

Whoever helps you at the time of illness, misfortune, famines and invasion is your true brother in real sense.

- Chanakya

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Wisdom Of The Week

In the end the biggest lesson that I took away from meeting with Guy and reading his book is that we need to stop living our life through other people. I can play basketball every day for 18 hours and I’m never going to be Michael Jordan. I can study financial reports until I’m blue in the face and I’m never going to be the next Warren Buffett. 

In the end The Education of a Value Investor, is an important reminder that we need to be more authentic versions of ourselves. We need to do what is right for us and that might not be what is right for others. We need to stop pretending to be other people and compromising our internal standards or ethics. We need to find who we are and how we want to live. “Instead of trying to compete with Buffett,” Guy writes, “I should focus on the real opportunity, which is to become the best version of Guy Spier that I can be.”

- Farnam Street's notes on the book The Education of a Value Investor: My Transformative Quest for Wealth, Wisdom, and Enlightenment by Guy Spier

Inside the Wolfram Language

Simply Brilliant !!

Wolfram Language = Progamming in English with "in-built" big data (watch out @ 36 to 40 minutes).

Quote of the Day

They say that if you give a chimpanzee a screwdriver, he’ll break it; if you give a gorilla a screwdriver, he’ll toss it over his shoulder; but if you give an orangutan a screwdriver, he’ll open up his cage and walk away.

- Michelle Desilets, executive director of the Orangutan Land Trust, has summarized the unique intellect of orangutans  (via here)

Friday, September 19, 2014

U.S. Aims to Curb Peril of Antibiotic Resistance

The Obama administration on Thursday announced measures to tackle the growing threat of antibiotic resistance, outlining a national strategy that includes incentives for the development of new drugs, tighter stewardship of existing ones, and improvements in tracking the use of antibiotics and the microbes that are resistant to them.

The actions are the first major White House effort to confront a public health crisis that takes at least 23,000 lives a year, and many experts were pleased that a president had finally focused on the issue. But some said the strategy fell short in not recommending tougher measures against the overuse of antibiotics in agriculture, which, they argue, is a big part of the problem.


The government has estimated that more than 70 percent of antibiotics in the United States are given to animals, and scientists and industry are at odds over how much that use in industrial-scale farming contributes to problems in people. Companies use antibiotics to prevent sickness when animals are packed together in ways that breed infection. They also use them to make animals grow faster, though the Food and Drug Administration has taken steps that it says will stop that.

But many advocates and experts remain skeptical that the agency’s actions will be effective, because the rules contain what they say is a sizable loophole. Experts expressed disappointment that the White House was not calling on the F.D.A. to close it.

The section on agricultural use in the council’s report “sounds like it was written by someone from the meat industry,” said Dr. James Johnson, a professor of medicine and an infectious disease expert at the University of Minnesota. “Really disappointing. Actually, depressing.”

- More Here and Tyler comments:

This initiative — or its failure — is potentially a more important health issue than Obamacare, yet it will not receive 1/1000th of the attention.  Without reliable antibiotics, a lot of now-routine operations would become a kind of lottery.

Why Parents are Raising their Kids on Minecraft ?

A lot of parents are especially happy to spend time and money on Minecraft for their kids because they see it as a teaching tool. Minecraft can educate kids about architecture, and players can use something called redstone circuits to create simple mechanical devices, even entire computers, out of Minecraft blocks. And while Mojang offers a number of different versions and upgrades of Minecraft to download, the incredible variety of worlds to explore and items you can build comes from "mods", modified software created by the community that can be installed on a server to reshape that world or the rules that govern it. For many young players, mods become a gateway to the world of computer programming, something parents, and perhaps Microsoft as well, are keen to encourage.

Trei Brundrett, the chief product officer at The Verge’s parent company, Vox, played with his two sons Aedan and Joseph. They started out by sitting together on the couch playing in the same world over a LAN (local area network.) "It felt like playing LEGO with him, but obviously much more interactive. We'd spend hours building giant cities, dividing up responsibility for different parts that would connect together." Soon, however, the boys wanted to progress to custom games, which meant adding on mods. "Aeden taught himself how to find, download and install the mods on his own local machine. He quickly cycled through many of them. And inevitably he wanted to make his own."

For a while Aedan just watched as Brundrett learned the basics of how to create mods. Then he enrolled in a summer camp to learn Java. "Eventually he created his own simple mod - just his own block that he could insert into the world. The mystery of programming, of software, of Minecraft and mods, disappeared. I've never seen him more proud. And man I was proud too - my kid didn't just play a game on his computer, he had hacked it - just like I did on my Apple IIe. Sitting next to my kid writing code, hacking on a game together is an amazing experience."

- More Here on the future of "Biophilia"

Quote of the Day

Of all the small nations of this earth, perhaps only the ancient Greeks surpass the Scots in their contribution to mankind.

-  Winston Churchill

Thursday, September 18, 2014

How to Start a Startup

Sam Altman of Y Combinator will be sharing his insights starting September 23rd; sign up for the class here:

Everything we know about how to start a startup, for free, from some of the world experts.

