Friday, October 31, 2014

Max the Super Dog !!

Google Is Not What It Seems

In this extract from the book When Google Met WikiLeaks Assange describes his encounter with Schmidt and how he came to conclude that it was far from an innocent exchange of views:

There was nothing politically hapless about Eric Schmidt. I had been too eager to see a politically unambitious Silicon Valley engineer, a relic of the good old days of computer science graduate culture on the West Coast. But that is not the sort of person who attends the Bilderberg conference four years running, who pays regular visits to the White House, or who delivers “fireside chats” at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Schmidt’s emergence as Google’s “foreign minister”—making pomp and ceremony state visits across geopolitical fault lines—had not come out of nowhere; it had been presaged by years of assimilation within U.S. establishment networks of reputation and influence.

On a personal level, Schmidt and Cohen are perfectly likable people. But Google’s chairman is a classic “head of industry” player, with all of the ideological baggage that comes with that role. Schmidt fits exactly where he is: the point where the centrist, liberal and imperialist tendencies meet in American political life.

By all appearances, Google’s bosses genuinely believe in the civilizing power of enlightened multinational corporations, and they see this mission as continuous with the shaping of the world according to the better judgment of the “benevolent superpower.” They will tell you that open-mindedness is a virtue, but all perspectives that challenge the exceptionalist drive at the heart of American foreign policy will remain invisible to them. This is the impenetrable banality of “don’t be evil.” They believe that they are doing good. And that is a problem.


Nobody wants to acknowledge that Google has grown big and bad. But it has. Schmidt’s tenure as CEO saw Google integrate with the shadiest of U.S. power structures as it expanded into a geographically invasive megacorporation. But Google has always been comfortable with this proximity. Long before company founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin hired Schmidt in 2001, their initial research upon which Google was based had been partly funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). And even as Schmidt’s Google developed an image as the overly friendly giant of global tech, it was building a close relationship with the intelligence community.

In 2003, the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) had already started systematically violating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) under its director General Michael Hayden. These were the days of the “Total Information Awareness” program. Before PRISM was ever dreamed of, under orders from the Bush White House the NSA was already aiming to “collect it all, sniff it all, know it all, process it all, exploit it all.”

During the same period, Google—whose publicly declared corporate mission is to collect and “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”—was accepting NSA money to the tune of $2 million to provide the agency with search tools for its rapidly accreting hoard of stolen knowledge.


In 2012, Google arrived on the list of top-spending Washington, D.C., lobbyists—a list typically stalked exclusively by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, military contractors, and the petro-carbon leviathans. Google entered the rankings above military aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, with a total of $18.2 million spent in 2012 to Lockheed’s $15.3 million. Boeing, the military contractor that absorbed McDonnell Douglas in 1997, also came below Google, at $15.6 million spent, as did Northrop Grumman at $17.5 million.

Quote of the Day

It is not the soft power of humanity, it is not that feeble spark of benevolence which Nature has lighted up in the human heart, that is thus capable of counteracting the strongest impulses of self-love.

- Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Flaw Lurking In Every Deep Neural Net

On a more broader analysis we know that DL networks are not at all like the neural networks in biological brains.  Anyone who says that ANNs and DL networks are similar to biological neural networks doesn’t know much about brains.  The biological and DL networks are so different that the brittleness they are seeing almost certainly does not exist in biological brains.

In a couple of recent talks I have started to point out the difference between ANNs and biological networks to drive home that HTM networks are much closer to biology.

  • biological and HTM neurons have active distal dendrites, ANN neurons don’t
  • biological and HTM neurons have thousands of synapses, typical ANN neurons have dozens
  • biological and HTM neurons have unreliable, low precision, synapses, most ANN neurons rely on synaptic weight precision
  • biological and HTM neurons learn mostly by forming new synapses, ANN neurons only learn by synaptic weight modification

- More Here

Quote of the Day

The New York City subway has more than four hundred stations, eight hundred miles of track, six thousand cars, and, on any given weekday, five million passengers. It’s an anti-terrorism unit’s nightmare. To sweep this teeming labyrinth for bombs would take an army of explosives experts equipped with chemical detectors. Instead, the city has gone to the dogs. Since 2001, the number of uniformed police has dropped by seventeen per cent. In that same period, the canine force has nearly doubled. It now has around a hundred dogs, divided among the narcotics, bomb, emergency-response, and transit squads.

A good dog is a natural super-soldier: strong yet acrobatic, fierce yet obedient. It can leap higher than most men, and run twice as fast. Its eyes are equipped for night vision, its ears for supersonic hearing, its mouth for subduing the most fractious prey. But its true glory is its nose. In the nineteen-seventies, researchers found that dogs could detect even a few particles per million of a substance; in the nineties, more subtle instruments lowered the threshold to particles per billion; the most recent tests have brought it down to particles per trillion. “It’s a little disheartening, really,” Paul Waggoner, a behavioral scientist at the Canine Detection Research Institute, at Auburn University, in Alabama, told me. “I spent a good six years of my life chasing this idea, only to find that it was all about the limitations of my equipment.”

