Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Failure is Not an Option, It's a Must

"What's important isn't education; it's apprenticeship. Germany has a huge advantage over the rest of the world as it has a high rate of apprenticeship in its economy. Switzerland used to be the least educated in Europe. Now it's the second most educated; that's why it's going down."

To encourage "swashbucklers" and entrepreneurs, people have to be taught to take intelligent risks - something that universities don't teach. "Universities teach you not to take risks. Because if you make mistakes, you flunk the exam. But in life there is no such thing as a track record of exams. You start from zero. So you have to teach people to fail and take risks."

He sees technology as the most antifragile industry; it has the highest failure rate. "Remarkably the lowest failure rate is in - guess which one - banking. They don't fail."

He invokes once again the evolutionary mechanism. "Everytime you procreate you reproduce yourself. Our DNA has replication error... You have to have some fidelity in replication; you have some error but not too much. Too much and you won't retain the advantages. The same mechanism makes businesses work well."


"I'm not a professor of economics. I'm a professor of engineering. This is critical. There is no nonsense in engineering. The tolerance for nonsense in economics is monstrously high. In engineering, it's close to zero. If a bridge collapses, economists would spin a story. In engineering, you build another one."

He has a library in Lebanon, where he was born and raised, and another in the US. He spends 300 days a year in his libraries. "Everyday I go to the university and come back. It's more of a social day than a research day. I'm not against scholarship. I'm against institutionalised scholarship. There are two forms of skills in society. One is codified in the university, which is the stupid form. One is embedded in society, which is the smart form.

"People don't realise that in England, intellectual production dropped enormously when they relied on universities. Amateurs introduced science. Darwin was an amateur scientist. The amateur doesn't cheat; he's not in it for the title... Which is why I try to avoid the university. In my library I don't play games. I follow my sense of what makes me feel good in the evening.

- Interview with Nassim Taleb

Quote of the Year 2014

We know at the present time that all animals, beginning with the ants, going on to the birds, and ending with the highest mammals, are fond of plays, wrestling, running after each other, trying to capture each other, teasing each other, and so on. And while many plays are, so to speak, a school for the proper behavior of the young in mature life, there are others which, apart from their utilitarian purposes, are, together with dancing and singing, mere manifestations of an excess of forces—“the joy of life,” and a desire to communicate in some way or another with other individuals of the same or of other species—in short, a manifestation of sociability proper, which is a distinctive feature of all the animal world.

What’s the Point If We Can’t Have Fun? (or Do Animals Have Fun?)

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Empathy Represses Analytic Thought, & Vice Versa

When the brain fires up the network of neurons that allows us to empathize, it suppresses the network used for analysis, a pivotal study led by a Case Western Reserve University researcher shows.
How could a CEO be so blind to the public relations fiasco his cost-cutting decision has made?
When the analytic network is engaged, our ability to appreciate the human cost of our action is repressed.

At rest, our brains cycle between the social and analytical networks. But when presented with a task, healthy adults engage the appropriate neural pathway, the researchers found.

The study shows for the first time that we have a built-in neural constraint on our ability to be both empathetic and analytic at the same time.

The work suggests that established theories about two competing networks within the brain must be revised. More, it provides insights into the operation of a healthy mind versus those of the mentally ill or developmentally disabled.

"This is the cognitive structure we've evolved," said Anthony Jack, an assistant professor of cognitive science at Case Western Reserve and lead author of the new study. "Empathetic and analytic thinking are, at least to some extent, mutually exclusive in the brain."

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Monday, December 29, 2014

Why Does Immortality Still Beckon?

Let us call this ‘cultural reproduction’. By dying young, Achilles and James Dean gave up opportunities to reproduce biologically, but successfully managed to reproduce themselves culturally – and on a grand scale. Countless images of both, from marble busts to film reels, have populated the world like an army of clones.

This might not seem like real immortality to a skeptic – such as the comedian Groucho Marx, who asked: ‘Why should I care about posterity? What’s posterity ever done for me?’ Indeed, when we think about it, it seems that posterity has not done much for us, and won’t do even if we populate it with statues of ourselves. But that is only when we think about it. The underlying urge to reproduce in the cultural realm comes from a place much deeper than thought. When we reflect on it, the spell is briefly broken, but it beguiles us again as soon as we stop our reflecting. This is, I believe, because our compulsion to seek renown – to culturally reproduce – is built into our brains.

It is, however, a kind of by-product, a clash of pre-historic instincts with advanced cultures. In other words, we are willing to die for glory because of a cognitive blip. Or, to quote another 1980s hit, by the Smiths: ‘Fame, fame, fatal fame/It can play hideous tricks on the brain.’