CS183B is a class we’re teaching at Stanford. It’s designed to be a sort of one-class business course for people who want to start startups.

Videos of the lectures, associated reading materials, and assignments will all be available here. There will be 20 videos, some with a speaker or two and some with a small panel. It’ll be 1,000 minutes of content if you watch it all.

We’ll cover how to come up with ideas and evaluate them, how to get users and grow, how to do sales and marketing, how to hire, how to raise money, company culture, operations and management, business strategy, and more.

You can’t teach everything necessary to succeed in starting a company, but I suspect we can teach a surprising amount. We’ve tried to take some of the best speakers from the past 9 years of Y Combinator dinners and arrange them in a way that will hopefully make sense.

We’re doing this because we believe helping a lot of people be better at starting companies will be good for everyone. It will hopefully be valuable even for people who don’t want to start startups.

Talks like these have really helped Y Combinator founders create their companies. We hope you find it helpful too!


The Science of Empathy

Part of the challenge in analyzing whether people are being truly altruistic is separating negative affect and empathy since they are very similar. The general specific (GS) model works to separate and measure negative affect and empathy. The GS model includes two latent factors. The first is a general negative affect factor, indicated by seven items—sad, low-spirited, heavy-hearted, sorrowful, sympathetic, compassionate, and soft- hearted. This factor accounts for variance shared by all of these items and, therefore, assesses participants’ general experience of negative emotion. The model also includes a specific empathic concern factor, which accounts for the shared covariation among the items sympathetic, compassionate, and soft-hearted, above and beyond the factors accounted for by general negative affect.

After doing all this research, I’ve come to realize that the picture is very complicated. As human beings it is not uncommon for us to connect with, and be affected by, the pain of others. However, sometimes feeling another person’s pain can actually deter us from wanting to take empathetic action. I do wonder if feeling other people’s pain is always positive when, instead of feeling the pain of others, we could be using our energy to help the world in more proactive ways. At the same time, empathy allows us as humans to connect and not feel so alone. I have concluded that even if being empathetic is not truly altruistic, perhaps the motives behind helping behaviors should not matter as much as the action itself. If someone is helping someone else, isn’t that what truly counts?

- More Here

Quote of the Day

The best way to complain is to make things.

- James Murphy

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


Quote of the Day

But if that were the case, then moral philosophers - who reason about ethical principles all day long - should be more virtuous than other people. Are they? The philosopher Eric Schwitzgebel tried to find out. He used surveys and more surreptitious methods to measure how often moral philosophers give to charity, vote, call their mothers, donate blood, donate organs, clean up after themselves at philosophy conferences, and respond to emails purportedly from students. And in none of these ways are moral philosophers better than other philosophers or professors in other fields.

Schwitzgebel even scrounged up the missing-book lists from dozens of libraries and found that academic books on ethics, which are presumably mostly borrowed by ethicists, are more likely to be stolen or just never returned than books in other areas of philosophy. In other words, expertise in moral reasoning does not seem to improve moral behavior, and it might even make it worse (perhaps by making the rider more skilled at post hoc justification). Schwitzgebel still has yet to find a single measure on which moral philosophers behave better than other philosophers.

Jonathon Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Ethical Trap - Robot Paralysed by Choice of Who to Save

At first, the robot was successful in its task. As a human proxy moved towards the hole, the robot rushed in to push it out of the path of danger. But when the team added a second human proxy rolling toward the hole at the same time, the robot was forced to choose. Sometimes, it managed to save one human while letting the other perish; a few times it even managed to save both. But in 14 out of 33 trials, the robot wasted so much time fretting over its decision that both humans fell into the hole. The work was presented on 2 September at the Towards Autonomous Robotic Systems meeting in Birmingham, UK.

Winfield describes his robot as an "ethical zombie" that has no choice but to behave as it does. Though it may save others according to a programmed code of conduct, it doesn't understand the reasoning behind its actions. Winfield admits he once thought it was not possible for a robot to make ethical choices for itself. Today, he says, "my answer is: I have no idea".

As robots integrate further into our everyday lives, this question will need to be answered. A self-driving car, for example, may one day have to weigh the safety of its passengers against the risk of harming other motorists or pedestrians. It may be very difficult to program robots with rules for such encounters.

But robots designed for military combat may offer the beginning of a solution. Ronald Arkin, a computer scientist at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, has built a set of algorithms for military robots – dubbed an "ethical governor" – which is meant to help them make smart decisions on the battlefield. He has already tested it in simulated combat, showing that drones with such programming can choose not to shoot, or try to minimise casualties during a battle near an area protected from combat according to the rules of war, like a school or hospital.