Can New York’s canine units keep the city safe from terrorism?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Wisdom Of Peter Singer

For the record, I don't go to any place where Max cannot go except rare occasional visits to restaurants. It was nauseating to see how people misuse the phrase emotional-support animals and I cannot agree with Peter Singer more:

Reflecting on whether it is reasonable to be this inclusive of man’s best friends, I called the Australian philosopher and ethicist Peter Singer, who is best known for his book “Animal Liberation,” which makes a utilitarian argument for respecting the welfare and minimizing the suffering of all sentient beings. Singer takes a dim view of the emotional-support-animal craze. “Animals can get as depressed as people do,” he said, so “there is sometimes an issue about how well people with mental illnesses can look after their animals.” He went on, “If it’s really so difficult for you to be without your animal, maybe you don’t need to go to that restaurant or to the Frick Museum. ”

Quote of the Day

Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

Monday, October 27, 2014

Computational Journalism

"Computational journalism is more about computing and information technologies has impacted civic responsibility"

Quote of the Day

There's nothing wrong with enjoying looking at the surface of the ocean itself, except that when you finally see what goes on underwater,you realize that you've been missing the whole point of the ocean. Staying on the surface all the time is like going to the circus and staring at the outside of the tent.

- Dave Barry

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Machine-Learning Maestro Michael Jordan on the Delusions of Big Data and Other Huge Engineering Efforts

Spectrum: Another point you’ve made regarding the failure of neural realism is that there is nothing very neural about neural networks.

Michael Jordan: There are no spikes in deep-learning systems. There are no dendrites. And they have bidirectional signals that the brain doesn’t have.

We don’t know how neurons learn. Is it actually just a small change in the synaptic weight that’s responsible for learning? That’s what these artificial neural networks are doing. In the brain, we have precious little idea how learning is actually taking place.


Spectrum: What are some of the things that people are promising for big data that you don’t think they will be able to deliver?

Michael Jordan: I think data analysis can deliver inferences at certain levels of quality. But we have to be clear about what levels of quality. We have to have error bars around all our predictions. That is something that’s missing in much of the current machine learning literature.

Spectrum: What will happen if people working with data don’t heed your advice?

Michael Jordan: I like to use the analogy of building bridges. If I have no principles, and I build thousands of bridges without any actual science, lots of them will fall down, and great disasters will occur.

Similarly here, if people use data and inferences they can make with the data without any concern about error bars, about heterogeneity, about noisy data, about the sampling pattern, about all the kinds of things that you have to be serious about if you’re an engineer and a statistician—then you will make lots of predictions, and there’s a good chance that you will occasionally solve some real interesting problems. But you will occasionally have some disastrously bad decisions. And you won’t know the difference a priori. You will just produce these outputs and hope for the best.

And so that’s where we are currently. A lot of people are building things hoping that they work, and sometimes they will. And in some sense, there’s nothing wrong with that; it’s exploratory. But society as a whole can’t tolerate that; we can’t just hope that these things work. Eventually, we have to give real guarantees. Civil engineers eventually learned to build bridges that were guaranteed to stand up. So with big data, it will take decades, I suspect, to get a real engineering approach, so that you can say with some assurance that you are giving out reasonable answers and are quantifying the likelihood of errors.


Spectrum: When you say “intelligent,” are you just using it as a synonym for “useful”?

Michael Jordan: Yes. What our generation finds surprising—that a computer recognizes our needs and wants and desires, in some ways—our children find less surprising, and our children’s children will find even less surprising. It will just be assumed that the environment around us is adaptive; it’s predictive; it’s robust. That will include the ability to interact with your environment in natural language. At some point, you’ll be surprised by being able to have a natural conversation with your environment. Right now we can sort of do that, within very limited domains. We can access our bank accounts, for example. They are very, very primitive. But as time goes on, we will see those things get more subtle, more robust, more broad. As some point, we’ll say, “Wow, that’s very different when I was a kid.” The Turing test has helped get the field started, but in the end, it will be sort of like Groundhog Day—a media event, but something that’s not really important.
- More Here

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Wisdom Of The Week

David Autor: So, I think it's easy to see the many ways in which machines substitute for the things we used to do. And then what's harder to see, typically, is: how is that complementing us? But of course you sit back and say, could you and I actually be having this conversation, could you and I have a podcast? Could I actually do significant[?] research as an economist without all this sort of hardware increasing my output per hour? The answer is: Not very well. So, on the one hand is the: Are you directly complemented, versus substituted? Second factor that affects how that automation affects your earnings in a given activity is sort of, the elasticity of final demand--so, in other words, if we get really productive at something but there's a fixed amount of it that people want, then eventually they just buy less and less of it. So you see, for example in agriculture, the vast increases in productivity in agricultural stemming from the green revolution and so on, have eventually reduced employment dramatically in agriculture. And the reason is that, all evidence to the contrary, there seems to be a finite amount that we can eat.  