Homer himself, however, takes a much darker view. Having described in great detail the bloodshed of the Trojan War, he has the hero Odysseus descend to Hades to visit the spirits of his dead comrades. There he meets Achilles, who he believes must be revelling in his renown as the most celebrated of heroes. But no: ‘do not you make light of death, illustrious Odysseus,’ Achilles replies, ‘I would rather work the soil as a serf to some landless peasant than be King of all these lifeless dead.’ So it was all for nothing – as Homer hopes we will learn from Achilles’ lesson.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Cheaters never prosper, we tell ourselves. But the ape in us knows it's not true. Clumsy, untutored, cheats never prosper. They are discovered and suffer the consequences [...]But what we apes despise is the clumsiness of their effort, the ineptness, the gaucherie. The ape in us does not despise the cheating itself...

- Mark Rowlands, The Philosopher and the Wolf: Lessons from the Wild on Love, Death, and Happiness

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Imitation Game

Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.

Please go see this movie. We have already stepped into an AI era and it would help the gray matter to learn a thing or two about the history and sacrifices made by many to make this possible.

Seriously !! In the grand scheme of things, who the hell is the Queen of England  to "pardon" Turing? That apology by Gordon Brown was more appropriate for starters. Monarchist act in 2013 was one of the many vivid proofs that we, humans have made little progress.

But yet, we made progress and there was that sweet sensation of payback when Tim Cook, the CEO of worlds largest and most innovative computer company came out this year and said:

For years, I’ve been open with many people about my sexual orientation. Plenty of colleagues at Apple know I’m gay, and it doesn’t seem to make a difference in the way they treat me. Of course, I’ve had the good fortune to work at a company that loves creativity and innovation and knows it can only flourish when you embrace people’s differences. Not everyone is so lucky.

While I have never denied my sexuality, I haven’t publicly acknowledged it either, until now. So let me be clear: I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.

Being gay has given me a deeper understanding of what it means to be in the minority and provided a window into the challenges that people in other minority groups deal with every day. It’s made me more empathetic, which has led to a richer life. It’s been tough and uncomfortable at times, but it has given me the confidence to be myself, to follow my own path, and to rise above adversity and bigotry. It’s also given me the skin of a rhinoceros, which comes in handy when you’re the CEO of Apple.

“For him, breaking the Enigma was much easier than the problem of dealing with other people, especially with those holding power.”

- Andrew Hodges, Alan Turing: The Enigma: The Book That Inspired the Film "The Imitation Game"

Quote of the Day

There is no evidence that the complete head shaves we did in the past, which made the patients look like convicts, had any effect on infection rates, which had been the ostensible reason for doing them. I suspect the real – albeit unconscious – reason was that dehumanizing the patients made it easier for the surgeons to operate.

- Henry Marsh, Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Wisdom Of The Year 2014

"I clambered up to my attic where, during 6 entire months, I spent 14 hours a day, 7 days a week, immersed in probability theory, numerical analysis, and mathematical statistics."

- That's Nassim Taleb in the preface of his book, Dynamic Hedging: Managing Vanilla and Exotic Options

That probably sounds mundane and non-exotic but that's the only way to get deep into a subject and master it. Meditate on an idea to master it and master an idea to meditate it. That simple wisdom has stood the test of time.

Quote of the Day

You should rather suppose that those are involved in worthwhile duties who wish to have daily as their closest friends Zeno, Pythagoras, Democritus and all the other high priests of liberal studies, and Aristotle and Theophrastus. None of these will be too busy to see you, none of these will not send his visitor away happier and more devoted to himself, none of these will allow anyone to depart empty-handed. They are at home to all mortals by night and by day.

- Seneca, On the Shortness of Life

Friday, December 26, 2014

Gone Girl

A big fan of David Fincher's movies; delivers a classic again!! One of the best movies of the year.

"You two are the most fucked up people I've ever met and I deal with fucked up people for a living."

Quote of the Day

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Why is Everyone So Busy?

If their leisure time is so scarce, why are these people spending so much of it doting on their sprogs, shepherding them from tutors to recitals to football games? Why aren’t successful professionals outsourcing more of the child-rearing? There are several reasons for this. The first is that people say they find it far more meaningful than time spent doing most other things, including paid work; and if today’s professionals value their time at work more than yesterday’s did, presumably they feel the time they spend parenting is more valuable still. Another reason is that parents—and above all educated parents—are having children later in life, which puts them in a better position emotionally and financially to make a more serious investment. When children are deliberately sought, sometimes expensively so, parenting feels more rewarding, even if this is just a confirmation bias.


Writing in the first century, Seneca was startled by how little people seemed to value their lives as they were living them—how busy, terribly busy, everyone seemed to be, mortal in their fears, immortal in their desires and wasteful of their time. He noticed how even wealthy people hustled their lives along, ruing their fortune, anticipating a time in the future when they would rest. “People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy,” he observed in “On the Shortness of Life”, perhaps the very first time-management self-help book. Time on Earth may be uncertain and fleeting, but nearly everyone has enough of it to take some deep breaths, think deep thoughts and smell some roses, deeply. “Life is long if you know how to use it,” he counselled.