Arkin says that designing military robots to act more ethically may be low-hanging fruit, as these rules are well known. "The laws of war have been thought about for thousands of years and are encoded in treaties." Unlike human fighters, who can be swayed by emotion and break these rules, automatons would not.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Bad times have a scientific value. These are occasions a good learner would not miss.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Monday, September 15, 2014

Human Evolution, Life History Theory, and the End of Biological Reproduction


Throughout primate history there have been three major life history transitions towards increasingly delayed sexual maturation and biological reproduction, as well as towards extended life expectancy. Monkeys reproduce later and live longer than do prosimians, apes reproduce later and live longer than do monkeys, and humans reproduce later and live longer than do apes. These life history transitions are connected to increased encephalization. During the last life history transition from apes to humans, increased encephalization co-evolved with increased dependence on cultural knowledge for energy acquisition. This led to a dramatic pressure for more energy investment in growth over current biological reproduction. Since the industrial revolution socioeconomic development has led to even more energy being devoted to growth over current biological reproduction. I propose that this is the beginning of an ongoing fourth major primate life history transition towards completely delayed biological reproduction and an extension of the evolved human life expectancy. I argue that the only fundamental difference between this primate life history transition and previous life history transitions is that this transition is being driven solely by cultural evolution, which may suggest some deeper evolutionary transition away from biological evolution is already in the process of occurring.

- Full paper here

Quote of the Day

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.

- Helen Keller

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Is Our Pursuit of Happiness Obscuring the More Important Goal of Alleviating Suffering?

These developments are detailed in Critical Perspectives in Happiness Research: The Birth of Modern Happiness by the Slovenian scholar Luka Zevnik, a book that contains much of interest, albeit carefully concealed behind the cant of critical theory. Among the theorising, he makes the nice point that most Indo-European words for “happy” (including the English) derive from words meaning good luck. It seems our ancestors associated happiness with a momentary gift of fortune. The absurd belief that it might instead be a near-permanent state achievable by all, Zevnik shows to be a unique quirk of contemporary western culture.

The folly of this belief is reflected in the statistics: as all these books point out, we have been getting steadily richer for a long time but our happiness gauge has refused to budge since around 1950. Although we have more stuff than our grandparents, we are no jollier for it. Which suggests that previous generations knew as much about the good life as we do. The test for the new “science of happiness”, therefore, is whether it reveals anything that might have caused your grandmother to raise an eyebrow.


Not all happiness self-help literature falls into this trap. For example, the psychologist Rick Hanson’s recent book Hardwiring Happiness is full of good sense. He has the modesty to admit that his advice is not new but drawn from a century of scholarship in humanistic psychology and a much longer tradition of Buddhist practice.

Hanson’s central claim is that we have evolved to focus on and remember negative events more than positive ones – which has historically aided our survival but now leaves us nervous wrecks. Contrary to our instincts, then, we should make an effort to focus on what is good. Citing the brain’s plasticity, he argues that we will thereby “hard-wire” ourselves to be happier. Although his thesis, when stripped of neuro-jargon, would be unlikely to surprise your grandmother, Hanson draws on his experience as a teacher and therapist to give advice that is lucid and practical.

More surprising to your grandmother would be the advice of the technology writer John Havens in his book Hacking Happiness. The statistics show that all our digital gadgets have failed to make us any more contented, and authors such as Dolan suggest we ought to be spending less time distracted by them. But Havens, in contrast, believes they are the key to a wellbeing revolution.

Most of us, he points out, are surrounded by sophisticated computing power most of the time, even if only the phone in your pocket. We could be using these devices to collect detailed data about ourselves: our moods, our reactions to particular events, progress towards our goals, etc. The apps for this could even bypass our own faulty judgment of our feelings and directly measure physiological markers such as our pulse, pupil dilation or stress hormones. Armed with this information, we would know better than anyone in history exactly when we are merry and why.

- More Here

Tellingly, the best advice in the entire book, or indeed any of these three how-to-be-happy books, was given to Havens by his mother: 

“There’s always someone worse off than you. Find them, help them, and you’ll feel better.”

Peter Thiel on Reditt

Is Palantir a front for the CIA?
Peter Thiel: No, the CIA is a front for Palantir.

Which are your favourite books? (both fiction and nonfiction)
Peter Thiel: Lots and lots of them... I like the genre of past books written about the future, e.g.:

- More Here

Quote of the Day

It is easy to hate and it is difficult to love. This is how the whole scheme of things works. All good things are difficult to achieve; and bad things are very easy to get.

- Confucius

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Wisdom Of The Week

Finding these small molecules — known as natural products — has traditionally been a slow affair. Microbes typically make natural products in exquisitely tiny amounts, and they don’t rely on a single gene to do so. Instead, microbes need dozens of different proteins made by different genes to craft a natural product. Dr. Fischbach and his colleagues set out five years ago to speed up the search. They wrote a software program that learns how to recognize the genes for natural products. Those genes tend to sit together in a cluster in a microbe’s DNA, and they are very similar to one another. By shuffling them into different combinations, microbes can produce a staggering range of molecules.

To train the software, Dr. Fischbach and his colleagues introduced it to 732 gene clusters that are already known to make natural products. As the software examined cluster after cluster, it came to recognize distinctive patterns. Eventually the program got so good that it could accurately pinpoint new gene clusters in DNA sequences it had never encountered before. The scientists wondered what would happen if they turned their well-educated computer loose on the microbes that live in our bodies.

