Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Google Mapped the Earth, IBM to Map the Atmosphere

Data partnerships are a key ingredient in IBM’s long-term strategy, and the company is announcing a big one on Tuesday with the Weather Company.

For IBM, the deal represents another close link with a leading data supplier for special access and joint development. Last fall, it forged a similar arrangement with Twitter, the social network, whose tweets of 140 characters or fewer are a global wellspring of consumer sentiment.

IBM also said that it planned to invest $3 billion in the next four years to build up an Internet of Things business group. The two announcements are related since so much of the new data that corporations want to analyze to spot ways to increase sales and cut costs will increasingly come from Internet-connected devices, from smartphones to sensors.


One likely application, IBM said, was in auto insurance. Insurers pay more than $1 billion in claims in the United States for cars and trucks damaged by hail. Adding Watson analysis to WSI’s weather data, the company said, could enable insurers to send text-message alerts to policyholders, warning them of an imminent hailstorm and advising them of safe locations nearby. Such a service, IBM calculates, has the potential to save insurers up to $25 per policyholder in hail-prone regions, or millions of dollars a year.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Diplomacy is the art of telling people to go to hell in such a way that they ask for directions.

- Winston Churchil

Monday, March 30, 2015

Wheat People vs. Rice People

In May, the journal Science published a study, led by a young University of Virginia psychologist, Thomas Talhelm, that ascribed these different orientations to the social worlds created by wheat farming and rice farming. Rice is a finicky crop. Because rice paddies need standing water, they require complex irrigation systems that have to be built and drained each year. One farmer’s water use affects his neighbor’s yield. A community of rice farmers needs to work together in tightly integrated ways.

Not wheat farmers. Wheat needs only rainfall, not irrigation. To plant and harvest it takes half as much work as rice does, and substantially less coordination and cooperation. And historically, Europeans have been wheat farmers and Asians have grown rice. 
The authors of the study in Science argue that over thousands of years, rice- and wheat-growing societies developed distinctive cultures: “You do not need to farm rice yourself to inherit rice culture.”


Asked to draw their social networks, wheat-region subjects drew themselves larger than they drew their friends; subjects from rice-growing regions drew their friends larger than themselves. Asked to describe how they’d behave if a friend caused them to lose money in a business, subjects from the rice region punished their friends less than subjects from the wheat region did. Those in the wheat provinces held more patents; those in the rice provinces had a lower rate of divorce.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

No matter how close we are to another person, few human relationships are as free from strife, disagreement, and frustration as is the relationship you have with a good dog. Few human beings give of themselves to another as a dog gives of itself. I also suspect that we cherish dogs because their unblemished souls make us wish - consciously or unconsciously - that we were as innocent as they are, and make us yearn for a place where innocence is universal and where the meanness, the betrayals, and the cruelties of this world are unknown.

- Dean Koontz, A Big Little Life: A Memoir of a Joyful Dog

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Angie's List Cancels $40 Million 1000 Jobs Indiana Expansion Over Anti-Gay 'Religious Freedom' Law

Since the year after its 1995 founding, Angie's List has been headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana. The $315 million corporation which lets users review local businesses, especially home improvement professionals, has been planning a $40 million renovation of its own, moving its headquarters across town and adding 1000 new jobs over five years.

But thanks to state lawmakers and Republican Governor Mike Pence's new Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act, those expansion plans have been canceled.

"Angie's List is open to all and discriminates against none and we are hugely disappointed in what this bill represents," CEO Bill Oesterle said in a statement today, adding, the expansion is "on hold until we fully understand the implications of the freedom restoration act on our employees, both current and future."

The company's statement noted it "will begin reviewing alternatives for the expansion of its headquarters immediately."


The decision by Angie's List to pull back its investment in Indiana is part of a huge and growing negative response from businesses and other financial interests across the country that do business or are based in Indiana, and other public individuals and entities, including the world's largest and most-respected corporation, Apple, Inc., the City of San Francisco, the White House, Broadway's Audra McDonald, $4 billion software firm Salesforce, $50 million annual gaming convention Gen Con, Fortune 500 member Cummins, Eskenazi Health, Eli Lilly and Co., Yelp, Hillary Clinton, George Takei, Pat McAfee, Jason Collins, Ashton Kutcher, Miley Cyrus, James Van Der Beek, Sophia Bush, Dustin Lance Black, Mara Wilson, Jack Antonoff, the Mayor of Indianapolis, and the State of Indiana's own tourism board.

- More Here. I would love see Apple do this to China for banning Dog eating festival for starters.

Quote of the Day

All his life he tried to be a good person. Many times, however, he failed.
For after all, he was only human. He wasn't a dog.

- Charles M. Schulz

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Wisdom Of The Week

But 10,000 hours of work isn't about improving. It's about starting from a place of hunger, and going above and beyond the ceilings placed above you, and achieving mastery.

It's about taking all the resources you have and investing completely in yourself so that you constantly have nothing to fall back on except your own ingenuity and success.

It's about taking everything you have, emptying your "life bank account" and pouring it back into yourself. Looking for the "return on YOU" instead of the "return on investment".