Nearly 2,000 years later, de Grazia offered similar advice. Modern life, that leisure-squandering, money-hoarding, grindstone-nosing, frippery-buying business, left him exasperated. He saw that everyone everywhere was running, running, running, but to where? For what? People were trading their time for all sorts of things, but was the exchange worth it? He closed his 1962 tome, “Of Time, Work and Leisure”, with a prescription:

Lean back under a tree, put your arms behind your head, wonder at the pass we’ve come to, smile and remember that the beginnings and ends of man’s every great enterprise are untidy.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

... [O]ne of the most influential approaches to thinking about memory in recent years, known as connectionism, has abandoned the idea that a memory is an activated picture of a past event. Connectionist or neural network models are based on the principle that the brain stores engrams by increasing the strength of connections between different neurons that participate in encoding an experience. When we encode an experience, connections between active neurons become stronger, and this specific pattern of brain activity constitutes the engram. Later, as we try to remember the experience, a retrieval cue will induce another pattern of activity in the brain. If this pattern is similar enough to a previously encoded pattern, remembering will occur. The "memory" in a neural network model is not simply an activated engram, however. It is a unique pattern that emerges from the pooled contributions of the cue and the engram. A neural network combines information in the present environment with patterns that have been stored in the past, and the resulting mixture of the two is what the network remembers... When we remember, we complete a pattern with the best match available in memory; we do not shine a spotlight on a stored picture.

- Daniel L. Schacter, Searching for Memory: The Brain, the Mind, and the Past

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

In 2008 Mumbai Attacks, Piles of Spy Data, but an Uncompleted Puzzle

If Mr. Shah made any attempt to hide his malevolent intentions, he did not have much success at it. Although his frenetic computer activity was often sprawling, he repeatedly displayed some key interests: small-scale warfare, secret communications, tourist and military locations in India, extremist ideology and Mumbai.

He searched for Sun Tzu’s “Art of War,” previous terror strikes in India and weather forecasts in the Arabian Sea, typed “4 star hotel in delhi” and “taj hotel,” and visited to pore over sites in and around Mumbai, the documents show.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Jumping to conclusions is efficient if the conclusions are likely to be correct and the costs of an occasional mistake acceptable. Jumping to conclusions is risky when the situation is unfamiliar, the stakes are high and there is no time to collect more information.

- Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

Monday, December 22, 2014

How the Ancient Romans Made Better Concrete Than We Do Now

Most modern concretes are bound by limestone-based Portland cement. Manufacturing Portland cement requires heating a mix of limestone and clay to 1,450 degrees Celsius (2,642 degrees Fahrenheit), a process that releases enough carbon – given the 19 billion tons of Portland cement used annually – to account for about seven-percent of the total amount of carbon emitted into the atmosphere each year.

Roman architectural mortar, by contrast, is a mixture of about 85-percent (by volume) volcanic ash, fresh water, and lime, which is calcined at much lower temperature than Portland cement. Coarse chunks of volcanic tuff and brick compose about 45-to-55-percent (by volume) of the concrete. The result is a significant reduction in carbon emissions.

"If we can find ways to incorporate a substantial volumetric component of volcanic rock in the production of specialty concretes, we could greatly reduce the carbon emissions associated with their production also improve their durability and mechanical resistance over time," Jackson says.

Stronger and more environmentally sound. On the concrete front, the Romans have us beat.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

We have a new paradigm, a new reality, and we’re going to have to come to real terms with it all the way down the line. This was a dumb comedy that was about to come out. With the First Amendment, you’re never protecting Jefferson; it’s usually protecting some guy who’s burning a flag or doing something stupid. This is a silly comedy, but the truth is, what it now says about us is a whole lot. We have a responsibility to stand up against this. That’s not just Sony, but all of us, including my good friends in the press who have the responsibility to be asking themselves: What was important? What was the important story to be covering here? The hacking is terrible because of the damage they did to all those people. Their medical records, that is a horrible thing, their Social Security numbers. Then, to turn around and threaten to blow people up and kill people, and just by that threat alone we change what we do for a living, that’s the actual definition of terrorism.

- George Clooney

Sunday, December 21, 2014

3D-Printed Legs Make Disabled Dog Learn Joy of Running

A pair of 3D-printed legs has sent a dog, born without front limbs, on his first ever run down a street. The video featuring the disabled animal happily sprinting into a normal dog’s life has won the hearts of millions on the web.

Derby the dog, who was born with only small forearms and no front paws, got his lucky ticket, when Tara Anderson of the South Carolina-based 3D Systems, decided to adopt him from a foster home. She was resolute on helping Derby to move around in the most comfortable and least traumatic way.