They provided it with a vast genetic library created in an ongoing study called the Human Microbiome Project. The project scientists have collected microbial DNA from five different body sites on 242 healthy volunteers. From that genetic material, they were able to sequence the entire genomes of 2,340 different microbial species, most of which were new to science.

Searching those genomes, the computer spotted more than 14,000 gene clusters for natural products. Dr. Fischbach and his colleagues tossed out the gene clusters that were present in only a few people. They were left with 3,118 common ones.

Their study suggests that the human microbiome is a rich source of previously unknown natural products. “That wasn’t where I expected to find interesting drug-producing genes,” said Dr. Fischbach. “I was really taken aback.”

To show the potential medical value of these genes, Dr. Fischbach and his colleagues picked out a single cluster to study more closely. It belongs a species of bacteria called Lactobacillus gasseri. They reared huge numbers of the bacteria in the laboratory in order to isolate a speck of one its products, which they dubbed lactocillin.

They found that its structure is similar to a recently discovered antibiotic called LFF571, which the drug company Novartis is now testing in clinical trials. When Dr. Fischbach and his colleagues exposed several species of bacteria to lactobacillin, the microbes died, suggesting that it might also be a good antibiotic. The idea that our own bacteria are making potent antibiotics may seem strange. If the microbiome is churning out poison, how does it avoid killing itself?

Mining for Antibiotics, Right Under Our Noses

Quote of the Day

When Steve Jobs was running Apple, he was known to call journalists to either pat them on the back for a recent article or, more often than not, explain how they got it wrong. I was on the receiving end of a few of those calls. But nothing shocked me more than something Mr. Jobs said to me in late 2010 after he had finished chewing me out for something I had written about an iPad shortcoming.

“So, your kids must love the iPad?” I asked Mr. Jobs, trying to change the subject. The company’s first tablet was just hitting the shelves. “They haven’t used it,” he told me. “We limit how much technology our kids use at home.”

I’m sure I responded with a gasp and dumbfounded silence. I had imagined the Jobs’s household was like a nerd’s paradise: that the walls were giant touch screens, the dining table was made from tiles of iPads and that iPods were handed out to guests like chocolates on a pillow.

Nope, Mr. Jobs told me, not even close.

Steve Jobs Was a Low-Tech Parent

Friday, September 12, 2014

One Man Willingly Gave Google his Data. See What Happened Next.

"You would never believe what Google secretly knows about you,” says the headline in my Facebook feed. Six of my friends have so far re-shared it, each of whom expresses their dismay about yet another breach of privacy, inevitably containing sentence fragments such as “in a post-Snowden world” and calling Google’s storage and visualization of a user’s location data “creepy.”

This is where the narrative, one about privacy and underhanded dealings, splits from reality. Reality comes with consent screens like the one pictured to the right and a “Learn more” link. In reality the “creepy” part of this event isn’t Google’s visualization of consensually shared data on its Location History page, it’s the fact that the men and women whom I hold in high esteem as tech pundits and bloggers, apparently click consent screens without reading them. Given the publicity of Latitude on release and every subsequent rebranding and reshaping, and an average of 18 months between device onboarding for the average geek, it takes quite a willful ignorance to not be aware of this feature.

And a feature it is. For me and Google both. Google gets to know where I have been, allowing it to build the better mousetrap it needs to keep me entertained, engaged, and receptive to advertisement. Apparently this approach works: at $16 billion for the second quarter of this year, Google can’t complain about lack of sales.

I get tools and data for my own use as well. Unlike Facebook, OKCupid, Path, and others, Google even gives me a choice and access to my own data at any time. I can start or stop its collection, delete it in its entirety, and export it at any time.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.

- Carl Jung

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Interview with Peter Thiel

Peter Thiel talks about his new book Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future
with Tim Ferris:

TIM: What is the book (or books) you’ve most often gifted to other people?

PETER: Books by René Girard, definitely — both because he’s the one writer who has influenced me the most and because many people haven’t heard of him.

Girard gives a sweeping view of the whole human experience on this planet — something captured in the title of his masterwork, Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World — but it’s not just an academic philosophy. Once you learn about it, his view of imitation as the root of behavior is something you will see every day, not just in people around you but in yourself.

Quote of the Day

Freedom lies in being bold.

- Robert Frost

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Don't Send Your Kid to the Ivy League

These enviable youngsters appear to be the winners in the race we have made of childhood. But the reality is very different, as I have witnessed in many of my own students and heard from the hundreds of young people whom I have spoken with on campuses or who have written to me over the last few years. Our system of elite education manufactures young people who are smart and talented and driven, yes, but also anxious, timid, and lost, with little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose: trapped in a bubble of privilege, heading meekly in the same direction, great at what they’re doing but with no idea why they’re doing it.