Louis kept starting from scratch and challenging himself to force himself to master some aspect of comedy he had never mastered before. To start from scratch:

  • at a job. Giving up $500,000 a year to have no job security forced him to up his skills enough to get paid on the road versus every other comic in the world.
  • at writing a movie
  • at writing comedy fresh every year
  • at being authentic and honest and not falling on the comedy standard used by other comedians

- Why Louis CK Turned Down $500,000 and Invested in Himself

Quote of the Day

I think the way the battle lines are drawn in the world we live in, the battle lines typically fall in terms of 'what are your conclusions?' Like: are you a republican; are you a democrat; are you a libertarian; are you a socialist? And the more I think about it, this strikes me as extremely odd.

Why should the battle lines be drawn in terms of conclusions? Another way of drawing the battle lines would be, say, in terms of how people think. So if I take someone like Matt [Yglesias?], who's one of the commenters - I read Matt's blog all the time. Matt, I think, would agree that he and I disagree on a lot of issues. Not on everything, but we disagree a lot. We disagree every day. We sort of write back and forth to each other and to others, and even if we don't call each other by name, we're, like, disagreeing in public every day.

But at the same time when I read Matt I have this feeling like 'if I were a progressive, this is the argument I would make'. I feel that way when I read Matt. There's other writers, like when I read Paul Krugman, I don't feel that way. I don't think if I were progressive I would argue like Paul Krugman.

So this method of thinking in common, there's this question, should I be emotionally, intellectually, whatever, more allied to people with whom I share conclusions, or with whom I share a certain method of thinking? And when I disagree with Matt, which is frequently, I feel like I can always figure out very quickly where we disagree. There's something about the framework we have in common. And that, to me, seems like a powerful commonality. So in general I'm interested in getting people to explore, or re-explore, what are our true commonalities with other people?

- Tyler Cowen from a talk on on neurodiversity

Friday, March 27, 2015

Quote of the Day

Of all the causes which conspire to blind 
Man's erring judgment, and misguide the mind, 
What the weak head with strongest bias rules, 
Is pride, the never-failing vice of fools.

- Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Quote of the Day

I know a man who, when I ask him what he knows, asks me for a book in order to point it out to me, and wouldn't dare tell me that he has an itchy backside unless he goes immediately and studies in his lexicon what is itchy and what is a backside.

- Montaigne, On Pedantry

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Quote of the Day

When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest. The only thing that could spoil a day was people and if you could keep from making engagements, each day had no limits. People were always the limiters of happiness except for the very few that were as good as spring itself.

- Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

Monday, March 23, 2015

Quote of the Day

Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.

- Douglas Adams

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Quote of the Day

The No. 1 thing is you’ve got to have passion. This rich passion for going ruthlessly after the problem and being deeply intellectually honest with yourself about whether this is a reasonable answer. And you guys have highlighted that extremely well in a bunch of your analysis. You guys know what I mean when I say that..

The second part is having the ability to be extremely clever with the data. And what I mean by that is: You’re working with ambiguity. And very often you can’t approach the problem with the rigor you would a homework assignment. The only way to survive through that is by being clever — to think of a different question that gets at the answer.

The second part is having the ability to be extremely clever with the data. And what I mean by that is: You’re working with ambiguity. And very often you can’t approach the problem with the rigor you would a homework assignment. The only way to survive through that is by being clever — to think of a different question that gets at the answer.

- DJ Patel on Data Science

Friday, March 20, 2015

Wisdom Of The Week

- One of the best TED Talks I have seen in a long long time, What's Wrong with TED Talks by Benjamin Bratton

The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous

Over time, though, the brain of a heavy drinker adjusts to the steady flow of alcohol by producing less GABA and more glutamate, resulting in anxiety and irritability. Dopamine production also slows, and the person gets less pleasure out of everyday things. Combined, these changes gradually bring about a crucial shift: instead of drinking to feel good, the person ends up drinking to avoid feeling bad. Alcohol also damages the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for judging risks and regulating behavior—one reason some people keep drinking even as they realize that the habit is destroying their lives. The good news is that the damage can be undone if they’re able to get their consumption under control.

Studies of twins and adopted children suggest that about half of a person’s vulnerability to alcohol-use disorder is hereditary, and that anxiety, depression, and environment—all considered “outside issues” by many in Alcoholics Anonymous and the rehab industry—also play a role. Still, science can’t yet fully explain why some heavy drinkers become physiologically dependent on alcohol and others don’t, or why some recover while others founder. We don’t know how much drinking it takes to cause major changes in the brain, or whether the brains of alcohol-dependent people are in some ways different from “normal” brains to begin with. What we do know, McLellan says, is that “the brains of the alcohol-addicted aren’t like those of the non-alcohol-dependent.”

Bill Wilson, AA’s founding father, was right when he insisted, 80 years ago, that alcohol dependence is an illness, not a moral failing. Why, then, do we so rarely treat it medically? It’s a question I’ve heard many times from researchers and clinicians. “Alcohol- and substance-use disorders are the realm of medicine,” McLellan says. “This is not the realm of priests.”