Her first idea was a cart, which turned out quite helpful, but would still not give Derby “the full motion of running.”

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Chance is commonly viewed as a self-correcting process in which a deviation in one direction induces a deviation in the opposite direction to restore the equilibrium. In fact, deviations are not "corrected" as a chance process unfolds, they are merely diluted.
- Amos Tversky, Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Wisdom Of The Week

Can the umbrella be improved?  (via Tyler). We can innovate and make better changes even to simplest things we take for granted.  Think !!

But we are becoming more self-centered.

Introduction to Deep Learning by Andrew Ng., blew my mind away last night and he made machine learning look like a relic.

There is a hidden irony here, we are using animal brains (again) to make progress in AI but yet most  don't consider animals as "conscious", "intelligent" and worse "emotional" beings.

Quote of the Day

The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.

- Plato

Friday, December 19, 2014

Quote of the Day

The distinction between diseases of "brain" and "mind," between "neurological" problems and "psychological" or "psychiatric" ones, is an unfortunate cultural inheritance that permeates society and medicine. It reflects a basic ignorance of the relation between brain and mind. Diseases of the brain are seen as tragedies visited on people who cannot be blamed for their condition, while diseases of the mind, especially those that affect conduct and emotion, are seen as social inconveniences for which sufferers have much to answer. Individuals are to be blamed for their character flaws, defective emotional modulation, and so on; lack of willpower is supposed to be the primary problem.

- Antonio R. Damasio, Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Machine Learning - The High-Interest Credit Card of Technical Debt

Every ML expert must learn a thing or two from Daniel Kahneman's research. A very important paper, read the whole thing - here:


Machine learning offers a fantastically powerful toolkit for building complex sys- tems quickly. This paper argues that it is dangerous to think of these quick wins as coming for free. Using the framework of technical debt, we note that it is re- markably easy to incur massive ongoing maintenance costs at the system level when applying machine learning. The goal of this paper is highlight several ma- chine learning specific risk factors and design patterns to be avoided or refactored where possible. These include boundary erosion, entanglement, hidden feedback loops, undeclared consumers, data dependencies, changes in the external world, and a variety of system-level anti-patterns.


Traditional software engineering practice has shown that strong abstraction boundaries using en- capsulation and modular design help create maintainable code in which it is easy to make isolated changes and improvements. Strict abstraction boundaries help express the invariants and logical consistency of the information inputs and outputs from an given component.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to enforce strict abstraction boundaries for machine learning systems by requiring these systems to adhere to specific intended behavior. Indeed, arguably the most im- portant reason for using a machine learning system is precisely that the desired behavior cannot be effectively implemented in software logic without dependency on external data. There is little way to separate abstract behavioral invariants from quirks of data. The resulting erosion of boundaries can cause significant increases in technical debt. In this section we look at several issues of this form.

Quote of the Day

The trouble with automation is that it often gives us what we don’t need at the cost of what we do.

- Nicholas Carr, The Glass Cage: Automation and Us

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Quote of the Day

2. No person under the age of 35 will be allowed to work on Wall Street.

Upon leaving school, young people, no matter how persuasively dimwitted, will be required to earn their living in the so-called real economy. Any job will do: fracker, street performer, chief of marketing for a medical marijuana dispensary. If and when Americans turn 35, and still wish to work in finance, they will carry with them memories of ordinary market forces, and perhaps be grateful to our society for having created an industry that is not subjected to them. At the very least, they will know that some huge number of people -- their former fellow street performers, say -- will be seriously pissed off at them if they do risky things on Wall Street to undermine the real economy. No one wants a bunch of pissed-off street performers coming after them. To that end ...

- Eight Things I Wish for Wall Street, Mike Lewis

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Century-Long Study of the Effects of Artificial Intelligence on Society

Scientists have begun what they say will be a century-long study of the effects of artificial intelligence on society, including on the economy, war and crime, officials at Stanford University announced Monday.

The project, hosted by the university, is unusual not just because of its duration but because it seeks to track the effects of these technologies as they reshape the roles played by human beings in a broad range of endeavors.

“My take is that A.I. is taking over,” said Sebastian Thrun, a well-known roboticist who led the development of Google’s self-driving car. “A few humans might still be ‘in charge,’ but less and less so.”


Dr. Horvitz will lead a committee with Russ Altman, a Stanford professor of bioengineering and computer science. The committee will include Barbara J. Grosz, a Harvard University computer scientist; Deirdre K. Mulligan, a lawyer and a professor in the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley; Yoav Shoham, a professor of computer science at Stanford; Tom Mitchell, the chairman of the machine learning department at Carnegie Mellon University; and Alan Mackworth, a professor of computer science at the University of British Columbia.