Russ: It's a great example. So, food is incredibly cheap, which is a glorious thing; but it doesn't lead, therefore, to: Oh, there will be more farmers. There are fewer.

David Autor on the Future of Work and Polanyi's Paradox (Econtalk)

Quote of the Day

A man reduced to despair by a series of misfortunes feels sick of life, but is still so far in possession of his reason that he can ask himself whether taking his own life would not be contrary to his duty to himself. Now he asks whether the maxim of his action could become a universal law of nature. But his maxim is this: from self-love I make as my principle to shorten my life when its continued duration threatens more evil than it promises satisfaction. There only remains the question as to whether this principle of self-love can become a universal law of nature. One sees at once that a contradiction in a system of nature whose law would destroy life by means of the very same feeling that acts so as to stimulate the furtherance of life, and hence there could be no existence as a system of nature. Therefore, such a maxim cannot possibly hold as a universal law of nature and is, consequently, wholly opposed to the supreme principle of all duty.

- Immanuel Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals

Friday, October 24, 2014

Interview with 23andMe CEO Anne Wojcicki

Q: How does 23andMe make money? From the data more than the spit kits, surely?

A: We have partnerships with companies all the time–with pharma partners, with academic groups–and one of our main goals is to dramatically accelerate the pace of research.

One of the ways I can do that is by enabling individuals, instead of having to start a study de novo and recruit a thousand people with Parkinson’s, to get access to the database. Someone might come to us and say, we want to see if there are any genetic variants associated with people with asthma. Or someone might hypothesize that a variant in a gene is associated with a disease, and we can do a data query. Instead of actually having to do clinical trials the old-fashioned way, we could enable researchers to get their answers instantaneously. And they pay us for that.

There’s still a lot of redundancy in this industry because of competition. Part of my goal is to eliminate some of that commodity competition. If you’re going to be in a study for runners, you don’t want Harvard and have them sequence you and then have Princeton sequence you and then go to Pfizer to have them sequence you. Traditionally when you talk to people who have Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, they’ll talk about how they’re in five or six studies and they’ve been sequenced by each study. That’s just fat in the system. Just have a single data set that then you can share. You can make the entire system more efficient.

Q: Can you provide any recent examples of how pharma or other companies have used 23andMe data?

A: One of the projects we did was a study called InVite, with Genentech and Avastin. We were trying to recruit individuals who had been on Avastin for a long time who were seen as more highly responsive to it and see if there was a genetic association for why they were responding so well.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.

- Bertrand Russell

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Beer Consumption "***" Human Attractiveness to Malaria Mosquitoes

- Full paper here

Quote of the Day

None of us actually lives as though there were no truth. Our problem is more with the notion of a single, unchanging truth.

The word 'true' suggest a relationship between things: being true to someone or something, truth as loyalty, or something that fits, as two surfaces may be said to be 'true.' It is related to 'trust,' and is fundamentally a matter of what one believes to be the case. The Latin word verum (true) is cognate with a Sanskrit word meaning to choose or believe: the option one chooses, the situation in which one places one's trust. Such a situation is not an absolute - it tells us not only about the chosen thing, but also about the chooser. It cannot be certain: it involves an act of faith and it involves being faithful to one's intentions.

- Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Teach the Hour of Code in Your Classroom

Most kids don’t know what computer science is. Here are some ideas:
  • Explain it in a simple way that includes examples of applications that both boys and girls will care about (saving lives, helping people, connecting people, etc.).
  • Try: "Think about things in your everyday life that use computer science: a cell phone, a microwave, a computer, a traffic light… all of these things needed a computer scientist to help build them.”
  • Or: “Computer science is the art of blending human ideas and digital tools to increase our power. Computer scientists work in so many different areas: writing apps for phones, curing diseases, creating animated movies, working on social media, building robots that explore other planets and so much more."
  • See tips for getting girls interested in computer science here.
- More Here

Quote of the Day

Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.

- William Morris

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Moral Purpose of Telling Koko the Gorilla How Robin Williams Died

According to press reports, Koko, the gorilla adept at sign language, seemed saddened to hear the news of the death of Robin Williams, whom the gorilla met once in 2001 (and bonded with immediately). I cannot fathom the ethical reasoning behind telling Koko about Williams's death. What is the point of telling her about the death of someone she met once, 13 years ago? The press reports dwelt on the fact that she appeared sad. I don't think any of us can know if she was sad or not — but even if this news opens the possibility of making her unhappy, it seems cruel to bring this into her life. What moral purpose does it serve? RITA LONG, OAKLAND, CALIF.