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Mountains seem to answer an increasing imaginative need in the West. More and more people are discovering a desire for them, and a powerful solace in them. At bottom, mountains, like all wildernesses, challenge our complacent conviction - so easy to lapse into - that the world has been made for humans by humans. Most of us exist for most of the time in worlds which are humanly arranged, themed and controlled. One forgets that there are environments which do not respond to the flick of a switch or the twist of a dial, and which have their own rhythms and orders of existence. Mountains correct this amnesia. By speaking of greater forces than we can possibly invoke, and by confronting us with greater spans of time than we can possibly envisage, mountains refute our excessive trust in the man-made. They pose profound questions about our durability and the importance of our schemes. They induce, I suppose, a modesty in us.

- Robert Macfarlane, Mountains of the Mind: Adventures in Reaching the Summit

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Expanding Our Umwelt - Internet of Things for Us !!

Heaven = I can think and feel like Max while picking stocks sans an algorithm !!

David Eagleman as usual redefines "think different" !!

Quote of the Day

The history of science really gives you perspective on how easy it is to talk ourselves into this sort of thinking – that if my big, wonderful brain can’t envisage the solution, then it must be a really, really hard problem!

Patricia Churchland

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A Simple But Forgotten Truth

The ancient world, along with all the major religions and pre-modern philosophies, had a different and truer view. Improvements in civilisation are real enough, but they come and go. While knowledge and invention may grow cumulatively and at an accelerating rate, advances in ethics and politics are erratic, discontinuous and easily lost. Amid the general drift, cycles can be discerned: peace and freedom alternate with war and tyranny, eras of increasing wealth with periods of economic collapse. Instead of becoming ever stronger and more widely spread, civilisation remains inherently fragile and regularly succumbs to barbarism. This view, which was taken for granted until sometime in the mid-18th century, is so threatening to modern hopes that it is now practically incomprehensible.

-  John Gray

Quote of the Day

Even in the mid-1990s geeks were fair game. One afternoon a colleague and I were standing on either side of one of the narrow aisles between the banks of trading desks on the floor when one of the chief traders walked between us, his head momentarily between ours. At that instant he winced, clutched his head with both hands as though in excruciating pain, and exclaimed, “Aarrggh-hhh! The force field! It’s too intense! Let me out of the way!

- Emanuel Derman, My Life as a Quant: Reflections on Physics and Finance

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Life Lessons from Machine Learning

What comes to mind when you hear the term “Machine Learning”? A bunch of programmers hunched over their computers in a dark room, working on something completely virtual & divorced from reality? A group of scientists creating a Frankenstein monster that has no resemblance to us whatsoever?

It may certainly seem that way, but you’d be wrong. The accomplishments of Machine Learning (Self-driving cars, human handwriting parsing, IBM Watson) are certainly very technological in nature. But in truth, Machine Learning is equal parts Art and Philosophy, incorporating deep Epistemological insights in order to better make sense of the world. Machine Learning is in essence, a simplified & structured version of what goes on in our minds every single day, in our quest for knowledge.

If this “quest for knowledge” sounds like a bunch of mumbo jumbo and you’re wondering how it’s actually relevant to us, consider the following: We were all born without any knowledge whatsoever of how the world works. Since then, every single day, every single thing we observe around us, is a data point that we accumulate. And by interpreting these data points, we are able to gain knowledge about the underlying mechanisms that lead to these data points, and more abstractly, “how the world works.”

Life is a massive swarm of data points, and consciously or subconsciously, we are engaged, every single day, in an epistemological quest for knowledge. And one of the most central challenges, in this quest for knowledge, is knowing how to correctly interpret all this data. And that is exactly where Machine Learning comes in.


Life is the greatest epistemological problem of all. There are mountains of data that we’re constantly collecting everyday, and oceans more data that is out there waiting to be collected. We arrive into this world not knowing anything, and using only these mountains of data, we try to put them together in a way that makes this massive, immensely complex world, slightly more understandable and predictable.

This is exactly the same problem that Machine Learning scientists have been tackling for decades, in a much more structured format. They still have a long way to go, but their insights have been powerful enough to produce computer programs that can recognize human handwriting and self-drive cars. By learning from and applying these insights to our own lives, we too, can hope to make slightly better sense of this mysterious and magical world that we live in.

- One of the best pieces I have ever read which explains the concept of Machine Learning with great simplicity; read the whole thing here


Quote of the Day

Those who were unlucky in life in spite of their skills would eventually rise. The lucky fool might have benefited from some luck in life; over the longer run he would slowly converge to the state of a less-lucky idiot. Each one would revert to his long-term properties.

- Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets

Monday, March 16, 2015

How To Became A Resilient Leader

Schawbel: What are your top three career tips?

Greitens: Leading a business demands great reserves of energy and there is an art to creating, harnessing, deploying, and renewing your energy.  You asked for three tips, but I’ll throw in a bonus set, and share with you seven tips to create great energy in your work.