The committee will choose a panel of specialists who will produce a report on artificial intelligence and its effects that is to be published late in 2015.In a white paper outlining the project, Dr. Horvitz described 18 areas that might be considered, including law, ethics, the economy, war and crime. Future reports will be produced at regular intervals.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Whenever serious and competent people need to get things done in the real world, all considerations of tradition and protocol fly out the window.

- Neal Stephenson, Quicksilver

Monday, December 15, 2014

Rebirth of an Eagle

Quote of the Day

The word 'risk' derives from the early Italian risicare, which means 'to dare'. In this sense, risk is a choice rather than a fate. The actions we dare to take, which depend on how free we are to make choices, are what the story of risk is all about. And that story helps define what it means to be a human being.

- Peter L. Bernstein, Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Theory of Everything

Not one of my favorites this year but worth a watch.

"Opinions are irrelevant in Physics"

Quote of the Day

What people do isn't determined by where they live. It happens to be their damned fault. They decided to watch TV instead of thinking when they were in high school. They decided to blow-off courses and drink beer instead of reading and trying to learn something. They decided to chicken out and be intolerant bastards instead of being openminded, and finally they decided to go along with their buddies and do things that were terribly wrong when there was no reason they had to. Anyone who hurts someone else decides to hurt them, goes out of their way to do it. . . . The fact that it's hard to be a good person doesn't excuse going along and being an asshole. If they can't overcome their own fear of being unusual, it's not my fault, because any idiot ought to be able to see that if he just acts reasonably and makes a point of not hurting others, he'll be happier.

- Neal Stephenson, The Big U

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Wisdom Of The Week

 Sharel was twenty when she died from an overdose. Her funeral was held at the Holy Temple Christian Church on Althea Street in Providence, Rhode Island. The church tried to raise $5,000 for the expense, but only managed to raise $347.

Althea Street is short, only three blocks long. It is poor. Boarded up buildings mingle with renovated homes. An empty lot sits in the middle of one block, filled with garbage. A small path weaves through the garbage back towards a ring of old chairs under a tree. Around the chairs, on the ground, are needles, cheap bottles of vodka, and tiny bags used to hold crack. At each end of the street are stores that sell milk and cereal but make most of their money from selling single cigarettes (loosies) and cheap malt liquor. They also sell crack pipes disguised as pens or flower holders.

You can find a version of Althea Street in any American city.  At the center of all of these streets you find churches. Lots of churches. Churches that occupy makeshift spaces are often the only building with lights on. Inside the churches are priests, nuns, and ministers who are part of the neighborhood. They spend their days talking and helping those who have fallen the lowest. The crack addict smoking under the trees, the junkie who falls asleep in the empty lots.

They often do this because they themselves were once that person. They do it because what brought them back from their lowest point was a person holding a Bible, or a Koran, talking to them and treating them as an equal.

On the streets you don’t find any scientists. You may find flyers offering people money to be part of studies. Studies on how drugs affect the brain or the body.

Scientists need to be a little more like Willie. They need to get out of their libraries, universities, and labs and go to their town’s version of Althea Street and treat those who they meet as equals not subjects. They need to spend time talking and offering hope to those who don’t feel there is much hope left. They need to figure out what that hope is, and allow the possibility it may be a Bible.

Until they do that, until they do it with the equal energy of churches, those suffering won’t trust science. And for good reason.

- What Science Can Learn from Religion

Quote of the Day

The fact that we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well, on the surface of a gas covered planet going around a nuclear fireball 90 million miles away and think this to be normal is obviously some indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be.

- Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time

Friday, December 12, 2014

Best Home Automation Gifts for This Holiday Season

Re-post from last year and all of them still hold true. This year was full of software upgrades and no major hardware upgrades.

Here are three basic heuristics, I followed before choosing a device:
  1. To save money in long term.
  2. To save time, either in short term (monthly electric/gas bill etc ) and long term (doesn't need much maintenance and last's longer). Cell phone app and an open API if applicable.
  3. Excellent features and also uplifts the ambiance of the house.
Nest Learning Thermostat - Clear winner on all three fronts; a must buy !!

Philips Hue Personal Wireless Lighting - It's expensive but #2 and #3 makes it worth. Also, don't need any holiday lights; just change the colors plus the twitter API makes it awesome tool.


iRobot Roomba 770 Vacuum Cleaning Robot for Pets and Allergies - Saves me tons of time. I have the older model but need to upgrade it sometime next year. No cell phone app though and Max doesn't get thrilled while this is doing its rounds.

Dropcam Pro Wi-Fi Wireless Video Monitoring Camera - This is my 2013 Xmas gift. I have been using my Mac to watch Max during weekdays from my cell phone but now its time to take the leap. With 130 degree angle coverage, it will cover my whole living room.

Things on wish list:

Nest Protect Smoke + Carbon Monoxide - It integrates nicely with Nest thermostat and no annoying battery changes for few months.

BOT Home Automation DoorBot- The Doorbell for Smartphones - Well, my existing 20th century door bell is falling apart so I have an excuse to replace it soon.