Klosterman then taps into the knowledge of a a noted veterinarian and author, Vint Virga, for more in-depth analysis because why not? We're already here.

"I would set aside the issue of the animal's cognitive intelligence and focus on the concept of an animal's emotional intelligence, which studies continue to show is much greater than we previously imagined. Animals and humans both experience joy and sadness throughout their life. Why would you want to shelter a gorilla from that experience? I believe a gorilla absolutely has the ability to understand the loss of someone who was important to her, and animals are often able to deal with grieving and loss more effectively than humans."

- More Here

Quote of the Day

I see nothing funny about baldness. The fact that I, personally, have reached age 42 without any significant hair loss does NOT mean that I have the right to make insensitive remarks about those of you whose heads are turning into Mosquito Landing Zones.

- Dave Barry

Monday, October 20, 2014

Quote of the Day

That’s not a world of selfishness or greed. It’s a world of cooperation and mutual benefit through the pursuit of self-interest, enabling satisfying lives not only for the Hank Reardens of the world but for factory workers. I still want to live there.

…In scene after scene, Rand shows what such a community would be like, and it does not consist of isolated individualists holding one another at arm’s length. Individualists, yes, but ones who have fun in one another’s company, care about one another, and care for one another—not out of obligation, but out of mutual respect and spontaneous affection.

Ayn Rand never dwelt on her Russian childhood, preferring to think of herself as wholly American. Rightly so. The huge truths she apprehended and expressed were as American as apple pie. I suppose hardcore Objectivists will consider what I’m about to say heresy, but hardcore Objectivists are not competent to judge. The novels are what make Ayn Rand important. Better than any other American novelist, she captured the magic of what life in America is supposed to be. The utopia of her novels is not a utopia of greed. It is not a utopia of Nietzschean supermen. It is a utopia of human beings living together in Jeffersonian freedom.

- Charles Murray on Ayn Rand

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Wisdom Of The Week

Evolution isn't some ladder, with us at the top. We're just one creature out of zillions, all of them doing OK just as they are. There was no special magic that made us what we were when we were; we just happened to be the right species in the right place at the right time. A lot of different factors entered into it: the climate, the shapes of their hips, the kinds of prey available, the relationship between savannah and forest, etc etc etc. Every situation is different and there are literally billions of alternatives.

If there's an evolutionary factor at play in human "intelligence", it's only in that H. sapiens has somehow decided to wipe out its fellow species at a rate 1,000 to 10,000 times faster than the normal rate of it. That is indeed an evolutionary factor that is selecting against them, but I hardly think it's a mark in favor of intelligence that it's causing extinctions at an asteroid-like rate. And it's exactly the kind of thing that can get this species to wipe itself off the earth, leaving the cockroaches and the sea slugs to duke it out in a newly-opened ecosystem. I wish them luck

- Beautiful insight via answer to the question
Why didn't other animals develop intellect like apes did 100,000 years ago?

Quote of the Day

The assumption that animals are without rights and the illusion that our treatment of them has no moral significance is a positively outrageous example of Western crudity and barbarity. Universal compassion is the only guarantee of morality.

Arthur Schopenhauer, The Basis of Morality

Friday, October 17, 2014

Quote of the Day

The assumption that animals are without rights and the illusion that our treatment of them has no moral significance is a positively outrageous example of Western crudity and barbarity. Universal compassion is the only guarantee of morality.

- Arthur Schopenhauer, The Basis of Morality

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Biologically Inspired Design Inspires a New Strategy for Zoo Atlanta

Highlighting these unexpected similarities between what animals do and what people are trying to do is a new strategy Georgia Institute of Technology researchers are using to hopefully increase public awareness about animals and encourage conservation. They’ve created an iPhone app based on biologically inspired design, highlighting two dozen species that have helped engineers solve problems or invent new solutions.

“Learning that owls eat rodents is interesting, but explaining how they’ve helped us invent new technologies is a more effective way of getting us interested in the natural world,” said Marc Weissburg. The Georgia Tech professor led the app project and is co-director of the Institute’s Center for Biologically Inspired Design.

Owl wings are built to disperse air pressure, which allows them to fly silently to sneak up on their watchful prey. Engineers used the same principle to design the super-fast, and super-quiet, Shinkansen bullet train. Flamingos pump water in and out of their mouths at a speed of four pumps a second while eating. They use their beaks to strain water and trap their food. Researchers are studying their bills to construct water filters of the future.

The app also features zebras (keeping ships cool), elephants (transforming floors and walls into speaker systems) and rattlesnakes (all-terrain robots).