  1. Exercise.  Exercise Hard.  Exercise intensely.  You are a physical being.  Find a way to push yourself physically.  Doing so will not only energize your body, but it will awaken your mind and will often cleanse your spirit.  There is no one regimen that is right for everyone, but everyone can create something that is right for them.  (And a hint here.  Quality exercise is exercise that pushes you.  At some point in most every workout you should be pushing yourself hard enough that it’s difficult to talk.)
  2. Eat well.  People don’t often think of their diet as being related to their career, but what you eat fuels your life.  Eat well so that you have the energy you need to live a beautiful, engaged energized life.
  3. Sleep well.  When you push yourself hard, your body and mind need time to absorb.  Take that time, and try to get as full a night’s sleep as possible so you can awake with energy.
  4. Surround yourself with good people.  We all become like the people we are with every day.  If you want to be energized, surround yourself with energetic people.  (And a hint here: people often associate “being energetic” with being an extrovert.  That’s a mistake.  There are lots of quiet people who are powerfully driven.  Listen to them.  Learn from them.  Have them on your team.  When things are hard, you’ll need a team of driven people to persevere.)
  5. A good sense of humor is a great well of energy.  If you do anything worthwhile in your life it is going to be tough at times.  If you can smile and laugh even in the face of hardship, you’ll keep your perspective.
  6. And speaking of perspective, find a way to be grateful for what you have.  Many people do this in prayer—others practice in a different way—but I’ve found that the sense of perspective and peace that comes from the practice of gratitude often results in energy and power over the long haul.
  7. Finally, serve something larger than yourself.  Everyone has their own hard “hows”; how do I raise capital? How do I reorganize the team?  How do I execute the strategy?  The “hows” in your life will often change, and will often be hard, no matter how much homework you’ve done.  To make it through the hard hows, you need to have a strong “why”; serve a purpose larger than yourself.
- More here from Eric Greitens author of Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life

Quote of the Day

I don’t think you’re born with a gut. I think the gut matures and gets better and better over time, and the struggle most people have, I think, is learning to listen to it, and figuring out how to access it in some way.

For me, though, what I found was that even though I’m an engineer and an analytical person at heart, the most important decisions I’ve made had nothing to do with any of that.

- Tim Cook

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Why You Should Be Disturbed at College

There’s another way of looking at the annals of slaughter and rape that thread through the history of civilization—this civilization or any other. It is this: A record of civilization that lacks such accounts is a lie. “There is no document of civilization,” wrote Walter Benjamin, “which is not at the same time a document of barbarism.” Universities are not fallout shelters. (Once again, Kant: Dare to know!) Brutalities cry for attention. Attention to the appalling causes disturbance. Deal with it. You’re at school to be disturbed. Universities are very much in the business of trying to get you to rethink why you believe what you believe and whether you have grounds for believing it. At a time when almost twice as many freshmen think it is either “very important” or “essential” to be “very well off financially” as to “develop a meaningful philosophy of life,” it is more than ever incumbent upon the university to lift its eyes from capital campaigns and get on about getting students to consider the world.

That said, truly the traumatized, especially victims of sexual violence whose traumas can be reactivated by what they read, see, and hear, are entitled to some kind of alert. What exactly should be said to such people, by whom, and when, is beyond my ken. But why the high tide of panic? Is it truly the case that, in the spirit of what Robin Morgan once wrote about pornography, “Ovid is the theory, rape is the practice”? The reaction is so wildly disproportionate to any actual harms, it’s overdue to ask what’s going on.

And on this score, it’s hard to resist the thought that overwrought charges against the trigger-happy curriculum are outgrowths of fragility, or perceptions of fragility, or of fears of fragility running amok. When students are held, or hold themselves, to be just minutes away from psychic disaster, is it because they know “real” fragility is sweeping across the land? Or has there arisen a new generational norm of fragility, against which fortifications are needed? Whatever the case, angst about fragility cuts across political lines and crosses campus borders. Shall we therefore stop talking about rape, lynching, death camps? Shall we stop reading the annals of civilization, which are, among other things, annals of slaughter? I was talking the other day to a Columbia sophomore, Tony Qian, who put the point pithily: “If you’re going to live outside Plato’s cave, you’ve got to be brave.” What ever happened to, “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make ye free”? Not comfortable—free.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

How to meditate – lights out – fall, hands a-clasped, into instantaneous ecstasy like a shot of heroin or morphine, the gland inside of my brain discharging the good glad fluid (Holy Fluid) as I hap-down and hold all my body parts down to a deadstop trance – Healing all my sicknesses – erasing all – not even the shred of a "I-hope-you" or a Loony Balloon left in it, but the mind blank, serene, thoughtless. When a thought comes a-springing from afar with its held-forth figure of image, you spoof it out, you spuff it out, you fake it, and it fades, and thought never comes – and with joy you realize for the first time "Thinking's just like not thinking – So I don't have to think any more"

-  The Portable Jack Kerouac by Jack Kerouac

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Wisdom Of The Week

Spectrum: What can a Deep Learning system do that other machine learning systems can’t do?
LeCun: That may be a better question. Previous systems, which I guess we could call “shallow learning systems,” were limited in the complexity of the functions they could compute. So if you want a shallow learning algorithm like a “linear classifier” to recognize images, you will need to feed it with a suitable “vector of features” extracted from the image. But designing a feature extractor “by hand” is very difficult and time consuming.
An alternative is to use a more flexible classifier, such as a “support vector machine” or a two-layer neural network fed directly with the pixels of the image. The problem is that it’s not going to be able to recognize objects to any degree of accuracy, unless you make it so gigantically big that it becomes impractical.