I should say that this subject is very personal for me. Like so many kids today, I went off to college like a sleepwalker. You chose the most prestigious place that let you in; up ahead were vaguely understood objectives: status, wealth—“success.” What it meant to actually get an education and why you might want one—all this was off the table. It was only after 24 years in the Ivy League—college and a Ph.D. at Columbia, ten years on the faculty at Yale—that I started to think about what this system does to kids and how they can escape from it, what it does to our society and how we can dismantle it.


So extreme are the admission standards now that kids who manage to get into elite colleges have, by definition, never experienced anything but success. The prospect of not being successful terrifies them, disorients them. The cost of falling short, even temporarily, becomes not merely practical, but existential. The result is a violent aversion to risk. You have no margin for error, so you avoid the possibility that you will ever make an error. Once, a student at Pomona told me that she’d love to have a chance to think about the things she’s studying, only she doesn’t have the time. I asked her if she had ever considered not trying to get an A in every class. She looked at me as if I had made an indecent suggestion.
There are exceptions, kids who insist, against all odds, on trying to get a real education. But their experience tends to make them feel like freaks. One student told me that a friend of hers had left Yale because she found the school “stifling to the parts of yourself that you’d call a soul.”

- More Here by William Deresiewicz, the author of the new book Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life

Instead of service, how about service work? That’ll really give you insight into other people. How about waiting tables so that you can see how hard it is, physically and mentally? You really aren’t as smart as everyone has been telling you; you’re only smarter in a certain way. There are smart people who do not go to a prestigious college, or to any collegeoften precisely for reasons of class. There are smart people who are not “smart.”

Quote of the Day

How to compose a successful critical commentary:
  • You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.
  • You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).
  • You should mention anything you have learned from your target.
  • Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.
- Daniel C. Dennett, Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Steve, We Miss You...

You would have never let that shiny-smiling "fit-bit" see the light of day. Alas, it takes a Steve to show the finger to Wall Street.

The Meanings of Llife

The Austrian psychoanalytic thinker Viktor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning (1946) tried to update Freudian theory by adding a universal desire for meaningfulness to Freud’s other drives. He emphasised a sense of purpose, which is undoubtedly one aspect but perhaps not the full story. My own efforts to understand how people find meaning in life eventually settled on a list of four ‘needs for meaning’, and in the subsequent years that list has held up reasonably well. The point of this list is that you will find life meaningful to the extent that you have something that addresses each of these four needs. Conversely, people who fail to satisfy one or more of these needs are likely to find life less than adequately meaningful. Changes with regard to any of these needs should also affect how meaningful the person finds his or her life.
  1. The first need is, indeed, for purpose. Frankl was right: without purpose, life lacks meaning. A purpose is a future event or state that lends structure to the present, thus linking different times into a single story. Purposes can be sorted into two broad categories. One might strive toward a particular goal (to win a championship, become vice president or raise healthy children) or toward a condition of fulfilment (happiness, spiritual salvation, financial security, wisdom).
  2. The second need for meaning is value. This means having a basis for knowing what is right and wrong, good and bad. ‘Good’ and ‘bad’ are among the first words children learn. They are some of the earliest and most culturally universal concepts, and among the few words that house pets sometimes acquire. In terms of brain reactions, the feeling that something is good or bad comes very fast, almost immediately after you recognise what it is. Solitary creatures judge good and bad by how they feel upon encountering something (does it reward them or punish them?). Humans, as social beings, can understand good and bad in loftier ways, such as their moral quality.
  3. The third need is for efficacy. It’s not very satisfying to have goals and values if you can’t do anything about them. People like to feel that they can make a difference. Their values have to find expression in their life and work. Or, to look at it the other way around, people have to be able steer events towards positive outcomes (by their lights) and away from negative ones.
  4. The last need is for self-worth. People with meaningful lives typically have some basis for thinking that they are good people, maybe even a little better than certain other people. At a minimum, people want to believe that they are better than they might have been had they chosen or behaved or performed badly. They have earned some degree of respect.
The meaningful life, then, has four properties. It has purposes that guide actions from present and past into the future, lending it direction. It has values that enable us to judge what is good and bad; and, in particular, that allow us to justify our actions and strivings as good. It is marked by efficacy, in which our actions make a positive contribution towards realising our goals and values. And it provides a basis for regarding ourselves in a positive light, as good and worthy people.

People ask what is the meaning of life, as if there is a single answer. There is no one answer: there are thousands of different ones. A life will be meaningful if it finds responses to the four questions of purpose, value, efficacy, and self-worth. It is these questions, not the answers, that endure and unify.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

It was a gamble: would people really take time out of their busy lives to answer other people’s questions, for nothing more than fake internet points and bragging rights?

It turns out that people will do anything for fake internet points.

Just kidding. At best, the points, and the gamification, and the focused structure of the site did little more than encourage people to keep doing what they were already doing. People came because they wanted to help other people, because they needed to learn something new, or because they wanted to show off the clever way they’d solved a problem.


An incredible number of people jumped at the chance to help a stranger.