The ZooScape app, which also includes a game that tests a user’s knowledge of the animals and their contributions, can be used by anyone, anywhere. It becomes interactive at Zoo Atlanta. The app uses GPS to send notifications to the guests’ smartphones whenever they visit an exhibit of an animal that has contributed a biologically inspired design.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

By looking at 13,000 twins identical and fraternal twins aged 16, the study found that 62 percent of the variability of test scores could be explained by genetics. The authors found that achievement was highly correlated intelligence, but almost as important were other characteristics such as self-belief, personality, well-being, perception of the school environment, and behavior problems. However, all of these characteristics were to some extent influenced by genetics.

- 23&Me Blog

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

You Don’t Have to Be Google to Build an Artificial Brain

Harnessing this AI technology still requires a certain expertise—that’s why the giants of the web are buying up all the talent—and thanks to their massive data centers and deep pockets, the Googles of the world can take this technology to places others can’t. But many data scientists are now using single machines—ordinary consumer machines built for gaming—to solve their own problems via deep learning algorithms.

At Kaggle, a site where data scientists compete to solve problems on behalf of other businesses and organizations, deep learning has become one of the tools of choice, and according to Kaggle chief scientist Ben Hamner, single machines have been used to tackle everything from analyzing images and speech recognition to chemoinformatics.

For Richard Socher, a Stanford University researcher who has made extensive use of deep learning in systems that recognize natural language, this is another sign that these AI techniques can trickle down to smaller companies. “It’s very easy to deploy these kinds of models,” Socher says. “Anyone can buy a GPU machine.”

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal.

- Albert Camus

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Teaching Math to People Who Think They Hate It

The short answer is that Strogatz has discovered a certain thrill in rectifying the crimes and misdemeanors of math education. Strogatz asks his students, more than half of them seniors, to provide a “mathematical biography.” Their stories reveal unpleasant experiences with math along the way. Rather than question the quality of the teaching they received, they blamed math itself—or worse, their own intelligence or lack of innate talent. Strogatz loves the challenge, “There's something remarkable about working with a group of students who think they hate math or find it boring, and then turning them around, even just a little bit.”

Strogatz believes the key to this turnaround lies not in the material, or the inherent talent of the student, but in changing the way math is taught to liberal arts majors. The curriculum he teaches is called Discovering the Art of Mathematics: Mathematical Inquiry in the Liberal Arts (DAoM); it was developed at Westfield State University by Julian Fleron and three colleagues and funded by a grant by the National Science Foundation. The DAoM approach, which is publicly available through a free collection of books and workshops, is rooted in inquiry-based learning: It focuses on student-led investigations into problems, experiments, and prompts. The typical mathematics for liberal arts class on the other hand, is typically presented in lecture format, usually by non-tenure track instructors, and only serves to further disenfranchise students, Fleron claims.

Twelve years of compulsory education in mathematics leaves us with a populace that is proud to announce they cannot balance their checkbook, when they would never share that they were illiterate. What we are doing—and the way we are doing it—results in an enormous sector of the population that hates mathematics. The current system disenfranchises so many students.

Fleron’s new vision for liberal arts math aims to intellectually stimulate students, to provide cognitive gains, and get students engaged with math rather than passively listening to a teacher talk about it at the front of a lecture hall. As stated on DAoM’s website—“to nurture healthy and informed perceptions of mathematics, mathematical ways of thinking, and the ongoing impact of mathematics not only on STEM fields but also on the liberal arts and humanities.”

- More Here


Monday, October 13, 2014


Can you be certain about anything these days? How much certainty do we need in our daily lives? In an intriguing discussion about uncertainty Bridget Kendall brings together three people with different perspectives to share their thoughts and expertise. Mathematician Jordan Ellenberg explains how a new kind of statistics deals with randomness as well as certain logic, philosopher Rupert Read argues that we should act when facing serious situations like climate change without absolute evidential certainty and writer and literary scholar Namwali Serpell explores how novelists use uncertainty to captivate and challenge their readers.

- Listen to the fascinating BBC program here

Quote of the Day

In the future, search engines should be as useful as HAL in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey--but hopefully they won't kill people.

- Sergey Brin

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Quote of the Day

A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.

- William James

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Wisdom Of The Week

My point is that if anyone can claim to be a nerd, it’s me. As a lonely teenager growing up in the English countryside, reading the Portrait of J. Random Hacker gave me a wonderful jolt of excitement and recognition. I’d never met anyone like that, but knowing that there were others out there like me gave me hope. As I went through college I started to discover a few more people who took a perverse pride in being geeks, but it was still rare and very much outside mainstream culture. Nobody really understood why I took a poorly-paid job in game programming after college instead of joining a bank, and most people’s eyes would glaze over when I mentioned I worked in computers. Over the years I gradually built a group of friends who shared the same interests in sci-fi, comics, games, and computers. It was nerd culture that brought us together, and their support was life-saving, but they were hard to find, and we were still way outside the cultural mainstream.