: It doesn’t sound like a very easy explanation. And that’s why reporters trying to describe Deep Learning end up saying

LeCun: …that it’s like the brain.


How much more about machine learning in general remains to be discovered?

LeCun: A lot. The type of learning that we use in actual Deep Learning systems is very restricted. What works in practice in Deep Learning is “supervised” learning. You show a picture to the system, and you tell it it’s a car, and it adjusts its parameters to say “car” next time around. Then you show it a chair. Then a person. And after a few million examples, and after several days or weeks of computing time, depending on the size of the system, it figures it out.
Now, humans and animals don’t learn this way. You’re not told the name of every object you look at when you’re a baby. And yet the notion of objects, the notion that the world is three-dimensional, the notion that when I put an object behind another one, the object is still there—you actually learn those. You’re not born with these concepts; you learn them. We call that type of learning “unsupervised” learning.
A lot of us involved in the resurgence of Deep Learning in the mid-2000s, including Geoff Hinton, Yoshua Bengio, and myself—the so-called “Deep Learning conspiracy”—as well as Andrew Ng, started with the idea of using unsupervised learning more than supervised learning. Unsupervised learning could help “pre-train” very deep networks. We had quite a bit of success with this, but in the end, what ended up actually working in practice was good old supervised learning, but combined with convolutional nets, which we had over 20 years ago.
But from a research point of view, what we’ve been interested in is how to do unsupervised learning properly. We now have unsupervised techniques that actually work. The problem is that you can beat them by just collecting more data, and then using supervised learning. This is why in industry, the applications of Deep Learning are currently all supervised. But it won’t be that way in the future.
The bottom line is that the brain is much better than our model at doing unsupervised learning. That means that our artificial learning systems are missing some very basic principles of biological learning.

- Interview with Facebook AI Director Yann LeCun

Quote of the Day

Spending time with math people is a lot of fun. As a result of the play, I've had semi-drunken dinners with mathematicians all over the country. I recommend the experience.

- David Auburn, Proof: A Play

Happy Pi Day !!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Quote of the Day

Raise your quality standards as high as you can live with, avoid wasting your time on routine problems, and always try to work as closely as possible at the boundary of your abilities. Do this, because it is the only way of discovering how that boundary should be moved forward.

- Edsger W. Dijkstra

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Quote of the Day

Indeed, much of the rest of his book is devoted to the educators, scientists, entrepreneurs, and venture capitalists who are developing new ways to provide learning that make much more sense for many more students. “You don’t need libraries and research infrastructure and football teams and this insane race for status,” he says. “If you only have to pay for the things that you actually need, education doesn’t cost $60,000 a year.”

- Review of The End of College: Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere by Kevin Carey

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Quote of the Day

I mean, if 10 years from now, when you are doing something quick and dirty, you suddenly visualize that I am looking over your shoulders and say to yourself "Dijkstra would not have liked this", well, that would be enough immortality for me.

- Edsger W. Dijkstra

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Thank You Sebastian Thrun !!

The Georgia Institute of Technology is pleased to welcome President Barack Obama on Tuesday, March 10

Meanwhile, we're working to hold down the cost of a college education. So we're partnering with schools like Georgia Tech on innovative ways to increase value -– like your online master's program in computer science -- (applause) -- which costs just a fraction of the price of an in-classroom program.

- Full text here

Thank you Sebastian for making this dream come true.

Quote of the Day

Monday, March 9, 2015

An Old Review

John Gray's review of one my all time favorite books; The Philosopher and the Wolf: Lessons from the Wild on Love, Death and Happiness by Mark Rowlands:

The idea that when humans are at their worst they behave like wolves has been around a long time. Hobbes used the Latin tag homo homini lupus - man is a wolf to man - to illustrate his belief that unless they are restrained by government, people prey upon one another ruthlessly, while descriptions of rapacious or amoral behaviour as wolfish can be found throughout literature. The notion that evil is the expression of bestial instincts is deeply ingrained, and for the average philosopher as for the average person there is nothing more bestial than the wolf. More generally, a belief in the innate superiority of humans over other animals is part of the Western tradition. Christians tell us that only humans have souls, and though they speak in a different language secular thinkers mostly believe much the same. There are innumerable secular rationalists who, while congratulating themselves on their scepticism, never doubt that the universe is improved by the presence in it of humans like themselves.

