30 June 2012

Michael Specter: The danger of science denial

Specter has a very hard agenda that drives regarding the acceptance of science in our lives. Namely, he advocates that we be more informed before we dismiss science in favor for “organics.” Specter is clear to state that we should always have a healthy questioning of science, that is, that we should not accept everything science gives us. As part of this line of thinking, he suggests that we need to better the difference between correlation and causation.

Michael Specter: The danger of science denial (TED)

28 June 2012

Boiling Down

I was sitting in a meeting where we were discussing some of the finer points of a concept. Toward the end of the discussion, I raised my hand and noted that while we had discussed the benefits of the process, namely that it enables us to do "things" (the aggressive and ambiguous usage of the term "things" is an issue for another time) we had missed discussing how to do the actual process. While I had some vague idea on how to use the concepts discussed, I thought I, as well as the group in general, would benefit from a discussion of the mechanics of the process.

It was interesting to me that the following comments started with words like "basically," "in essence," "mostly" and "it just happens." (I may have been a bit rude in my retort, "so I do these things and it just magically happens," to which I was met with blank stares and a humbled, shy 'yes.') I quickly realized that while each of the commenters seemed to understand the importance of the concepts discussed, they had little idea on how to achieve them. Perhaps more interesting was that they preferred to perform poor reductions rather than to actually understanding how to implement the concepts.

We love to boil things down. We love to simplify and reduce. The problem is that when we artificially reduce things we lose a great deal of their power and effectiveness. In this artificial process, we remove pertinent content that would otherwise be valuable when in reality, we should focus on working through the problem until the simple and beautiful solution presents itself. This process should be a natural out cropping or development of the exploratory process, not a distinct or purposeful initiative to reduce the content. In other words, simplification should be a result of thoroughly understanding a topic. Instead of pursuing simplification, simplification should be more of a function of discovery or realization. Simplification that is discovered retains most, if not all, of the important information. They also contain the logic needed to address the broader application of the concept. In this way, we can more easily communicate the idea in its simplest, most beautiful form.

26 June 2012

Brian Greene: The universe on a string

It is not often that someone takes the heady concepts of deep science and brings it down to a level that the rest of us can understand. Greene takes the ever high concept of string theory and delivers it in a way that is easier to understand along with some updates on current scientific pursuits to proof the theory.

Brian Greene: The universe on a string (TED)

21 June 2012

Sir Ken Robinson: Do schools kill creativity?

This is a humorous lecture given with some serious underlying thoughts. Robinson outlines some thoughts about the education system and how it seems to strip child of the creativity. He argues that part of the reason for removing creativity is because sciences are revered as the “most important” subjects in school while the arts, and creative functions in particular, are considered lower forms of education and sometimes even despised. This hierarchy likely comes because schools were designed to make laborers, not thinkers.

Sir Ken Robinson: Do schools kill creativity? (TED)

19 June 2012

J.J. Abrams: The mystery box

Abrams discusses the incredible power and appeal of the unknown. He talks about how people are enthralled by the pursuit of that unknown and how we need some mystery in order enjoy life. He gives some practical advice for content production and some interesting stories from his own life.

J.J. Abrams: The mystery box (TED)

16 June 2012

"Consequential Strangers" by Melinda Blau and Karen L Fingerman, PhD

This book provides interesting insight into the value of interacting casually with people we never intend to get to know. People like the grocery clerk, the bus driver or mailman, each provide us with a sense of emotional stability, physical health and random information that is often valuable and difficult for us to obtain.

Interesting tidbit: future employment is more likely to come from someone who knows someone you know than from someone you know.

15 June 2012

Sir Ken Robinson: Changing Paradigms

Robinson discusses the need to rebuild the underlying paradigm regarding our education system (he is English, but I think his views are still very applicable to USA). He proposes that we need to rebuild the system (a revolution) as opposed to progressing the system (an evolution). This is a call to start fresh.