- Jay Hanlon, Five year retrospective on StackOverflow

Monday, September 8, 2014

Private Island by James Meek

John Gray's brilliant review of the new book Private Island: Why Britain Now Belongs to Someone Else by James Meek:

Private Island examines six big privatisations: the postal service, the railways, water, social housing, electricity supply and the NHS. One of our finest writers, Meek couldn't produce a dull sentence however hard he tried. Here he adopts a style that mixes personal observation and memory, travel reportage and interviews with historical narrative and rigorous argument. The result is an unputdownable book that will leave you with a lasting sense of unease. Did you know that when Enron collapsed it owned Wessex Water, which serves Dorset, Somerset and Wiltshire? Or that the French energy company EDF is one of the dominant six suppliers of British electricity, owning a portfolio of power stations, including a fleet of nuclear plants, thereby effectively renationalising these businesses – but on behalf of the French state? Or that Northumbrian Water, which serves northeast England, is owned by the Hong Kong-based company Cheung Kong Infrastructure Holdings, which also has the monopoly on London Underground's electricity cables? Well, if – like me – you didn't know, do yourself a favour: read Private Island and find out what has really happened in Britain over the past 20 years.


t's less clear what will happen here. Quite possibly, nothing very much. No one could describe the capitalism of the past two decades as stable, efficient or particularly productive. Yet it has survived the greatest financial crisis in generations practically unscathed. Intellectually, neoliberalism has long been thoroughly discredited. Politically, it has rarely been more secure. At the end of the book, Meek looks wistfully to a revival of non-market thinking, starting in the area of social housing. But in a political economy where nothing carries greater weight than the housing market, it's an improbable scenario. As long as they own their homes, no matter how heavily mortgaged, most people in Britain don't seem too bothered about who owns the country.

Quote of the Day

In the 21st century, there is a real possibility of creating biological castes, with real biological differences between rich and poor. The end result could be speciation. We're used to being the only human species around, but there is no law of nature that says there can only be one species of human. With this kind of upgrading treatment we could have, in the not too distant future, more than one human species on Earth again.

Yuval Noah Harari; his new book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind will be coming out February 2015

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Sympathy for a Desert Dog

My relationship with Dog, as the Ju/’hoansi reminded me, was an artifact of the Neolithic Revolution. The domestication of the wolf was but a small part of a transition that fundamentally reconfigured how humans related to their environments. Where they once saw themselves as one of many creatures sharing environments, they now placed themselves at its center and sought mastery over it. Accordingly animals were divided into a series of new categories based on how they fit into the human world. Some were designated pets or “livestock” – and a duty of care was extended to them. Others were designated pests or vermin. Animals ceased to be considered different kinds of “people,” and those like dogs were selected and bred, for human-like traits, among other things, that we could easily empathize with without displacing our sense of ourselves as humans.

My and Dog’s lives intersected momentarily. And I am glad they did. We were both Neolithic orphans stranded in a Paleolithic world. The Ju/’hoansi’s sense of interspecies relations and their extraordinary empathy was right for the wild animals that shared their world, and there is much we can learn from it. But when it comes to dogs, and other creatures that have evolved to crave our affection, I am glad to be a child of the Neolithic.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

One of the greatest ways to avoid trouble is to keep it simple. When you make it vastly complicated—and only a few high priests in each department can pretend to understand it— what you’re going to find all too often is that those high priests don’t really understand it at all…. The system often goes out of control.

- Charlie Munger

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Wisdom Of The Week

The most important skill of the future will be the ability to learn and adapt. You need to be resourceful, keep your eyes open for advances coming out of nowhere, and embrace the new opportunities as they emerge. You need to be able to collaborate with others and build relationships. You need to be able to share ideas, inspire, and motivate.

Whatever you do, don’t take a mindless, meaningless job with a big company just because they offer you a big salary. Try to be somewhere where you can constantly redefine yourself and keep learning. That is what it is going to be about: constant learning and reinvention.

The future is going to be what we make it. It can be the Star Trek utopia or a Mad Max wreck, a creative playground or an Orwellian nightmare. That is why we need people with good values and ethics leading the way. We need people who care about enriching humanity rather than just themselves. We need people who can lead by example and bring along those behind them; who give back to the world and make it a better place. I really hope you will amongst those who lead the charge, who watch out for the interests of humanity, who build the utopia.

- It’s a beautiful time to be alive and educated, commencement address by Vivek Wadhwa at Hult International Business School Friday

The Disturbingly Inexact Science Of Food Expiration Dates

In order to determine when a product is no longer up to snuff, manufacturers recruit experts to tell them. One such expert firm is the National Food Lab located in Livermore, California.

This company takes food and leaves it on shelves for days, weeks, and even years to see how it holds up. Then, at controlled intervals, the food is presented to a highly trained panel of experts who assess the food for taste, smell, and texture. They then assign a food grade in numbers; the lower the number, the poorer the quality. Needless to say, the numbers go down as the food gets older.