The Philosopher and the Wolf is a powerfully subversive critique of the unexamined assumptions that shape the way most philosophers - along with most people - think about animals and themselves. When Rowlands bought a wolf cub for $500, and lived with it for eleven years, he ended up writing: 'Much of what I learned, about how to live and how to conduct myself, I learned during those eleven years. Much of what I know about life and its meaning I learned from him. What it is to be human: I learned this from a wolf.' A part of Rowlands's life with Brenin was sheer delight: 'The wolf is art of the highest form and you cannot be in its presence without this lifting your spirits.' Beyond its beauty, though, the wolf taught the philosopher something about the meaning of happiness. Humans tend to think of their lives as progressing towards some kind of eventual fulfilment; when this is not forthcoming they seek satisfaction or distraction in anything that is new or different. This human search for happiness is 'regressive and futile', for each valuable moment slips away in the pursuit of others and they are all swallowed up by death. In contrast, living without the sense of time as a line pointing to an end-point, wolves find happiness in the repetition of fulfilling moments, each complete and self-contained. As a result, as Rowlands shows in a moving account of his last year with Brenin, they can flourish in the face of painful illness and encroaching death.

Quote of the Day

The romantic contrast between modern industry that “destroys nature” and our ancestors who “lived in harmony with nature” is groundless. Long before the Industrial Revolution, Homo sapiens held the record among all organisms for driving the most plant and animal species to their extinctions. We have the dubious distinction of being the deadliest species in the annals of life.

- Yuval Noah Harari, From Animals into Gods: A Brief History of Humankind

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Is Most of Our DNA Garbage?

Junk DNA’s recognition was part of a bigger trend in biology at the time. A number of scientists were questioning the assumption that biological systems are invariably “well designed” by evolution. In a 1979 paper in The Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin, both of Harvard, groused that too many scientists indulged in breezy storytelling to explain every trait, from antlers to jealousy, as an adaptation honed by natural selection for some essential function. Gould and Lewontin refer to this habit as the Panglossian paradigm, a reference to Voltaire’s “Candide,” in which the foolish Professor Pangloss keeps insisting, in the face of death and disaster, that we live in “the best of all possible worlds.” Gould and Lewontin did not deny that natural selection was a powerful force, but they stressed that it was not the only explanation for why species are the way they are. Male nipples are not adaptations, for example; they’re just along for the ride.

Gould and Lewontin called instead for a broader vision of evolution, with room for other forces, for flukes and historical contingencies, for processes unfolding at different levels of life — what Gould often called “pluralism.” At the time, geneticists were getting their first glimpses of the molecular secrets of the human genome, and Gould and Lewontin saw more evidence for pluralism and against the Panglosses. Any two people may have millions of differences in their genomes. Most of those differences aren’t a result of natural selection’s guiding force; they just arise through random mutations, without any effect for good or ill.

When Crick and others began to argue for junk DNA, they were guided by a similar vision of nature as slipshod. Just as male nipples are a useless vestige of evolution, so, in their theory, is a majority of our genome. Far from the height of machine-like perfection, the genome is largely a palimpsest of worthless instructions, a den of harmless parasites. Crick and his colleagues argued that transposable elements were common in our genome not because they did something essential for us, but because they could exploit us for their own replication. Gould delighted at this good intellectual company, arguing that transposable elements behaved like miniature organisms, evolving to become better at adding new copies to their host genomes. Our genomes were their ocean, their savanna. “They are merely playing Darwin’s game, but at the ‘wrong level,’ ” Gould wrote in 1981.

Soon after Gould wrote those words, scientists set out to decipher the precise sequence of the entire human genome. It wasn’t until 2001, shortly before Gould’s death, that they published their first draft. They identified thousands of segments that had the hallmarks of dead genes. They found transposable elements by the millions. The Human Genome Project team declared that our DNA consisted of isolated oases of protein-coding genes surrounded by “vast expanses of unpopulated desert where only noncoding ‘junk’ DNA can be found.” Junk DNA had started out as a theoretical argument, but now the messiness of our evolution was laid bare for all to see.

- Carl Zimmer

Quote of the Day

Evolution has made Homo sapiens, like other social mammals, a xenophobic creature. Sapiens instinctively divide humanity into two parts, ‘we’ and ‘they’.

- Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Wisdom Of The Week

I have never read Ten Simple Rules for Lifelong Learning, According to Hamming until this week!! Excellent insights, should be treasured for life.

Quote of the Day

One kid said to me, “See that bird? What kind of bird is that?” I said, “I haven’t the slightest idea what kind of a bird it is.” He says, “It’s a brown-throated thrush (or something). Your father doesn’t teach you anything!” But it was the opposite. My father had taught me, looking at a bird, he says, “Do you know what that bird is? It’s a brown-throated thrush. But in Portuguese, it’s a Bom da Peida; in Italian, a Chutto Lapittida." He says, "In Chinese, it’s a Chung-long-tah, and in Japanese, it’s a Katano Tekeda, et cetera." He says, "Now you know all the languages you want to know what the name of that bird is, and when when you’re finished with all that," he says, "you’ll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird. You’ll only know about humans in different places, and what they call the bird. Well," he says, "let’s look at the bird and what it’s doing.