Sir Ken Robinson - Changing Paradigms (RSA)
Changing Education Paradigms (RSA Animate)
Sir Ken Robinson: Bring on the learning revolution! (TED)

14 June 2012

"Polar Bears: A Complete Guide to Their Biology and Behavior" by Andrew E Derocher and Wayne Lynch

This book was an interesting exploration into the lives of everyone's favorite white bears. It was fairly comprehensive and included some interesting facts about species connected to the polar bear as well (i.e. seals,  birds and other bears).

Interest tidbit: Polar bear fur heat retention, when dry, is about 90% of that of the grizzly bear. Polar bear rely more on their fat storage than their fur coats for warmth.

13 June 2012

Steven Johnson: Where good ideas come from

This lecture could also be called, “How coffee drinking changed the world.” Johnson starts by talking about how the introduction of coffee drinking revolutionized the world of thought. This is mostly because before there was coffee people generally drank alcohol of different sorts because the water was bad.

From coffee he wanders to idea cultivation centers, usually as informal and rowdy as the coffee house was, in which ideas are allowed to form, gather and be exchanged (especially with people with people from other disciplines). He concludes that we should think of innovation coming more from more a ruddy chaos as opposed to clean sterile serenity.

Steven Johnson: Where good ideas come from (TED)
Where Do Good Ideas Come From? (RSA)
Where Good Ideas Come from, Steven Johnson (RSA Animate)

11 June 2012

root.scaleX

I recently completed an image creation project using Adobe Flash and Adobe Air. After spending many hours on the project I was exciting to find that I could get Adobe Air to work with the device’s built-in image saving mechanism (called the “CameraRoll”). That excited quickly disappeared as I found out that images saved with the CameraRoll were really lousy quality, small but lousy. After brainstorming on how to fix the issue, I discovered that if I changed the resolution of the project from 480x320 to 1440x960 (a threefold increase) that the quality issue became a moot point and the image size was still small.

Enter problem two: I adjusted the stage to the new resolution easily enough, but I had to figure out how to increase all the assets threefold. This project has a large number of assets and the thought of scaling them all up was overwhelmingly daunting. Then I realized that I could just scale up the root object and, because everything but the stage is part of root, everything that mattered would also be scaled up.

So, in an effort to share information with the world, if you find that your Adobe Flash project needs to be a higher resolution than when you first built it, and you want to avoid rescaling every element in your project, simply increase the stage size and add in some Action Script to scale up root (root.scaleX = 2; root.scaleY = 2;).

08 June 2012

James Randi's fiery takedown of psychic fraud

Randi (The Amazing) is an entertainer by nature. While he performs some conjuring, as he calls it (he does not attribute his feats to magic), he adamantly argues that each of his, and everyone else’s, tricks have a perfectly natural, scientific explanation (though he does not care to share it).

05 June 2012

Rufus Griscom and Alisa Volkman: It's time to explode 4 taboos of parenting

Though I am not a parent, this lecture still provided some useful insights. Taboo 1 was particularly insightful. The taboo is, “You can’t say you didn’t fall in love with your baby in the first minute [you saw them].” Conventional wisdoms says that you love your child the same from the moment they arrive on forever. Alisa commented (and they have a chart to show) that her love for their first child increased over time. Rufus, on the other hand, noticed that he loved their son less 6 months after birth but started an exponential increase a year after birth, meeting Alisa at about year two and remaining in step with her.

Here is the great insight: as Rufus made the observation of his reduced and then skyrocketed love, Ailsa commented that she thought this might be because there was little Rufus could do to tend for their new son during those first months. Later, as their son got older, Rufus could care for and play with him more, thus increasing his love for him.

Rufus Griscom and Alisa Volkman: It's time to explode 4 taboos of parenting (TED)

04 June 2012

A Time With "Zero"

They told me it would be the same, I did not believe them.

They told me that I would not be able to tell the difference, I could.

They told me that I would love it, I did not.

The only reason why I got the innocent looking "zero" was because they were out of the normal, "some" mouth wash. The bottle claimed it did the same thing but with no alcohol and thus was less intense.

I carefully noted during my first use of the "zero" version that the liquid had a dubious creamy texture to it. It made me seriously question the cleansing power of the purportedly marvelous mouth wash. Could it really be as good while feeling like my mouth was being in a protective coat that "some" did not leave?

