Monday, May 11, 2009

New Yorker has an article on psychological studies about kids and patience

"psychologists have focussed on raw intelligence as the most important variable when it comes to predicting success in life. Mischel argues that intelligence is largely at the mercy of self-control"

New Yorker has an article on psychological studies about kids and patience. How delayed gratification (teaching patience strategies) correlate with success in life for kids. This is probably pretty obvious to most of us. But, now psychological studies are showing how important Patience is (not as willpower, but practices of strategies).

Secret: out of sight, out of mind, and having focusing techniques, and being able to distance from sensory input. Reminds me of Chan meditation and other Buddhist practices. Implications for western education?

(This is a rush, breaking post. Apologies for any mistakes. Clean up with be done later.)


Monday, April 27, 2009

Funding to the Sciences and Technology is off to an amazing start

National Science Foundation (NSF) Logo, reprod...

Wow, I went over the transcript of Obama's talk to the National Academy of Science, and I'm blown away. I'm actually surprised this is not bigger news.

I'm really excited about all the massive increase of money going into the Sciences. The budgets of National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institue of Standards and Technology (NIST), and Department of Energy's Department's Office of Science are all doubled.

American Universities have top notch Scientific research and attract the best talents in the world because of their abilities to provide opportunities for researchers to work. More often than not, all this concentration of talents create a network effect that spawn technologies or companies which indirectly or directly benefit Americans. This ensures that we continue to do that....

In addition, Obama created a new program for energy called Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy, or ARPA-E, based on the DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). As a guy who worked on AI stuff for DARPA, yeah, they fund pretty wacky stuff (like da internet). But, crazy, far-out projects is exactly what the energy sector needs....

So, my hats off to John Holdren, the Science Advisor and Obama's other advisors. They done their country a great service!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Concerning Mathematicians and Soothsayers and Kindred Evildoers

before 547

The study and teaching of the science of geometry are in the public interest, but whosoever practices the damnable art of mathematical divination, shall be put to the stake.

Corpus Juris Civilis, Codex Justinianus,
Book IX, XVIII, 2, 3 (AD circa 650)

Taken from Jan Gullberg's wonderful Mathematics: From the Birth of Numbers.

The Dismal Science was much more dismal back then (tongue firmly planted in cheek).... ;)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Away from Blogging

Been away from blogging for a while.... Have been busy staying up and helping at the Monastery at Ukiah, and involved in a bunch of projects. But I should reboot back up my blog. In the mean time, please enjoy some pictures of lolcats.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


My mom thinks this yam looks like a seal, and excitedly showed us. Now it sits on the kitchen counter as an ornament and proudly surveys all that is cooking.

Monday, May 12, 2008

NPR, "All Things Considered" @ Sichuan Earthquake, updated

The NPR Radio News crew, "All Things Considered" (with familiar names like Robert Siegel, Melissa Block, Andrea Hsu, etc.) were already at Chengdu (near the epicenter) producing a series for next week about the lives of everyday life in mainland China when the 7.9 Richter Earthquake hit. For a first account of the earthquake, check out their Chengdu blog page. Includes an interview interrupt by the earthquake. By looking at earlier entries in the blog, it looked like a very good series that will be pre-empted by disaster.

NPR Chengdu Blog

Update May/16/2008: A heartbreaking story filed by Melissa Block, the audio is even more heartbreaking.

Where to Donate, see network for good for the latest update.
It looks like from New York Times that China is allowing certain foreign relief teams to directly participate in relief operations. The article mentions Tzu Chi, certain Russian, South Korean, and Japanese teams. I'm personally familar with Tzu Chi's volunteer work here in the San Francisco Bay Area, and relief work overseas. Its Taiwanese manufacturing/business/organizational energy transformed to compassionate relief work is pretty impressive (these guys make fleece blankets out of recycled plastic bottles). Good luck to all volunteers of all NGOs out there!

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

A battle of wits between Man and Crow in Japan

Crows can be pretty be smart. Japan is currently wrestling with an burgeoning crow population, who have been increasingly causing blackouts by shorting out transmission wires with their nests.
Still, the crows have proven clever at foiling human efforts to control them. In Kagoshima, they are even trying to outsmart the Crow Patrol. The birds have begun building dummy nests as decoys to draw patrol members away from their real nests.

.... “Japanese react to crows because we fear them,” said Michio Matsuda, a board member of the Wild Bird Society of Japan and author of books on crows. “We are not sure sometimes who is smarter, us or the crows.”
Unfortunately, because of their inability to control the population, cities have been turning to lethal means of control.


Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Hundreds of thousands need help in Burma

Reports are now trickling in about the degree of devastation in Burma caused by a Super Cyclone, Nargis.
With more than 40,000 still missing and as many as 1 million possibly left homeless, the international community was struggling to deliver aid in the military-ruled country, which normally seeks to shut out foreign officials and restricts their access inside the country.
If you want to help, you can donate to World Vision here to provide family survival kits.