Over the last decade, that’s changed. Comic book adaptations are the safest bet in Hollywood. Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones have made fantasy something anyone can enjoy without embarrassment. Perhaps most importantly, nerds now have money, power, and status. The biggest, fastest-growing companies in the world are run and staffed by us, and mainstream culture has shifted from mocking us to respect. Startups are sexy. We’ve won.

And that’s where the problem lies. We’re still behaving like the rebel alliance, but now we’re the Empire. We got where we are by ignoring outsiders and believing in ourselves even when nobody else would. The decades have proved that our way was largely right and the critics were wrong, so our habit of not listening has become deeply entrenched. It even became a bit of a bonding ritual to attack critics of the culture because they usually didn’t understand what we were doing beyond a surface level. It didn’t used to matter because nobody except a handful of forum readers would see the rants. The same reflex becomes a massive problem now that nerds wield real power. GamerGate made me ashamed to be a gamer, but the scary thing is that the underlying behavior of attacking critics felt like something I’d always seen in our culture, and tolerated. It only shocked me when it was scaled up so massively into rape and death threats, and I saw mainstream corporations like Intel folding in the face of the pressure we can bring to bear.

That’s why Marc Andreessen’s comment that Silicon Valley is nerd culture, and nerds are bro’s natural enemies felt so wrong. Sure, we used to be picked on or ignored by the bro’s, but that was when we had no money or power. Now we have status, bro’s are happy to treat us as buddies instead of victims, to the point that we’re unlikely to think of them as bro’s. I’ve pitched most VC firms in the Valley at one time or another, and a lot of the partners come from business or finance backgrounds. There are nerds in there too of course, and they do control the culture, but they also get along perfectly well with the preppy MBAs. The same holds true across the whole tech industry – they might have tried to steal our lunch money twenty years ago, but now they’re quite happy running biz-dev while we do the engineering.

- Why Nerd Culture Must Die

Quote of the Day

Live as on a mountain. ...Let men see, let them know a real man who lives according to nature. If they cannot endure him, let them kill him. For that is better than to live thus.

- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Cicero's Six “Stoic Paradoxes”

  1. Virtue, or moral excellence, is the only good (conventional “goods” such as health, wealth and reputation fundamentally count as nothing with regard to living a good life)
  2. Virtue is completely sufficient for Happiness and fulfilment, a man who is virtuous lacks no requirement of the good life
  3. All forms of virtue are equal as are all forms of vice (in terms of the benefit or harm they do to the individual himself)
  4. Everyone who lacks perfect wisdom is insane (which basically means everyone alive; we’re all essentially mad)
  5. Only the wise man is really free and everyone else is enslaved (even when the wise man is imprisoned by a tyrant or sentenced to death like Socrates, he is still freer than everyone else, including his oppressors)
  6. Only the wise man is truly rich (even if, like Diogenes the Cynic, he owns nothing that he can’t carry in his knapsack)
- More Here

Quote of the Day

Six mistakes mankind keeps making century after century:
Believing that personal gain is made by crushing others;
Worrying about things that cannot be changed or corrected;
Insisting that a thing is impossible because we cannot accomplish it;
Refusing to set aside trivial preferences;
Neglecting development and refinement of the mind;
Attempting to compel others to believe and live as we do.

- Marcus Tullius Cicero

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Energy-Saving LED Lights Win Nobel Physics Prize

Three Japan-born scientists won the Nobel Prize in Physics for inventing energy-saving LED lights, which have upended a multibillion-dollar industry while offering the promise of lighting to people living far from an electricity grid.

Isamu Akasaki, 85, from Meijo and Nagoya Universities, Hiroshi Amano, 54, from Nagoya, and Shuji Nakamura, 60, from the University of California at Santa Barbara, will share the 8 million-krona ($1.1 million) prize for the invention of blue-light emitting diodes, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said today in Stockholm.

The work “triggered a fundamental transformation of lighting technology,” the academy said in a statement. “Incandescent light bulbs lit the 20th century, the 21st century will be lit by LED lamps.”

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Using Evolution to Design AI

8 Simple Rules to Live by From World's Greatest Deep Sea Diver

  • If an undertaking was easy, someone else already would have done it.
  • If you follow in another’s footsteps, you miss the problems really worth solving.
  • Excellence is born of preparation, dedication, focus, and tenacity; compromise on any of these and you become average.
  • Every so often, life presents a great moment of decision, an intersection at which a man must decide to stop or go; a person lives with these decisions forever.
  • Examine everything; not all is as it seems or as people tell you.
  • It is easiest to live with a decision if it is based on an earnest sense of right and wrong.
  • The guy who gets killed is often the guy who got nervous. The guy who doesn’t care anymore, who has said, “I’m already dead—the fact that I live or die is irrelevant and the only thing that matters is the accounting I give of myself,” is the most formidable force in the world.
  • The worst possible decision is to give up.
  • These are literally battle hardened principles. They are rules for how to live not from some university professor but from someone who saw what life truly is—both good and bad, violent and peaceful, beautiful and terrifying.
- More Here, an adaptation from the classic book Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II by Robert Kurson

Quote of the Day

The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.