Food manufacturers consider these numbers when determining best-before dates. So, if a product was designed to be a 7 when it was fresh, but gets a 6.2 after a certain length of time, the manufacturer can draw the line at that point. Interestingly, many foods that are assessed at lower values still taste good — and are safe to eat — it's just that the manufacturer is no longer satisfied with the level of quality.

As noted, expiration dates don't indicate safety. And as experts claim, they're often still good to eat past the best-before date. An NPR report explains:

According to [John] Ruff, most products are safe to eat long after their expiration date. In fact, even meat or milk that's clearly starting to spoil is not necessarily dangerous. "Very often, you won't eat it because of the smell, and you probably won't like the taste, but in a lot of cases, it's unlikely to cause you illness," he says.

That's because it's not the food that sat on the shelf too long that makes you sick, Ruff says. It's the food that got contaminated with salmonella or listeria bacteria, or disease-causing strains of E. coli. And that food might not smell bad as it might have arrived in the store only yesterday.

"In 40 years, in eight countries, if I think of major product recalls and food poisoning outbreaks, I can't think of [one] that was driven by a shelf-life issue," Ruff says.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

I want to see an elephant hunt down a man for the sole purpose of collecting his teeth, while a chorus of typewriters sings songs that praises the bananas for their wisdom, leadership, and their high levels of potassium.

- Jarod Kintz, I Want

Friday, September 5, 2014

Nothing Vedic in ‘Vedic Maths’

One appreciates the desire of these people to work for Indian traditions. But where in the Vedas is “Vedic mathematics” to be found? Nowhere. Vedic mathematics has no relation whatsoever to the Vedas. It actually originates from a book misleadingly titled Vedic Mathematics by Bharati Krishna Tirtha. The book admits on its first page that its title is misleading and that the (elementary arithmetic) algorithms expounded in the book have nothing to do with the Vedas. This is repeated on p. xxxv: “Obviously these formulas are not to be found in the present recensions of Atharvaveda.” I have been pointing this out since 1998. Regrettably, the advocates of “Vedic mathematics,” though they claim to champion Indian tradition, are ignorant of the actual tradition in the Vedas. Second, they do not even know what is stated in the book — the real source of “Vedic mathematics.” Third, they are unaware of scholarly writing on the subject. When education policy is decided by such ignorant people, they only end up making a laughing stock of themselves and the Vedas, and thus do a great disservice to the very tradition which they claim to champion.

Everyone learns how to add, subtract, multiply and divide in school. Why should we replace those algorithms with “Vedic mathematics”? Will that Indianise education? No. The standard arithmetic algorithms actually originated in India, where they were known by various names such as patiganita (slate arithmetic). However, the word “algorithm” comes from “algorithmus”: the Latinised name of al Khwarizmi of the 9th century House of Wisdom in Baghdad. He wrote an expository book on Indian arithmetic called Hisab al Hind. Gerbert d’Aurillac (later Pope Sylvester II), the leading European mathematician of the 10th century, imported these arithmetic techniques from the Umayyad Khilafat of Córdoba. He did so because the primitive Greek and Roman system of arithmetic (tied to the abacus), then prevailing in Europe, was no match for Indian arithmetic. However, accustomed to the abacus (on which he wrote a tome), Gerbert was perplexed by algorithms based on the place-value system, and foolishly got a special abacus (apices) constructed for these “Arabic numerals” in 976 CE. Hence the name “Arabic numerals” — because a learned pope amusingly thought there was some magic in the shape of the numerals which made arithmetic efficient.

Later, Florentine merchants realised that efficient Indian arithmetic algorithms conferred a competitive advantage in commerce. Fibonacci, who traded across Islamic Africa, translated al Khwarizmi’s work, as did many others, which is why they came to be known as algorithms. Eventually, after 600 years, Indian algorithms displaced the European abacus and were introduced in the Jesuit syllabus as “practical mathematics” circa 1570 by Christoph Clavius. These algorithms are found in many early Indian texts, such as the Patiganita of Sridhar or the Ganita Sara Sangraha of Mahavira, or the Lilavati of Bhaskara II. So, advocating “Vedic mathematics” as a replacement for traditional Indian arithmetic is hardly an act of nationalism. On the contrary, it only shows ignorance of the history of mathematics. Spreading this ignorance among future generations will weaken the nation, not strengthen it.

The techniques of “Vedic mathematics” are designed for mental arithmetic, traditionally used by lower caste artisans such as carpenters or by people like Shakuntala Devi. There are many other such systems of mental arithmetic today. If that is what we intend to promote, we should first do a systematic comparison. We should also be honest and refrain from using the misleading label “Vedic” which is the main selling point of Bharti Krishna Tirtha’s system, and which attracts gullible people who infer value just from the wrapper.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

“It’s pretty amazing to hold leather that no pig or cow died for,” says Lindy Fishburne, an officer of the Thiel Foundation. She is describing a slightly creepy “biofabricated” product made by a startup the foundation funded with a $350,000 donation. The company, named Modern Meadow, makes leather and, indeed, meat by taking skin or muscle samples from animals via biopsy and then growing them in vitro.