Update (May 7, 08):
Other Aid organizations working in Burma (source

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Heidi's concert in Berkeley

I attended Heidi's concert, this Saturday night in Berekeley. It's held as part of the Trinity Chamber Music Series, and was set in a small, intimate church (that could seat maybe 50 people).

She would first explain the piece, the composer, the context, the mood for about a couple of minutes, then play the piece.

Here's the program:
  • Piano Sonata No. 32 - Haydn
  • Prelude, Chorale and Fugue - Franck
  • Arabesques on Strauss' Blue Danube Waltz - Schulz Evler
  • 12 Preludes Book 2 - Debussy
I particularly like her piece on Franck's Prelude, Chorale, Fugue, which was a very intimate and sensitive portrayal of his spiritual journey. There's a part in the piece, which I think was the chorale, which was my favorite.

There was a wonderful after-party that was kindly hosted by Heidi's husband's coworker and his family.

Friday, April 18, 2008

New light sensor technology

Using solar cell technology, Japanese researchers in Rohm and government institutes have prototyped light sensors that are 100x more sensitive than existing tech like CCD or CMOS. Instead they are using CIGS. This totally makes sense, since efforts in solar cells is to maximize the energy collected from the light sources (namely, the Sun).

In theory, if the performance is that much better, you can take multiple signal points and average them out to reduce noise, and it’ll still be way faster than a regular CCD I think.

So, how does this affect me? Digital camera will take sharper pictures under lower light conditions, since the exposure time of each shot will be much shorter. This is help you take better pictures, but also help machine vision for suboptimal light conditions.

And from a Science perspective, microscopes will be able to take images more quickly. This is important for imaging enhancing technique that require high volume of images, deconvolution, and signal averaging, and other tricks to get by optical limitations. link

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

principles of teaching and ZZZZzzzzz

Here's funny and observant blog post from a teacher in a low-income school in Chicago.
The sleeping student body phenomenon would be oft repeated in my literature class for years to come. “The Scarlet Letter”? Snoozers. “The Catcher in the Rye”? Can’t relate zzzzzz! “The Old Man and the Sea”? Counting sheep. “1984″? Like eating ribs before bed. And don’t even get me started on the whole of British literature. Dickens, Shakespeare? Imagine a roomful of students simultaneously entering REM.
I think this post really illustrates the need for seeing and teaching to the conditions of the student. If one can't do that, they are not really reaching the student.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Bjork music video on recursion

I recently saw a wonderful Bjork music video, bachelorette, directed by Michel Gondry, who also directed one of my favorite movies, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The video cleverly illustrates some of elements of recursion that I also see in the Lotus Sutra (there's a recursive loop into the book, the book about being about the spontaneously about the reader). Not bad for a 5 minute music video.

One of the glaring difference is the melancholy unsustainbility of the recursion is the base case. Since each loop is more artificial than the next. The recursion eventually collapses, and that is the base case for popping out of the loop.

Lamentations of the decline of American culture

Harold Bloom, Yale literature professor and cultural critic, laments the state of the Country.
"I am 77 years old and I have never seen this country in such a bad state. It is madness. What we are seeing is the fall of the Roman Empire, only now it is the fall of America, the glory of our Empire. This war is what Parthia was to Rome....

In this kind of climate, nobody is interested in the critical voice. You ask about the role of the intellectual in America today and I have to say: What role? What intellectuals? There is no room for them in the simplified and dumbed down world of today's media. We used to play a role, and there are still a few left, but we are a dying breed. Nobody seems to be interested in nuance anymore."
How do we educate the future generation to be better participants in democracy? Is it possible to roll back the anti-intellectualism brought around in the 60s? Food for thought.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Keeping up with the Jones

A few years ago, Bill Cosby set off a firestorm with a speech excoriating his fellow African-Americans for, among other things, buying $500 sneakers instead of educational toys for their children....

But notably absent from the Cosby affair have been the underlying economic facts. Do blacks actually spend more on consumerist indulgences than whites? And if so, what, exactly, makes black Americans more vulnerable to the allure of these luxury goods?

Economists Kerwin Charles, Erik Hurst, and Nikolai Roussanov have taken up this rather sensitive question in a recent unpublished study, "Conspicuous Consumption and Race."
The geist of the study is homogenity of income level of one's peers is what causes the upward spiral of conspicuous consumption.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

What I'm listening to right now: Feist

Apple recently featured her on their iPod Nano commercials. Feist's music is soulful and happy --kind of oh... feist-y? Sort of like a bubbly Cat Power. Personal favorites include Mushaboom, I feel it all, and 1 2 3 4.
Video for 1 2 3 4

Could the Surge be working?