- Mark Twain

Monday, October 6, 2014

Quote of the Day

As people age, they confuse changes in themselves with changes in the world, and changes in the world with moral decline—the illusion of the good old days.

- Steven Pinker, The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century

Bear Attack & What Worries Me

Max and I spend lot of time hiking in the woods and ever since the NJ Bear attack people have started over reacting.

What worries most in life is nothing more than:

Human beings talking politely in a "civilized" setting. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Founder Suicides

First, if you are ever considering committing suicide, immediate reach out to someone and ask for help. Amy and I recommend the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline if you don’t know where to turn. The 800 number is  1-800-273-TALK (8255).

When I had my first clinical depression in my mid-20s, Amy and I set up a few rules around things. We specifically talked about suicide and I agreed that if I ever had a suicidal thought, I wouldn’t act on it. Instead, I would immediately stop what I was doing, tell Amy what I was thinking, and we’d discuss it. During this long depression, I only had one suicidal ideation, but it was while we were driving on a highway in Sedona (I was driving). I immediately pulled over to the side of the road, stopped the car, and told Amy what I was thinking. We switched seats – she drove the rest of the way, and then we had a long conversation that night. After the conversation, even though I was still very depressed, I felt immense relief and support.  When we got back to our home in Boston after that vacation, I started therapy, which was incredibly helpful.

Our society still has an incredible stigma associated with depression. Anyone who has been depressed knows that it is extremely hard to describe how it feels to someone who hasn’t ever been depressed. My favorite description of depression continues to be from Hyperbole and a Half. I’ve recently started describing it as an emotional pain that is significantly worse than almost all physical pains you could imagine, especially because it seems to go on forever. And sometimes this pain is so severe that it feels like ending it all by committing suicide is the only answer.

While this isn’t unique to entrepreneurs, the intensity of being an entrepreneur, especially when your company is failing, or you are failing at your role, can be overwhelming. I see it all the time and try to be a very empathetic listener whenever I encounter it. I’ve learned a huge amount from my friend Jerry Colonna about how to be helpful and know that I’ll continue to be on a journey around mental health and entrepreneurship.

It’s ok to fail. It’s ok to lose. It’s ok to be depressed.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

There were many at Bell Labs and MIT who compared Shannon’s insight to Ein- stein’s. Others found that comparison unfair—unfair to Shannon.

- William Poundstone,   Fortune's Formula: The Untold Story of the Scientific Betting System That Beat the Casinos and Wall Street

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Wisdom Of The Week

"You don’t have to attend every argument you’re invited to.” 
— Anonymous
  1. Be prepared - Make sure you know the essential points you want to make. Research the facts you need to convince your opponent.
  2. When to argue, when to walk away - Think carefully before you start to argue: is this the time; is this the place?
  3. What you say and how you say it - Spend time thinking about how to present your argument. Body language, choice of words and manner of speaking all affect how your argument will come across.
  4. Listen and listen again - Listen carefully to what the other person is saying. Watch their body language, listen for the meaning behind their words.
  5. Excel at responding to arguments - Think carefully about what arguments the other person will listen to. What are their preconceptions? Which kinds of arguments do they find convincing.
  6. Watch out for crafty tricks - Arguments are not always as good as they first appear. Be wary of your opponent’s use of statistics. Keep alert for distraction techniques such as personal attacks and red herrings. Look out for concealed questions and false choices.
  7. Develop the skills of arguing in public - Keep it simple and clear. Be brief and don’t rush.
  8. Be able to argue in writing - Always choose clarity over pomposity. Be short, sharp, and to the point, using language that is easily understood.
  9. Be great at resolving deadlock - Be creative in finding ways out of an argument that’s going nowhere. Is it time to look at the issue from another angle? Are there ways of putting pressure on so that the other person has to agree with you? Is a compromise possible?
  10. Maintain relationships - This is absolutely key. What do you want from this argument? Humiliating, embarrassing or aggravating your opponent might make you feel good at the time, but you might have many lonely days to rue your mistake. Find a result that works for both of you. You need to move forward. Then you will be able to argue another day.
- The Ten Golden Rules of Argument, Farnam Street's review of the book How to Argue: Powerfully, Persuasively, Positively by Jonathan Herring

Quote of the Day

Whereas the beautiful is limited, the sublime is limitless, so that the mind in the presence of the sublime, attempting to imagine what it cannot, has pain in the failure but pleasure in contemplating the immensity of the attempt.

- Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason (Penguin Classics)

Friday, October 3, 2014

FBI Turns Animal Cruelty Into Top-Tier Felony

Law enforcement agencies will have to report incidents and arrests in four areas: simple or gross neglect; intentional abuse and torture; organized abuse, including dogfighting and cockfighting; and animal sexual abuse, the FBI said in statement. The bureau didn't answer questions beyond a short statement.

"The immediate benefit is it will be in front of law enforcement every month when they have to do their crime reports," said John Thompson, interim executive director of the National Sheriffs' Association who worked to get the new animal cruelty category instituted. "That's something we have never seen."

Officers will start to see the data are facts and "not just somebody saying the 'Son of Sam' killed animals before he went to human victims and 70-some percent of the school shooters abused animals prior to doing their acts before people," said Thompson, a retired assistant sheriff from Prince George's County, Maryland.

FBI studies show that serial killers like Dahmer impaled the heads of dogs, frogs and cats on sticks; David Berkowitz, known as the "Son of Sam," poisoned his mother's parakeet; and Albert DeSalvo, aka the "Boston Strangler," trapped cats and dogs in wooden crates and killed them by shooting arrows through the boxes.

It will take time and money to update FBI and law enforcement databases nationwide, revise manuals and send out guidelines, Thompson said, so there won't be any data collected until January 2016. After that, it will take several months before there are numbers to analyze.

The new animal cruelty statistics will allow police and counselors to work with children who show early signs of trouble, so a preschooler hurting animals today isn't going to be hurting a person two years from now, Bernstein said.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Scratching is one of nature's sweetest gratifications, and the one nearest at hand.

- Michel de Montaigne

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Politics Behind China’s Ivory Carving Factories

The leverage here is that China is big business in Africa. China wants Africa’s natural resources, but China continues to allow a legal trade of ivory, and this legal operation is often a cover for the illegal ivory trade – all of which is driving Africa’s elephants towards extinction. Something has to give.

Right, so why don’t the African leaders ask China to shut down their carving factories?

“A few weeks ago President Obama hosted a meeting with five or six African heads of state, and the general feeling was that they were intimidated by the prospect of upsetting China – that it would be easier for the US to make a big deal of this,” explains Bergin.

“Well I think everybody needs to make a big deal of this. There has been a drumbeat of activity in the West, and I do think the US has shown leadership on the illegal wildlife trade, and then there was the conference in London in February, and I was talking to the UK Minister of Environment about this and, in my mind, the centre of gravity and influence now needs to move East. Why don’t we invite China to host the next big illegal wildlife trafficking symposium?”

- More Here

Quote of the Day

If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather.

Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.

- Stephen Fry

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Secret Goldman Sachs Tapes

Our financial regulatory system is obviously dysfunctional. But because the subject is so tedious, and the details so complicated, the public doesn't pay it much attention.

That may very well change today, for today -- Friday, Sept. 26 --- the radio program "This American Life" will air a jaw-dropping story about Wall Street regulation, and the public will have no trouble at all understanding it.

The reporter, Jake Bernstein, has obtained 46 hours of tape recordings, made secretly by a Federal Reserve employee, of conversations within the Fed, and between the Fed and Goldman Sachs. The Ray Rice video for the financial sector has arrived.


In early 2012, Segarra was assigned to regulate Goldman Sachs, and so was installed inside Goldman. (The people who regulate banks for the Fed are physically stationed inside the banks.)

The job right from the start seems to have been different from what she had imagined: In meetings, Fed employees would defer to the Goldman people; if one of the Goldman people said something revealing or even alarming, the other Fed employees in the meeting would either ignore or downplay it. For instance, in one meeting a Goldman employee expressed the view that "once clients are wealthy enough certain consumer laws don't apply to them." After that meeting, Segarra turned to a fellow Fed regulator and said how surprised she was by that statement -- to which the regulator replied, "You didn't hear that."

This sort of thing occurred often enough -- Fed regulators denying what had been said in meetings, Fed managers asking her to alter minutes of meetings after the fact -- that Segarra decided she needed to record what actually had been said. So she went to the Spy Store and bought a tiny tape recorder, then began to record her meetings at Goldman Sachs, until she was fired.

Mike Lewis

Quote of the Day

A skilled professional I know had to turn down an important freelance assignment because of a recurring commitment to chauffeur her son to a resumé-building “social action” assignment required by his high school. This involved driving the boy for 45 minutes to a community center, cooling her heels while he sorted used clothing for charity, and driving him back—forgoing income which, judiciously donated, could have fed, clothed, and inoculated an African village. The dubious “lessons” of this forced labor as an overqualified ragpicker are that children are entitled to treat their mothers’ time as worth nothing, that you can make the world a better place by destroying economic value, and that the moral worth of an action should be measured by the conspicuousness of the sacrifice rather than the gain to the beneficiary.

- Steven Pinker