Liftmaster 828LM Garage Door Opener Internet Gateway - Not too expensive at all. Again, no annoying battery changes every year.

Quote of the Day

Many economists like to dump on their fellow social scientists, and personally I find that reading anthropology is often quite uninspiring.  That said, I would like to say a small bit on the superiority of anthropologists.  I view the “products” of anthropology as the experiences, world views, and conversations of the anthropologists themselves.  Those products translate poorly into the medium of print, and so from a distance the anthropologists appear to be inferior and lackluster (I wonder to what extent the anthropologists realize this themselves?).

Yet anthropologists have some of the most profound understandings of the human condition.  They have witnessed, absorbed, and processed some of the most interesting data, especially those anthropologists who do fieldwork of the traditional kind.

The rest of us are simply (usually) too blind to see this.  It even can be argued that anthropology is the queen and most general of the social sciences, and that economics, as a social science, is simply playing around in one of the larger anthropologically-motivated sandboxes, namely the economy.

- Tyler Cowen, Are anthropologists better than you think?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Is There A Formula For Intelligence ?

Wisner-Ross argues that in fact there is an equation for intelligence and that this is 

["F = T ∇ Sτ"].

In the mind of Wisner-Ross this equation helps to factor out different threads that impact on intelligence. F is seen as “to maximise future freedom of action (keep options open) while the strength of T and the diversity of possible accessible futures, S, up to some future time horizon, tau”. While this is quite a complicated idea, the point that he is trying to express is that intelligence likes its options open. He also questions the role that goals play in intelligent behaviour. But is a mathematical equation really able to predict human intelligence, and can it predict artificial intelligence? This is the points that Wisner-Ross set about to answer with his Ted video, providing examples that are best enjoyed through watching the video. He also suggests that if we could start all over again with intelligence, then one of the best ways things to do would be to build artificial intelligences or to better understand human intelligence and the way in which this seeks to “maximise future freedom of action and avoid constraints in its own future”

- More Here

Quote of the Day

If we have data, let’s look at data. If all we have are opinions, let’s go with mine.

- Jim Barksdale

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Questions About Life from Jonathan Safran Foer

What’s the kindest thing you almost did? Is your fear of insomnia stronger than your fear of what awoke you? Are bonsai cruel? Do you love what you love, or just the feeling? Your earliest memories: do you look though your young eyes, or look at your young self? Which feels worse: to know that there are people who do more with less talent, or that there are people with more talent? Do you walk on moving walkways? Should it make any difference that you knew it was wrong as you were doing it? Would you trade actual intelligence for the perception of being smarter? Why does it bother you when someone at the next table is having a conversation on a cell phone? How many years of your life would you trade for the greatest month of your life? What would you tell your father, if it were possible? Which is changing faster, your body, or your mind? Is it cruel to tell an old person his prognosis? Are you in any way angry at your phone? When you pass a storefront, do you look at what’s inside, look at your reflection, or neither? Is there anything you would die for if no one could ever know you died for it? If you could be assured that money wouldn’t make you any small bit happier, would you still want more money? What has been irrevocably spoiled for you? If your deepest secret became public, would you be forgiven? Is your best friend your kindest friend? Is it any way cruel to give a dog a name? Is there anything you feel a need to confess? You know it’s a “murder of crows” and a “wake of buzzards” but it’s a what of ravens, again? What is it about death that you’re afraid of? How does it make you feel to know that it’s an “unkindness of ravens”?

- Jonathan Safran Foer, from his writing on the side of a Chiptole cup (via Ben)

Quote of the Day

On television, the Harvard biologist EO Wilson called the Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins a “journalist”, this being apparently the lowest of insults in the world of science; it was taken as such.

- Matt Ridley

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

What Veterinarians Know that Doctors Don't

 What do you call a veterinarian who can only take care of one species? A physician.

Because it turns out, some of the best and most humanistic medicine is being practiced by doctors whose patients aren't human. And one of the best ways we can take care of the human patient is by paying close attention to how all the other patients on the planet live, grow, get sick and heal.

Quote of the Day

You need to stop feeling sorry for yourself. I don’t say this as a condemnation–I need regular reminders to stop feeling sorry for myself too. I’m going to address you bluntly, but it’s a directness that rises from my compassion for you, not my judgement of you. Nobody’s going to do your life for you. You have to do it yourself, whether you’re rich or poor, out of money or raking it in, the beneficiary of ridiculous fortune or terrible injustice. And you have to do it no matter what is true. No matter what is hard. No matter what unjust, sad, sucky things have befallen you. Self-pity is a dead-end road. You make the choice to drive down it. It’s up to you to decide to stay parked there or to turn around and drive out.

- Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar

Monday, December 8, 2014

Wisdom of Chris Rock !!