I opposed the Iraq war from the beginning, but --At least from what I gather this last couple month, there are encouraging evidences that the surge is working* --or at least Al Qaeda is blundering and we're seizing the moment. They all point to evidences that the local Sunnis and Shiites are increasingly alienated by Al-Qaeda and Shiite Militias (This is key to counter-insurgency):
Things are still exceedingly horrible and costly for Iraqis and Americans. (But, I'm even less convinced that immediate American withdrawal would be to the benefit of Iraqi or American interest.) The Onion satire summarize the latest condition pretty well.

* working means a trajectory to reduce Iraqi misery and withdraw troops without causing a tottering State to completely collapse. See Congo for what kind of complete misery Civil War, opportunistic neighbors, and rich resource can cause.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Chinese Font Set in Ubuntu is much prettier than Windows Fonts

I recently installed Ubuntu just for fun on one of my old computers. Later, when I was putting up some pages in Chinese. I was shocked at how much better the Chinese Fonts look in Ubuntu The English looked slightly more polished too, but it's nothing in comparison to the Chinese Fonts. When my brother saw the web page article displaying using the Chinese font set in Ubuntu, he thought they were images. The strange thing is that my sister thinks the Windows font set is cleaner and nicer looking.

Click on the thumbnail for the side by side comparison (Ubuntu is left/Windows is right):

Here's the whole screenshot in Ubuntu:

Here's the whole screenshot in Windows:

This is going to allow me to read Chinese on web browsers. Chinese on a Windows computer was ugly and difficult to read (especially due to my minimal Chinese skills). Maybe I can finally convince my dad to read Chinese articles online too....

Monday, May 22, 2006

New E-reader from a Spin-off of Philip

A new e-reader is coming out called the Irex Iliad. It's suppose to support the PDF, HTML, TXT format, and is touch-sensitive. It would be quite a neat research tool. Just think of all the books I can fit.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Angel Island Hike

Went with some friends on a half-day hike around Angel Island. I had a lot of fun. I enjoyed the weather, which was cool with a mild breeze. I particularly enjoyed the ferry ride across the bay. I saw...

(awesome photo taken by Steve)

Massive domes of white whirling fog completely shrouding San Francisco and parts of the peninsula for pretty much the whole day, giving the landscape a mysterious feel.... Yet the the sun was completely out. And small, white sailing boats cut along the still yet churning green-blue waters. Against the backdrop of cute houses dotting the tree-lined hills of the Tiburon peninsula. Motion admist stillness....

Thursday, October 20, 2005

4 down, 2 to go....

Finished Goblet of Fire. Good stuff... more ominous and perilous from the get-go. The pages really flied for me. Works well as an adventure and mystery novel. And there's a slight shift of the episodic formula to an ongoing story of conflict against the forces of Voldemort. Interesting characters and good villains. Additional backstory and development for all characters. Have to say, Rowling is most adept in the art of story-telling. Can't wait for the next book....

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The coming e-book revolution?

I'm beginning to see an accelerating trend toward a feasible, mega-resolution, inert electronic display. There are still design, technological, and legal hurdles toward mass adaptation. However, I think we will eventually do a good chunk of reading on electronic paper. Why? Much of our paper consumption is used on single-use viewing. The amount of paper we consume during our meetings at work that we probably won't really look at again is fairly sizable. This plus it's a cheap substitution for throw-away prints like newspapers, manuals, legal disclaimers, etc....

There's more boring stuff I can talk about, but the electronic distribution of text holds lots of promise. Just the possible of requesting dynamically user-specified formatted documents (for example getting books in overlapping Chinese and English translations, or Sanskrit, or anyother way you like) over the server is awesome.

I think I'll just post a picture of a latest e-reader prototype from China. And leave a link for more details, here.


Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Indian Pilgrimage: Nepal is no-go

Sailu asked me yesterday if I wanted to go to Nepal. Since we'll already be in the Eastern edge of Uttaranchal State, bordering Nepal, it shouldn't be too far to hop on a bus and cross over the Nepal and Kathmandu, the capital. Nepal isholds the geographic birthplace of the historic Buddha, and supposedly the country is full of interesting expressions of Buddhism.

It's very appealing, except for a full-on raging civil war, pitting Maoist rebels and a Monarchist government. Throw in previous incidents of bus-bombing, tourist detainings, Regicidal patricide, matricide and suicide, and explusions of foreign reporters. All this suggests a later tour date. So, we're most likely not going to Nepal. Oh well....

Going to India

I have been planning an Indian Pilgrimage trip. I'm now definitely going for sure. A college roommate initially invited me to go, and subsequently, we were permitted to stay at a Hindu Ashram for 3 or 4 days. The Swami who we heard it from really likes the place. I will be gone for a little more than 3 weeks from, November 17 to December 12.

Right now, all that we have planned is that we'll fly into Delhi, and hang out at Uttarancahl State (that's the brown state in the North) in the low Himalayans for a while.

I'm not sure what to expect....