- Richard Feynman

Friday, March 6, 2015

Fierce Wolf-Dogs May Have Given Homo Sapiens An Evolutionary Advantage :-) !!

Brilliant review of the new book The Invaders: How Humans and Their Dogs Drove Neanderthals to Extinction by Pat Shipman (confirmation bias sounds so sweet but yet the white sclera theory is something I experience everyday and it's true):

And if modern humans and wolves sound formidable individually, imagine how much more formidable they’d be if they worked together. That’s the heart of Shipman’s hypothesis: that Homo sapiens, roughly ten thousand years after arriving in Eurasia, stumbled onto a crucial adaptation that had eluded all other apex predators before them: making an alliance with another apex predator. Somehow, modern humans forged a symbiotic relationship with wolves that quickly led to a kind of wolf-dog that was no longer entirely wild. Homo sapiens had domesticated the competition.

Shipman theorizes that it was a feat Neanderthals couldn’t match. “Whatever abilities modern humans used to capture and apparently domesticate wolves into wolf-dogs,” she writes, “were either unknown to Neanderthals or beyond their capabilities.” She even offers an intriguing possibility for what Homo sapiens‘ x-factor might have been: the whites of their eyes! The idea being that the white sclera surrounding the modern human iris greatly facilitates gaze-directed silent hunting – an obvious advantage in tracking prey – and that it’s something certain kind of canids share to a greater degree than others (hence the centrality of bright-eyed wolf to the story rather than, say, omnipresent but black-eyed bush dog). Thus the tendency of modern dog-owners to stare meaningfully into their dogs’ upturned faces might be vital in explaining how either the dog-owner or the dog is here at all.

Modern humans, Shipman contends, in forming this kind of “unprecedented alliance with another species … created for ourselves an ability to borrow the traits of other species and use them to enhance our own survival in almost every habitat on the planet.” Wolves instinctively understood exactly the kind of hierarchical social structure humans already had, which made it that much easier for Homo sapiens to begin domesticating wolf-dogs and using them in ways present-day hunters will recognize: a pack of canines can detect prey long before humans can, and they can chase that prey farther and longer than humans can, and, crucially, they can keep that prey at bay and stationary until humans can arrive with their superior numbers and projectile weapons. The wolf-dogs would have realized in short order that in exchange for their instinctive distrust of hominins the arrangement would garner them more reliable kills. And the humans would have seen that the wolf-dogs were helping to secure more meat than they’d provide if they themselves were simply slaughtered. And so the 35,000-year-old partnership between humans and dogs began – in multiple genocides.

Quote of the Day

There’s two kinds of people in this world. There’s hammers. And there’s nails. You decide which one you want to be.

- Will Smith, Focus - The Movie

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Death Is Optional

Now, what we're talking about today is not that computers will be like humans. I think that many of these science fiction scenarios, that computers will be like humans, are wrong. Computers are very, very, very far from being like humans, especially when it comes to consciousness. The problem is different, that the system, the military and economic and political system doesn't really need consciousness.


Yes, the social side is the more important and more difficult one. I don't have a solution, and the biggest question maybe in economics and politics of the coming decades will be what to do with all these useless people. I don't think we have an economic model for that. My best guess, which is just a guess, is that food will not be a problem. With that kind of technology, you will be able to produce food to feed everybody. The problem is more boredom, and what to do with people, and how will they find some sense of meaning in life when they are basically meaningless, worthless


My best guess at present is a combination of drugs and computer games as a solution for most ... it's already happening. Under different titles, different headings, you see more and more people spending more and more time, or solving their inner problems with drugs and computer games, both legal drugs and illegal drugs. But this is just a wild guess..

And I don't know, maybe it's the future, maybe it isn't, but for me, the amazing thing is that you'd have thought, given the biological background of humankind, that this is impossible, yet we see that it is possible. Apparently, Homo Sapiens is even more malleable than we tend to think..


And looking from the perspective of 2015, I don't think we now have the knowledge to solve the social problems of 2050, or the problems that will emerge as a result of all these new developments. We should be looking for new knowledge and new solutions, and starting with the realization that in all probability, nothing that exists at present offers a solution to these problems.

Brilliant Edge conversation with Daniel Kahneman and  Yuval Noah Harari author ofSapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Quote of the Day

How many meetings have you attended where everyone seemed to agree at the end about what actions would be taken but nothing much actually happened as a result?  These are the meetings where there’s no robust debate and therefore nobody states their misgivings.  Instead, they simply let the project they didn’t like die a quiet death over time…

- Ram Charan, Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Quote of the Day

I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment, while I was hoeing in a village garden, and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance that I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn.

- Henry David Thoreau

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Early Retirement Movement

The ERE people have basically shown that a large portion of Americans should have no problem being ready for retirement. We can all think of obvious exceptions--things happen. But MMM has shown that a 30-year working life should be plenty of time to accumulate a lot of savings, even on below-median incomes. ERE is the solution to the retirement crisis, the student loan crisis, and probably a bunch of other crises--at least at the individual level. It's the Garett Jones approach to inequality:

So let's start training ourselves and our children to delay gratification, to forego that great sound system on the new car, to eat at home a little more often.