Perhaps I told myself, perhaps.

Maybe, the creamy feeling was like a wax coat that protects a car from damage. Maybe, the film would help keep the bad stuff from eating my teeth.

Maybe, but I was still doubtful.

Eventually the store got the old kind of mouth wash back in. I was tempted to buy a new bottle, but what would I do with the partially used old one? Pour it down the drain? I could hardly stand the waste, especially since I was already a quarter of the way into the bottle. "I can manage to finish this off," I told myself.

Thus entered the self deception; no longer were they trying to convince me of anything, instead, I was doing all the convincing. It tasted the same as the other mouth wash. It did its job better than the old mouth wash. I did not need to feel the nasty burn of the alcohol. I was good with the protective coat that felt like a thin film of mucus embalming my mouth every morning. It was all good, every last bit of it.

As I inducted "zero" into my routine, I am sure they thought they had me. I even thought it was a glorious new feeling. I need not fear breathing into a roadside breathalyzer (not that I ever have before). I need not fear suspicious looks when I breathed too hard (no, I would still worry about if my breath smelled good or not). This, the "zero" was the good stuff in life. I had it, I used it and I loved it.

As the days moved on, I noticed that the bottle was slowly being depleted. While I delayed the question as long as I could, I knew I would eventually have to face it: would I replace the "zero" with "zero" or with the real stuff? I did not want to have to decide, not yet. "Zero" was so good to me; I did not want to kick it to the curb.

Though there was still a gentle nagging of disbelieve in the back of my mind: was it really as good? If it was, why did it take so long to get "zero" to market? Is the thicker, creamy "zero" fluid really just as good as the original? Why had they not switched all of their products to it?

Compounding these questions was the fact that I did not care enough to actually research any of them. This is, after all, mouth wash, not investment funds or a substantial enough purchase that mattered enough that I could justify spending some time, any time, doing some research in the differences between "zero" and "some."

I found that the fateful day was approaching quickly: the day I would run out of "zero." Projections indicated that I would run out sometime mid week and thus I would need to buy a new bottle in the next round of shopping lest I be caught empty handed.

The final decision was not as hard as I thought it would be. My heart jumped when I saw the "some," mouth wash sitting casually next to the "zero." My hand grabbed a bottle of "some" without thinking. I knew that I would not be using the new bottle for a few days so I thought little of it. "It is virtually the same thing anyway," I tried to tell myself, "no need to rush into the new bottle."

The projections were correct, it was on a mid week morning that I ran out of "zero." This meant that it was after dinner that evening that the "some" was busted out. I was curious about how I would take the original mouth wash. What if I hated it? What if "zero" really had been all it was supposed to be, and more? What if I missed the protective film?

I gave close attention to the sensations in my mouth as I tilted my head back and poured the liquid in. The difference was immediate: it was as if "some" (the original) was a light, thin fluid flowing in between every bud on my tongue and to every nook and cranny in my mouth. Where "zero" had feared to go, "some" did not care, in fact it cleansed with the fiery vengeance that only alcohol can bring. I had forgotten the burn, but as my eyes welled up with tears I began to remember. As I swished the liquid in my mouth, it felt so incredibly thin and agile, liked it wanted to go everywhere and get to everything, something that "zero" had been too timid to do. Even the burn felt good, not that I am a masochist, but there is a comfort in feeling that something is actually working instead of just hoping it is working, something "zero" made me take on faith.

As I spit the liquid into the sink I noticed that the film left by "zero" was not there. Instead, I was left with a clean, invigorated feeling mouth, as if my very pores had been cleansed. In the end, they were all wrong: "zero" was no substitute for the real thing.

01 June 2012

Pamela Meyer: How to spot a liar

In addition to providing some tips on identifying some of the signs of deceit, Pamela advocates the pursuit of truth. She commented that deception is always a game for two: the one deceiving and the one who accepts the deceit. By changing our attitude from accepting deceit to one who accepts truth we can step away from the biologically programmed game and enjoy a more fulfilling life.

Pamela Meyer: How to spot a liar (TED)