3 Down, 3 to go

I finished reading the 3rd Harry Potter book, the Prisoner of Azkaban. It was good, but not as good as the previous books. I think it's because the ending wasn't as statisfactory as the previous two. It's still an enjoyable read. I won't spoil the ending except to say that the plot device Rowling used at the end was majorly deux ex machina. Let's just say, the ending made me feel like I was watching a particularly lazy Star Trek episode.

I still want to watch the movie though.

Under New Management

I decided I'm going to write in a more engaging style. Expect shorter, more immediate commentaries about day to day stuff....

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Emergency Preparedness Primer

The San Francisco Office of Emergency Services has come out with a very good website on how to determine whether or not you are prepared for a big Earthquake or other calamities --Like 3 gallons of drinking water per family member. More likely than not, you are going to realize how unprepared you are. Good info to go over, and a well designed site.... link

+ =
In case of earthquakes and big waves, breakdance.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Shakespeare in Prison

A great story in the New York Times about a Prison Program that uses Shakespeare program to "see something in ourselves that others don't see", to escape the daily grind of prison life, access literature in a way they haven't done before, and to understand and transform their rage, grief, and sadness....


Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Animal laughter

BBC reports that Professor Jaak Panksepp have discovered that animals other than humans exhibit play sounds that resemble human laughs. His findings are published in the journal, Science, and can be found here.

The article even cites Panksepp speculating about higher cognitive function like humour:
"Although no one has investigated the possibility of rat humour, if it exists, it is likely to be heavily laced with slapstick."
I can't tell if he was dead serious or joking with the reporter.


Monday, March 07, 2005

Theory of Mind: Rhesus monkeys

Another articles that advances the Theory of Mind of animals. In this case, Rhesus monkeys. Researchers, Jonathan Flombaum and Dr. Laurie Santos, both from Yale University, found that rhesus monkeys "consider whether a competitor can or cannot see them when trying to steal food". Possessing this working model of another individual's mind is called Theory of Mind, and it's generally considered to be the an unique trait of man.


Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Precepts from a Scientist

Sigma Xi Magazine has an article by Michael Shermer about using Evolutionary Psychology to bootstrap purpose and thus morality into the Evolutionary Psychology framework. It basically works like a greater and greater integration of collected self-interested.

Shermer adavances several princples:

  1. The happiness principle: it is a higher moral principle to always seek happiness with someone else's happiness in mind, and never seek happiness when it leads to someone else's unhappiness.
  2. The liberty principle: it is a higher moral principle to always seek liberty with someone else's liberty in mind, and never seek liberty when it leads to someone else's loss of liberty.
  3. The purpose principle: it is a higher moral principle to pursue purposeful thought or behavior with someone else's purposeful goals in mind, and never pursue a purpose when it leads to someone else's loss of purpose.

He also includes a helpful figure (just like the food pyramid!).


Thursday, February 10, 2005

Scientists prediction of the next paradigm shift

The Guardian interviews various scientists on what they guess the next big paradigm shift in how man perceives himself would be. They range from predictions of Machines becoming smarter than us, changing the genetic makeup of Mankind, discovery of Parallel Universes, understanding of the human mind. Actually, a lot of scientists cite understanding emotions, thoughts, the mind....


Monday, February 07, 2005

Animal Cognition: Birds are smart

Another neat animals-are-smarter-than-we-thought article from the San Francisco Chronicle. A scientific group has recently published its findings on avian cognition using comparative brain structure (with brain imaging, genetic analysis, and neural pathway analysis) and cool behaviorial experiments of birds' problem solving ability. Turns out birds have complex brain structure, can fashion and modify tools (in more sophisticated ways than the chimp), and recognize the difference between impressionist and abstract paintings. Birds are pretty smart animals....
In experiments by Alex Weir and his colleagues at Oxford University, a captive New Caledonian crow named Betty was frustrated when she couldn't use a bit of straight wire -- which she'd never seen before the start of the experiment -- to snag food from a tiny bucket. Pausing for an instant after an unsuccessful try, she took the wire, bent it around the edge of the food tub, and then snagged the bucket handle with the hook she had fashioned herself.
See the movie here.

link to the Chronicle article

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Can studying the human brain revolutionise economics?

The Economist Magazine surveys some of ongoing brain studies that might in the future be incorporate into governmental MacroEconomics calculations to more accurately maximize individual Utility (as in increasing Happiness). Maybe they have some insights that shows increasing happiness is not the same as decreasing misery.

The paradigm expressed is a tug between emotion and reason (or in brain-speak, the limbic system versus the prefrontal lobes)
David Laibson, an economist at Harvard University, thinks that such experiments underscore the big role that expectations play in a person's well-being. Economists have usually assumed that people's well-being, or “utility”, depends on their level of consumption, but it might be that changes in consumption, especially unexpected downward ones, as in these experiments, can be especially unpleasant.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Addiction, Drugs, Homelessness, and Devastation

The San Francisco Chronicle had an incredible article on a set of homeless people. Its unflinching graphic narration of the lives of a group of homeless people is, well.... devastating. About drugs, addiction, sex, and life. I saved it and kept it tuck away in my computer scrapbook directory as a reminder of my blessings and of our shared humanity.