Full disclaimer - I never enjoyed his standup's and almost developed an aversion against him. This splendid interview was a slap on my face , an irrational fundamental attribution error. Check out the interview with Chris Rock - it's a gem and full of insights:

I stopped playing colleges, and the reason is because they’re way too conservative.

In their political views?

Not in their political views — not like they’re voting Republican — but in their social views and their willingness not to offend anybody. Kids raised on a culture of “We’re not going to keep score in the game because we don’t want anybody to lose.” Or just ignoring race to a fault. You can’t say “the black kid over there.” No, it’s “the guy with the red shoes.” You can’t even be offensive on your way to being inoffensive.

When did you start to notice this?

About eight years ago. Probably a couple of tours ago. It was just like, This is not as much fun as it used to be. I remember talking to George Carlin before he died and him saying the exact same thing.


What would you do in Ferguson that a standard reporter wouldn’t?

I’d do a special on race, but I’d have no black people.

Well, that would be much more revealing.

Yes, that would be an event. Here’s the thing. When we talk about race relations in America or racial progress, it’s all nonsense. There are no race relations. White people were crazy. Now they’re not as crazy. To say that black people have made progress would be to say they deserve what happened to them before.

Right. It’s ridiculous.

So, to say Obama is progress is saying that he’s the first black person that is qualified to be president. That’s not black progress. That’s white progress. There’s been black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years. If you saw Tina Turner and Ike having a lovely breakfast over there, would you say their relationship’s improved? Some people would. But a smart person would go, “Oh, he stopped punching her in the face.” It’s not up to her. Ike and Tina Turner’s relationship has nothing to do with Tina Turner. Nothing. It just doesn’t. The question is, you know, my kids are smart, educated, beautiful, polite children. There have been smart, educated, beautiful, polite black children for hundreds of years. The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.

Quote of the Day

The basic ingredients of language, at least from our English-speaking perspective, are the parts of speech: nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs and so on. But many languages lack adverbs, and some, such as Lao (spoken in Laos and parts of Thailand), lack adjectives. It has even been claimed that Straits Salish, an indigenous language spoken in and around British Columbia, gets by without nouns and verbs. Moreover, some languages feature grammatical categories that seem positively alien from our Anglocentric perspective. My favourite is the ideophone, a grammatical category that some languages employ to spice up a narrative. An ideophone is a fully fledged word type that integrates different sensory experiences arising in a single action: to pick one example, the word ribuy-tibuy, from the northern Indian language Mundari, describes the sight, motion and sound of a fat person’s buttocks as he walks.

- There is no language instinct, Vyvyan Evans

Sunday, December 7, 2014

What I've Been Reading

What can be added to the happiness of the man who is in health, who is out of debt, and has a clear conscience?

“Very little.”

How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life: An Unexpected Guide to Human Nature and Happiness by Russ Roberts.

Adam Smith's first book The Theory of Moral Sentiments is really a hard book to read and I never got around reading it. Russ Roberts has done us a huge favor for by writing this new book. Go, get this book and read it - this is the best book I have read this year.

Smith’s awareness of our inability to see ourselves clearly finds an echo in the modern literature at the intersection of psychology and economics called behavioral economics , a field that challenges the strict rationality of most modern economic models. Daniel Kahneman won the Nobel Prize in Economics for experimental work he did with Amos Tversky that examined how easily and often we misperceive reality. The co-winner that year was Vernon Smith, another experimentalist who studies how the mistakes people make individually can be tempered by their interactions with others in the marketplace. So while we may think our house is actually more beautiful than it is or our skills are more valuable than they really are, when we try to sell our house or look for a job, we gain a richer appreciation of how things truly are. I like to think Adam Smith would respect the work of both Kahneman and Vernon Smith and see them both as his intellectual heirs.

Quote of the Day

Midlife crisis begins sometime in your 40s, when you look at your life and think, Is this all? And it ends about 10 years later, when you look at your life again and think, Actually, this is pretty good.

- Donald Richie

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Wisdom Of The Week

The Messiah of Zooming Out - A Profile of Alexander Grothendieck was one the best pieces I read this year; sadly I never heard of Grothendieck before this week:

Now imagine a mathematician who stumbles on the curious fact that if you double a prime number and then halve the result, you get back the number you started with. It works for the prime number 2, for 3, for 5, for 7, for 11…. . What is it about primes, the mathematician wonders, that yields this pattern? He begins delving deeper into the properties of prime numbers…

Like our clockmaker, the mathematician is zooming in when he should be zooming out. The right question is not “Why do primes behave this way?” but “What other numbers behave this way?”. Once you notice that the answer is all numbers, you’ve got a good chance of figuring out why they behave this way. As long as you’re focused on the red herring of primeness, you’ve got no chance.

Now, not all problems are like that. Some problems benefit from zooming in, others from zooming out.

Grothendieck was the messiah of zooming out — zooming out farther and faster and grander than anyone else would have dared to, always and everywhere. And by luck or by shrewdness, the problems he threw himself into were, time after time, precisely the problems where the zooming-out strategy, pursued apparently past the point of ridiculousness, led to spectacular, unprecedented, indescribable success. As a result, mathematicians today routinely zoom out farther and faster than anyone prior to Grothendieck would have deemed sensible. And sometimes it pays off big.
There are, of course, times when it does pay to examine the inner workings of things. Jean-Pierre Serre, another titan of modern mathematics with whom Grothendieck had an intimate working relationship, was often, in Grothendieck’s words “the yang to my yin”. If there was a nut to be opened, Grothendieck suggested, Serre would find just the right spot to insert a chisel, he’d strike hard and deftly, and if necessary, he’d repeat the process until the nut cracked open. Grothendieck, by contrast, preferred to immerse the nut in the ocean and let time pass. “The shell becomes more flexible through weeks and months — when the time is ripe, hand pressure is enough.”

In other words, the philosophy was this: If a phenomenon seems hard to explain, it’s because you haven’t fully understood how general it is. Once you figure out how general it is, the explanation will stare you in the face.


It has been the great privilege of my life to understand some small fraction of the mind of Grothendieck. The world is an infinitely more beautiful place because he lived.

Quote of the Day

A very general mental capability that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience.

- Definition of Intelligence from "Mainstream Science on Intelligence" (1994), an editorial statement by fifty-two researchers

Friday, December 5, 2014

Puppy to Dog in 23 Seconds

A dog’s owner may not notice how fast their pet is growing, especially if they see them every day.

But one owner from San Francisco didn’t want to miss a week of his Rhodesian Ridgeback’s development so created this lovely time-lapse.

The 23-second clip shows Greg Coffin’s dog Sophia growing from a two-month old puppy into a fully-grown three-year-old.

- More Here

Mediterranean Diet Is Good for Your DNA

The Mediterranean diet — high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and olive oil, and low in dairy products and meat — has long been touted for its health-promoting benefits. Now researchers have new clues why.

They found that the diet is associated with longer telomeres, the protective structures at the end of chromosomes. Shorter telomeres are associated with age-related chronic diseases and reduced life expectancy.

Researchers used data on 4,676 healthy women, part of a larger health study, whose diets were ranked on a scale of one to nine for similarity to the ideal Mediterranean diet. Researchers measured their telomere lengths with blood tests and followed them for more than 20 years with periodic examinations.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Ultimately evil is done not so much by evil people, but by good people who do not know themselves and who do not probe deeply.

- Reinhold Niebuhr

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Rival Species Recast Significance of ‘First Bird’

The first Archaeopteryx fossil specimens turned up in limestone quarries in Bavaria, southern Germany, in the early 1860s. Until recently, they were the only fossil specimens found to mix bird- and dinosaur-like features. On the one hand, they are small — the fossils show juvenile creatures about the size of a magpie, which as adults may have been raven-sized — and have broad feathered wings that look good for gliding; on the other, they have a jaw with sharp teeth, dinosaur-like claws and a bony tail. These features led to the idea of the first bird, and generations of scientists have treated the 145-million-year-old animal as a ‘transitional species’ — the key piece of evidence linking birds and dinosaurs (Archaeopteryx is Greek for ‘ancient feather’, whereas its German name, Urvogel, means ‘first bird’).

But starting in the 1990s, the unique status of Archaeopteryx faced a challenge from the discovery in China of other potential transitional species. Fossils of Anchiornis huxleyi and Microraptor gui reveal small-bodied creatures like Archaeopteryx, and they may have used their four wings to glide. Another, Aurornis xui, has legs, claws and a tail similar to those of Archaeopteryx, yet lived about 10 million years earlier, leading some to propose it as a better candidate for first bird (see ‘The fight for first bird’).

Many scientists now believe that Archaeopteryx is just another dinosaur. Others find this hard to swallow. “To some ornithologists this is a really big deal — Archaeopteryx is the first bird,” says Gareth Dyke, a vertebrate palaeontologist at the University of Southampton, UK. “They’d rather cut off one of their legs than admit it has nothing to do with bird origins.”

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Day by day, what you choose, what you think and what you do is who you become.

- Heraclitus

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Quote of the Day

One, remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Two, never give up work. Work gives you meaning and purpose and life is empty without it. Three, if you are lucky enough to find love, remember it is there and don't throw it away.

- Stephen Hawking

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Quote of the Day

The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.

- George Orwell, Politics and the English Language

Monday, December 1, 2014

Quote of the Day

Paleolithic Curse: genetic adaptations that worked very well for millions of years of hunter-gatherer existence but are increasingly a hindrance in a globally urban and technoscientific society.

The Meaning of Human Existence by E.O Wilson