Peter Thiel disagrees with you

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Meet JIBO, The World’s First Family Robot

- Preorder JIBO here

Why Founders Should Know How to Code

By knowing things that exist, you can know that which does not exist.”

Book of Five Rings

A startup is not just about the idea, it’s about testing and then implementing the idea. A founding team without these skills is likely dead on arrival.

Lessons Learned:
  • Startups are not just about the idea, they’re about testing and implementing the idea
  • A founding web/mobile team without a coder past the initial stages of Customer Discovery is not a startup
  • Everyone on the founding team ought to invest the time in a coding bootcamp
  • Your odds of building a successful startup will increase
- More Here

Quote of the Day

Pure knowledge is the ultimate emancipator. It equalizes people and sovereign states, erodes the archaic barriers of superstition and promises to lift the trajectory of cultural evolution. But I do not believe that it can change the ground rules of human behavior or alter the main course of history's predictable trajectory.

E.O Wilson, On Human Nature

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Millions of Children in England Will Begin a "Tough" New National Curriculum When They Return to School This Week

The new-look curriculum puts a stronger emphasis on skills such as "essay writing, problem-solving, mathematical modelling and computer programming".
  • The history curriculum takes primary pupils through British history from the Stone Age to the Normans. They can also study a later era, such as the Victorians. "Significant individuals" to be studied include Elizabeth I, Neil Armstrong, Rosa Parks and suffragette Emily Davison. Secondary schools will teach British history from 1066 to 1901, followed by Britain, Europe and world events from 1901, including the Holocaust and Winston Churchill
  • Maths will expect more at an earlier age. There will be a requirement for pupils to learn their 12 times table by the age of nine. Basic fractions, such as half or a quarter, will be taught to five-year-olds. By the end of Year 2, pupils should know the number bonds to 20 and be precise in using and understanding place value
  • English will strengthen the importance of Shakespeare, with pupils between the ages of 11 and 14 expected to have studied two of his plays. Word lists for eight- and nine-year-olds include "medicine" and "knowledge", by 10 and 11 they should be spelling "accommodate" and "rhythm"
  • Science will shift towards a stronger sense of hard facts and "scientific knowledge". In primary school, there will be new content on the solar system, speed and evolution. In secondary school, there will be a clearer sense of the separate subjects of physics, biology and chemistry. Climate change will also be included
  • Design and technology is linked to innovation and digital industries. Pupils will learn about 3D printing and robotics
  • Computing will teach pupils how to write code. Pupils aged five to seven will be expected to "understand what algorithms are" and to "create and debug simple programs". By the age of 11, pupils will have to "design, use and evaluate computational abstractions that model the state and behaviour of real-world problems and physical systems"
- More Here

Meditation More Than Anything in My Life was the Biggest Ingredient of Whatever Success I've Had

Ray Dalio on Meditation from Meditatio on Vimeo.

Ray Dalio, Founder and Chief Investment Officer of Bridgewater Associates

Quote of the Day

But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.

- George Orwell, 1984

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

E.O. Wilson Has an Audacious Vision for Saving Earth From a Cataclysmic Extinction Event

Throughout the 544 million or so years since hard-shelled animals first appeared, there has been a slow increase in the number of plants and animals on the planet, despite five mass extinction events. The high point of biodiversity likely coincided with the moment modern humans left Africa and spread out across the globe 60,000 years ago. As people arrived, other species faltered and vanished, slowly at first and now with such acceleration that Wilson talks of a coming “biological holocaust,” the sixth mass extinction event, the only one caused not by some cataclysm but by a single species—us.

Wilson recently calculated that the only way humanity could stave off a mass extinction crisis, as devastating as the one that killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, would be to set aside half the planet as permanently protected areas for the ten million other species. “Half Earth,” in other words, as I began calling it—half for us, half for them. A version of this idea has been in circulation among conservationists for some time.

“It’s been in my mind for years,” Wilson told me, “that people haven’t been thinking big enough—even conservationists. Half Earth is the goal, but it’s how we get there, and whether we can come up with a system of wild landscapes we can hang onto. I see a chain of uninterrupted corridors forming, with twists and turns, some of them opening up to become wide enough to accommodate national biodiversity parks, a new kind of park that won’t let species vanish.”

- More Here

Quote of the Day

As burglars, they used some unusual techniques...During their casing, they had noticed that the interior door that opened to the draft board office was always locked. There was no padlock to replace...The break-in technique they settled on at that office must be unique in the annals of burglary. Several hours before the burglary was to take place, one of them wrote a note and tacked it to the door they wanted to enter: "Please don't lock this door tonight." Sure enough, when the burglars arrived that night, someone had obediently left the door unlocked. The burglars entered the office with ease, stole the Selective Service records, and left. They were so pleased with themselves that one of them proposed leaving a thank-you note on the door. More cautious minds prevailed. Miss Manners be damned, they did not leave a note.

- Betty Medsger

Monday, September 1, 2014

Quote of the Day

We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely.

- Edward O. Wilson