An excerpt:
"Make the pain go away! I want my daddy! Make it stop!" she moaned over and over, writhing along the 12th Street sidewalk, slamming hands against cement and walls as she made her way up to Market Street. She picked at abscesses on her arms and face, the blood mixing with dirt to leave brown smears wherever she rolled. She screamed and drooled.
SFGate link

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Eminent Scientists' Leap of Faith

The New York Times excerpts from The Edge which annually poses big questions to Eminent Scientists. This year's questions is "What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?" The Times grabbed some of the notable interesting ones among the 120 answers. Among your usual scientific professions of atheistic faith are some pretty interesting answers (notably from, of course, a Cognitive Scientist and a Neuroscientist):
Donald Hoffman
Cognitive scientist, University of California, Irvine;
author, "Visual Intelligence"

I believe that consciousness and its contents are all that exists. Space-time, matter and fields never were the fundamental denizens of the universe but have always been, from their beginning, among the humbler contents of consciousness, dependent on it for their very being.

The world of our daily experience - the world of tables, chairs, stars and people, with their attendant shapes, smells, feels and sounds - is a species-specific user interface to a realm far more complex, a realm whose essential character is conscious. It is unlikely that the contents of our interface in any way resemble that realm.

Indeed the usefulness of an interface requires, in general, that they do not. For the point of an interface, such as the Windows interface on a computer, is simplification and ease of use. We click icons because this is quicker and less prone to error than editing megabytes of software or toggling voltages in circuits.

Evolutionary pressures dictate that our species-specific interface, this world of our daily experience, should itself be a radical simplification, selected not for the exhaustive depiction of truth but for the mutable pragmatics of survival.

If this is right, if consciousness is fundamental, then we should not be surprised that, despite centuries of effort by the most brilliant of minds, there is as yet no physicalist theory of consciousness, no theory that explains how mindless matter or energy or fields could be, or cause, conscious experience.
Joseph LeDoux
Neuroscientist, New York University;
author, "The Synaptic Self"

For me, this is an easy question. I believe that animals have feelings and other states of consciousness, but neither I nor anyone else has been able to prove it. We can't even prove that other people are conscious, much less other animals. In the case of other people, though, we at least can have a little confidence since all people have brains with the same basic configurations. But as soon as we turn to other species and start asking questions about feelings and consciousness in general we are in risky territory because the hardware is different.

Because I have reason to think that their feelings might be different than ours, I prefer to study emotional behavior in rats rather than emotional feelings.

There's lots to learn about emotion through rats that can help people with emotional disorders. And there's lots we can learn about feelings from studying humans, especially now that we have powerful function imaging techniques. I'm not a radical behaviorist. I'm just a practical emotionalist.
NYTimes link
Edge link (120 Contributions)

Monday, December 27, 2004

Natural selection acts on the quantum world

From Nature Magazine,
Because, as Zurek says, "the Universe is quantum to the core," this property seems to undermine the notion of an objective reality. In this type of situation, every tourist who gazed at Buckingham Palace would change the arrangement of the building's windows, say, merely by the act of looking, so that subsequent tourists would see something slightly different.

Yet that clearly isn't what happens. This sensitivity to observation at the quantum level (which Albert Einstein famously compared to God constructing the quantum world by throwing dice to decide its state) seems to go away at the everyday, macroscopic level. "God plays dice on a quantum level quite willingly," says Zurek, "but, somehow, when the bets become macroscopic he is more reluctant to gamble." How does that happen?

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Ebook reader - Sony LIBRIE

Being a reading-geek, I have always wanted to read electronic news and books away from my computer. The laptop had the portability -but had the problem of battery, heat, noise, weight, and readbility. I used my Palm handheld, but the screen was too small, plus it still wasn't as good as paper. So, it was with interest that I heard about projects to display print as good as paper. One of the companies E-Ink came out with the resolution almost as good as paper-print, and it only consumed power when new text is redrawn. So, that was about 2 years ago. I have forgotten about the whole deal. But, it seems like Sony has produced a consumer hand-held for the Japanese market April of 2004. Here's one review:
First, the good news. Initial reports of the screen quality left me quite unprepared for the actual thing. The screen is unbelievable. Not quite paper, more like a dull plastic like look. My first impression of the device was that it was not an actual working unit, but a plastic mock up made for stores. With high contrast black text on a reflective background, the screen has a readability rivaling actual paper. The weight of the book is also quite a shock. About the weight of a long paperback, the book will be both easy on the eyes as well as very easy to hold and carry around.
official Sony product link (in Japanese only)

Monday, December 20, 2004

The apocalypse as the locomotive of capitalism

The Economist Magazine does the Apocalypse. A slightly tongue-in-cheek historical and social exploration...
Mr Campion draws parallels between the “scientific” historical materialism of Marx and the religious apocalyptic experience. Thus primitive communism is the Garden of Eden, the emergence of private property and the class system is the fall, the final gasps of capitalism are the last days, the proletariat are the chosen people and the socialist revolution is the second coming and the New Jerusalem.
Science treasures its own apocalypses. The modern environmental movement appears to have borrowed only half of the apocalyptic narrative. There is a Garden of Eden (unspoilt nature), a fall (economic development), the usual moral degeneracy (it's all man's fault) and the pressing sense that the world is enjoying its final days (time is running out: please donate now!). So far, however, the green lobby does not appear to have realised it is missing the standard happy ending. Perhaps, until it does, environmentalism is destined to remain in the political margins. Everyone needs redemption.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Destructive Emotions on Michael Krasny's Forum

I heard this interesting discussion a while back on the scientific research of meditation, mindfulness, and compassion on KQED's radio show, Forum. I'm posting it up for archiving sake. They interview the authors of the book "Destructive Emotions," which chronicles a unique collaboration between western scientists and Buddhist Monks. One of the author wrote the bestseller on Emotion Intelligence, and the other is a researcher in UCSF. And for anybody else interested in teaching, they talk about techniques akin to meditation that help teachers deal with kids. And one of the researchers talked about a broadbased movement, SEL (Social and Emotional Learning) that teach kids empathy skills. link

Quality of Smart versus Intelligent

A Professor of English, Literature, and Culture at Carnegie Mellon wrote for the Chronicle of Higher Education an article called, Here's the Problem With Being So 'Smart.'

Smart still retains its association with novelty, in keeping with its sense of immediacy, such that a smart scholarly project does something new and different to attract our interest among a glut of publications. In fact, "interesting" is a complementary value to smart. One might praise a reading of the cultural history of gardens in the 18th-century novel not as "sound" or "rigorous" but as "interesting" and "smart," because it makes a new and sharp connection. Rigor takes the frame of scientific proof; smart the frame of the market, which mandates interest amid a crowd of competitors. Deeming something smart, to use Kant's framework, is a judgment of taste rather than a judgment of reason. Like most judgments of taste, it is finally a measure of the people who hold it or lack it.
The promise of smart is that it purports to be a way to talk about quality in a sea of quantity. But the problem is that it internalizes the competitive ethos of the university, aiming not for the cultivation of intelligence but for individual success in the academic market. It functions something like the old shibboleth "quality of mind," which claimed to be a pure standard but frequently became a shorthand for membership in the old boys' network. It was the self-confirming taste of those who talked and thought in similar ways. The danger of smart is that it confirms the moves and mannerisms of a new and perhaps equally closed network.

This reminds me of another quote from Huston Smith's book, Forgotten Truths: "Truth, Elie Wiesel has reminded us, is betrayed by its repetition. Insofar as things have been said, there is no need to resay them. Is there anything respecting our thesis that has not been said and needs to be said?"

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Work:In praise of Idleness

*Highly Recommended*
Mark Slouka's humorous article on the value of idleness from the November 2004 issue of Harper's Magazine. Equal part praise of idleness, and critique of modern American society. Ends with a social implication of a society in perpetual busyness.

On the virtues of idleness

Ah, but here's the rub: Idleness is not just a psychological necessity, req­uisite to the construction of a complete human being; it constitutes as well a kind of political space, a space as necessary to the workings of an actual democracy as, say, a free press. How does it do this? By allowing us time to figure out who we are, and what we believe; by allowing us time to consider what is unjust, and what we might do about it. By giving the inner life (in whose precincts we are most ourselves) its due. Which is precisely what makes idle­ness dangerous. All manner of things can grow out of that fallow soil.
And another teaser:
Leisure is permissible, we understand, because it costs money; idleness is not, because it doesn't. Leisure is focused; whatever thinking it requires is absorbed by a certain task: sinking that putt, making that cast, watching that flat-screen TV. Idleness is unconstrained, anarchic. Leisure - particularly if it involves some kind of high-priced technology - is as American as a Fourth of July barbecue. Idleness, on the other hand, has a bad attitude. It doesn't shave; it's not a member of the team; it doesn't play well with others. It thinks too much, as my high school coach used to say. So it has to be ostracized.

Ancient Books Manuscripts

In my recent web surfing, I found the British Library, which is digitalizing their collection of some of ancient books. This includes scans of beautiful Illuminated Manuscripts and other books like Leonardo's Notebook, Lindishfarne Gospel, a Sultan's copy of the Qur'an, and a copy of the Vajra (Diamond) Sutra. Many of the books, include text and audio remarks from the Curator on different sections of the book. And includes a magnifying glass for examining details (though not for the Diamond Sutra), and an interactive way of turning the pages (it's pretty cool). link....

Note: There's a cute addition, History of the England, written by Jane Austen.
Updated Note: There's an enhanced 2.0 version, which could be found here. You do need Windows Vista, Windows XP with .Net 3.0, or Quicksilver. link....

-------------------In addition,-------------------------------------
So, the scan of this Diamond Sutra Scroll was found in a sealed desert cave in Dunhuang, Chinese Central Asia, along with 40,000 other scrolls, hidden and perserved. Alone with carvings, statues, and paintings.

Here is the website that is the hub for Curator, Historians, with an emphasis on digitisation. It's called, The International Dunhuang Project (IDP), which is an interesintg website on its own.

This website seems to be rich with resources and links based on discovery from Dunhuang, but 2 image archive links I suggest is:

For the more limited image archive, but more User-friendly, Tour-like format, with Curator commentary, try: link

For high-res images database, try: link

Brain Research:Brainport

Ms. Schiltz and other patients like her are the beneficiaries of an astonishing new technology that allows one set of sensory information to substitute for another in the brain.

Using novel electronic aids, vision can be represented on the skin, tongue or through the ears. If the sense of touch is gone from one part of the body, it can be routed to an area where touch sensations are intact. Pilots confused by foggy conditions, in which the horizon disappears, can right their aircraft by monitoring sensations on the tongue or trunk. Surgeons can feel on their tongues the tip of a probe inside a patient's body, enabling precise movements.

Animal Cognition:Prairie Dog Language

Another neat animals-are-smarter-than-we-thought article from the Associated Press. Scientist research unveils the complexity of Prairie Dog language. link

Friday, December 10, 2004

The Big Bang, Part XXXXIV?

A Universal Cycle of birth and rebirth occurs every trillion years or so, according to one new cosmology based on String Theory. Big bangs result when two 10-dimensional "branes" collide and expand and then collide again. In this scenario, our universe marks just one phase in this infinite cycle.

A simpler summary:
Scientific American: String Theory revision of the recurring Big Bang

A lengthier, more technical summary:
Scientific American: A Recycled Universe

Mob Psychology

NPR Day to Day interviews the writer of the book, The Wisdom of Crowds, discuss the unwisdom of Crowds. Traits of the crowd: anonymity, lower social penalty and personal responsibility, and self-feeding cascade allows a smaller group of hard-core unruly fans to get everybody to chant racist epitets they normally don't chant.

Okay. You say, I heard it all before. However, conversely, if there's enough people who are known to never participate in violence with the crowd (like women and children), the crowd's behavior will be moderated. [Skip to 3:00 for that part]. link

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

The State of String Theory

From the New York Times, celebrating 20th anniversary of the String Theory. A lengthy article detailing the genesis, success, controversies, and possible implications of String Theory.

A tantalizing quote:
In effect, as Dr. Witten put it, an extra dimension of space can mysteriously appear out of "nothing."

The lesson, he said, may be that time and space are only illusions or approximations, emerging somehow from something more primitive and fundamental about nature, the way protons and neutrons are built of quarks.

The real secret of string theory, he said, will probably not be new symmetries, but rather a novel prescription for constructing space-time.

"It's a new aspect of the theory," Dr. Witten said. "Whether we are getting closer to the deep principle, I don't know."

As he put it in a talk in October, "It's plausible that we will someday understand string theory."

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Camera that Draw Outlines

Technical Review of a camera with 4 flashes to render edge outlines. Pretty cool effect (superior to Photoshop with more dimensionality), and looks like sketches from a skilled cartoonist.


Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Geopolitical Intrigue: West vs. Russia redux

With significant geopolitical stake in the outcome of the disputed Ukrainian election, a bizarre episode lingers. The opposition leader fell ill and his physical appearance was changed dramatically. He claims he was poisoned by the incumbent government. The differences are quite dramatic....

For more bizarre details, check out this AP wire release:
Questions Linger About Yuschenko's Illness

Update: It's official. Doctors have tested for dioxin, and it came back 6000 times normal levels. Doctors are exploring ways to eliminate the dioxins in his body. Since Dioxin settles in body fat, they are talking about liposuction or even using Olestra. However, his film stars looks will not come back. link

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Geopolitical Strategies: Countering Al Qaeda

Operational counters against aims of Al Qaeda posted on Daily Kos:

Most people, most of the time, just want to get along. They'll accept a little inconvenience, ignore a few insults, and smile at people they hate if it allows them to get on with their lives. Most people on both sides of your issue just wish the issue would go away. If you're not careful, those apathetic majorities will get together and craft a compromise. And where's your revolution then?

So your first goal as a violent extremist is not to kill your enemies, but to radicalize the apathetic majority on your side of the issue. If everyone becomes a violent extremist, then you (as one of the early violent extremists) are a leader of consequence. Conversely, if a reasonable compromise is worked out, you are a nuisance.

Nature and you

Although rational in many ways, the idea of considering human beings as something apart from nature is dangerous. Evolution has shaped all organisms, us included. Moreover, we are all shaped to live in particular environments. If animals are kept under unfavourable conditions their health tends to deteriorate, they typically behave oddly and appear discontent. People living in modern societies show similar ailments, as witnessed by the incidence of various maladies, including mental disorders. I believe it is possible to alleviate these problems by creating living conditions closer to those our genes are adapted to; but in order to do so, we need to accept our biological inheritance.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Environmental Self-Test

Rate your environmental footprint. You get brownie points for being Vegetarian, taking public transit, recycling, etc.


Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Locally Based Economic Model in Sri Lanka

Audio article about a local bottom-up ethical economic development in Sri Lanka. NPR : Sri Lanka's Village-Based Alternative to Globalization. link

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Social Consumerism

The reality is that only about 5% of consumers make ethical decisions in their purchasing habits. Innovation by business alone will not be enough to tackle the overwhelming problems of our time, from climate change to global poverty. If we were to wait patiently for business to deliver the goods, we would all be underwater before long.

Deborah Doane
New Economics Foundation
In a world where consumerism is the underlying social and economic force, yet most people orient purchases detached from effects of production, unless it is factored into the price. (Examples: European governments factor in overall cost for using gasoline, as oppose to indirect subsidized gas prices in the US). Here's a Database to check up on your favorite Coporation. Responsible Shopper Database on Companies: link

Map Geek: Traditional Map Overlay on Satellite Photos

Cool interface with Map overlay of satellite photo over London. features Aerial pictures that covers England and also features regular maps for rest of Western Europe. link

On Hatred

From Jacob Holdt's photo essay on the KKK. Insightful writing on hatred, love, abuse, despair, and social status. link

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Parallel Universe

Science American's supplement to the Parallel Universe article.

Scientific Rigor

How to be a Skeptic. How to draw boundaries between science and pseudoscience, Part II. Part I is no longer available. link

The State of Big Bang

From Scientific American:

The big bang is often described as an event that occurred long ago, a great explosion that created the universe. In actuality, the theory says nothing about the moment of creation, which is a job for quantum physics (or metaphysics). It simply states that as far back as we can extrapolate, the cosmos has been expanding, thinning out and cooling down. The big bang is best thought of not as a singular event but as an ongoing process, a gradual molding of order out of chaos. The recent observations have given this picture a coherence it never had before.

From the perspective of life on Earth, cosmic history started with inflation--a celestial reboot that wiped out whatever came before and left the cosmos a featureless place. The universe was without form, and void. Inflation then filled it with an almost completely uniform brew of radiation. The radiation varied from place to place in an utterly random way; mathematically, it was as random as random could be.

Gradually the universe imposed order on itself. The familiar particles of matter, such as electrons and protons, condensed out of the radiation like water droplets in a cloud of steam. Sound waves coursed through the amorphous mix, giving it shape. Matter steadily wrested control of the cosmos away from radiation. Several hundred thousand years after inflation, matter declared final victory and cut itself loose from radiation.

Scientific American: Four Keys to Cosmology. Some additional proofs needed to explain the full out the big bang theory. link

Non-Uniformity, Light Faster in the Past?

Scientific American: Was Light Faster in the Past?
If matter in motion is too slow for light, why not make the speed of light faster and faster into the past? Throwing out heavyweight Einstein and his near constant speed of light is no easy task. Yet that is the burden of the new iconoclasts. Maybe they can make a cosmos with wildly varying speeds of light, and maybe they can keep the gas uniform, but they give no clear reward for so denying our well-tested Einstein on this theorist's journey into the past. Their strongest argument is the very flatness of space: it turns out that a cosmos with a changing speed of light must be a flat one and a uniform one as well, if energy is to be conserved. There is much more to be said about the untested physics of these variable vacuum light speeds. More than one form of theory is out there, to say nothing of the myriad options opened by multiple dimensions.

Before the Beginning of Time

Scientific American: The Myth of the Beginning of Time

Was the big bang really the beginning of time? Or did the universe exist before then? Such a question seemed almost blasphemous only a decade ago. Most cosmologists insisted that it simply made no sense--that to contemplate a time before the big bang was like asking for directions to a place north of the North Pole. But developments in theoretical physics, especially the rise of string theory, have changed their perspective. The pre-bang universe has become the latest frontier of cosmology.

The new willingness to consider what might have happened before the bang is the latest swing of an intellectual pendulum that has rocked back and forth for millennia. In one form or another, the issue of the ultimate beginning has engaged philosophers and theologians in nearly every culture. It is entwined with a grand set of concerns, one famously encapsulated in an 1897 painting by Paul Gauguin: D'ou venons-nous? Que sommes-nous? Ou allons-nous? "Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?" The piece depicts the cycle of birth, life and death--origin, identity and destiny for each individual--and these personal concerns connect directly to cosmic ones. We can trace our lineage back through the generations, back through our animal ancestors, to early forms of life and protolife, to the elements synthesized in the primordial universe, to the amorphous energy deposited in space before that. Does our family tree extend forever backward? Or do its roots terminate? Is the cosmos as impermanent as we are?