This approach might not be of much help to policymakers, but it's a pretty good solution at the individual level. It might prevent some of this sort of thing.


A popular rebuttal to the ERE arguments is something like this: That's fine for you, but if everyone did it, the economy would collapse since nobody is buying anything. One of the founders of the movement (he goes by Jacob) has a note in response:

It is important to realize that a consumer economy in which people go to work in order to buy stuff is not the only form of economy. It is just the current one. 

Money can also be spent on productive assets, art, preserving nature, space exploration, eliminating hunger, maybe even eliminating war. It’s just that we've collectively chosen to spend it on cell phone upgrades, furniture replacements, fashionable vehicles, shoe collections, throwaway electronics, and so on.

I don't have a problem with the ERE people responding to the consumption question in this way. There is no economic law saying that two thirds of output must be spent on consumption (though some of the secular stagnationists seem to agree with the ERE critics...). But they're ignoring other important channels. ERE isn't just about less consumption; it's about less labor. Labor is a production input! Less labor means capital is less productive in the short run; in the long run, this means less capital as well.


ERE works great in partial equilibrium. Mr. Money Mustache is very enthusiastic about how technology and general wealth have made his lifestyle possible. But if everyone did it, who would build the gadgets? Who would build and operate the machines that build the gadgets? Who would work for the companies in which MMM owns stock? The key point is this: the ERE world isn't just about people saving more. It's about people working less, and that's what kills it.

ERE works if we're willing to accept lower aggregate output than the counterfactual. I don't get the impression that the ERE people accept that. The robots can make it possible. Until then, it's not in the feasible set.

But that doesn't matter! Because not everyone is trying to do it. You and I can still do it, or at least get as close to it as we want.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Machine learning is the new wave of investing for the next 20 years and the smart players are focusing on it,

Bridgewater Is Said to Start Artificial-Intelligence Team

Monday, March 2, 2015

When a Man Loves a Pigeon - Nikola Tesla & a White Pigeon

When I come across these amazing bonds which great men seamlessly surpass the species boundaries; needless to say, I smile and this idiot thinks of his bond with Max :-):

Is it ironic or apt that a man who had dedicated much of his life to the future of wireless communication would fall for the ancient, living technology of a carrier pigeon? And is it ironic or apt that a man whose final years as an inventor were dedicated to a fearful direct-energy “teleforce” weapon (dubbed the “death ray” by the press) fell in love with the key symbol for peace?

We cannot know what thoughts or emotions were coiled inside Tesla’s mind and heart as he feared for the life of his nameless, winged mistress, and then mourned her passing as he would a lover. But we can discern, and appreciate, the creaturely affection that he experienced, and ultimately spoke of matter-of-factly, once the race for absolute human technical mastery had been assumed by others. For the man who invented the rotating magnetic field, “animal attraction” or “animal magnetism” was not simply a figure of speech, but an everyday experience and personal responsibility, and one that did not stop at the border between species. As such, this patron saint of the cybernetic triangle—one linking human, animal, and machine—sends us a message from the age of high industry and scientific discovery concerning love itself as the invisible but overwhelming alternating current that animates existence, and can sometimes be explicitly shared among creatures.

It might seem that this nameless bird was not in a position to reciprocate Tesla’s affections. And yet who could speak for this pigeon of pure white, with light gray tips on her wings? Who could say what she “felt” for the tall, melancholy, strangely dressed creature who fed, nursed, and caressed her? As with the love between two humans, or between Balthus and his cat Mitsou, or a human and an operating system like Samantha in the 2013 film Her, fully symmetrical affection is not the criterion by which we can determine whether love is in effect. We need not invoke the transmigration of souls to account for the connection or recognition that occurred. Nothing mystical need have taken place; no modern Ovid is necessary to account for the romantic sacrilege. Finitude is what all creatures share. No matter how carefully philosophers try to build a semantic or ontological wall between ourselves and other animals, we all perish. We all die. Humans may anticipate their end with more conscious and unconscious dread than do our fellow animals, but we need only see the survival instinct in action to appreciate that all creatures cling to life with furious intensity when the spark of their inexplicable existence is threatened.

Love is the name we give to this furious intensity when we direct it outward, beyond the survival of the self, to the compassionate caretaking of another pulse, pounding fragile and finite, under another skin.

Quote of the Day

One of the biggest problems with the world today is that we have large groups of people who will accept whatever they hear on the grapevine, just because it suits their worldview—not because it is actually true or because they have evidence to support it. The really striking thing is that it would not take much effort to establish validity in most of these cases… but people prefer reassurance to research.

- Neil deGrasse Tyson

Sunday, March 1, 2015

A Dog's World, in Shadow

- More Here

Quote of the Day

If someone is able to show me that what I think or do is not right, I will happily change, for I seek the truth, by which no one was ever truly harmed. It is the person who continues in his self-deception and ignorance who is harmed.

- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations