Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Bit On Networks

Networks are made of nodes and links. If taking Facebook for example, people are the nodes, and their friendships are the links. Some people have lots of links to other people, some not so much. All together, the number of people who use Facebook is the size of the network, and the connections between them is the density of the network. If every person, on average, has 150 friends, then the network density is 150.

RSA Animate - The Power of Networks - 2012
The TREE of life has become the WEB of life
watch this animated talk
^Manuel Lima, senior UX design lead at Microsoft Bing, explores the power of network visualisation to help navigate our complex modern world.
full talk: RSA

Human brain, internet, and cosmology: Similar laws at work?
November 20, 2012 by Jan Zverina

The structure of the universe and the laws that govern its growth may be more similar than previously thought to the structure and growth of the human brain and other complex networks, such as the Internet or a social network of trust relationships between people, ...

By performing complex supercomputer simulations of the universe and using a variety of other calculations, researchers have now proven that the causal network representing the large-scale structure of space and time in our accelerating universe is a graph that shows remarkable similarity to many complex networks such as the Internet, social, or even biological networks.

"These findings have key implications for both network science and cosmology," noted Krioukov. "We discovered that the large-scale growth dynamics of complex networks and causal networks are asymptotically (at large times) the same, explaining the structural similarity between these networks."

"This is a perfect example of interdisciplinary research combining math, physics, and computer science in totally unexpected ways," said SDSC (San Diego Supercomputer Center) Director Michael Norman. "Who would have guessed that the emergence of our universe's four-dimensional spacetime from the quantum vacuum would have anything to do with the growth of the Internet? Causality is at the heart of both, so perhaps the similarity Krioukov and his collaborators found is to be expected."

^ Network Cosmology
Dmitri Krioukov, et. al.
Scientific Reports 2, Article number: 793
Published 16 November 2012

World’s Subways Converging on Ideal Form
Brandon Keim - May 15, 2012
modified article:

City subway systems converge on a ratio for the number of stations on branch lines to the number in city cores.
Image: Roth et al./JRSI
After decades of urban evolution:

In a May 15 Journal of the Royal Society Interface paper, Barthelemy and NCSR complex systems analyst Camille Roth focused a network analysis lens on city subways...

On the surface, these core-and-branch systems — evident in New York City, Tokyo, London or most any large metropolitan subway — may seem intuitively optimal. But in the absence of top-down central planning, their movement over decades toward a common mathematical space may hint at universal principles of human self-organization.

With equations used to study two-dimensional spatial networks, the class of network to which subways belong, the researchers turned stations and lines to a mathematics of nodes and branches.

Patterns emerged: Roughly half the stations in any subway will be found on its outer branches rather than the core. The distance from a city’s center to its farthest terminus station is twice the diameter of the subway system’s core. This happens again and again.

“Many other shapes could be expected, such as a regular lattice,” said Barthelemy. “What we find surprising is that all these different cities, on different continents, with different histories and geographical constraints, lead finally to the same structure.”

Subway systems seem to gravitate towards these ratios organically, through a combination of planning, expedience, circumstance and socioeconomic fluctuation, say the researchers.

The convergence “is a sign that there are some basic, profound mechanisms that drive the development of urban systems,” said Barthelemy.

^ A long-time limit for world subway networks
Camille Roth, Soong Moon Kang, Michael Batty and Marc Barthelemy
Proceedings of the Royal Society Interface, 15 May 2012

The Network Visualized, Michael Rigley, 2012
Information technology has become a ubiquitous presence. By visualizing the processes that underlie our interactions with this technology we can trace what happens to the information we feed into the network. Beautiful and sinister in equal measure.

Post Script:
The Mathematical Shape of Things to Come
Jennifer Ouellette, Quanta Magazine
October 4, 2013
Scientific data sets are becoming more dynamic, requiring new mathematical techniques on par with the invention of calculus.

Networks Reveal the Connections of Disease
Veronique Greenwood, Quanta, 2015 Jan 29
Enormous databases of medical records have begun to reveal the hidden biological missteps that make us sick.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Artist

Painting, by Alex Grey

People say that good artists are ahead of their time. In fact, it is the people who are behind, seeing life through the lens of culture and the thoughts of others. The artist lives in a world beyond culture, beyond reason, where there is no black and white, and where the foundation upon which we stand is but an illusion, like the third dimension represented in two-dimensional space.

Artists don’t think, in the way that most would consider thought. Instead, they are immersed in a maelstrom of ideas and sensations that make no sense, like a dream, or a babbling baby.


"To understand recursion, you must first understand recursion."

A recursive procedure is special in that (at least) one of its steps calls for a new instance of the very same procedure, like a sourdough recipe calling for some dough left over from the last time the same recipe was made.

"the fourth panel"

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Anatomy of a Joke

Describing Meaning and Information
as a Function of Probability

-what makes a joke funny

“Meaning is when stimulus does not fit expectation.”
–Leonard B. Meyers

The funniness of a joke exists within an antecedent-consequent relationship, where expectedness of the consequent (the punchline) is plotted against both the ambiguity/clarity of the antecedent, and the time delay between the antecedent and the consequent.

The longer one waits to hear the punchline, the more possible punchlines one predicts. The longer one waits, then, the higher the probability that they will already have predicted the punchline, or something similar, rendering the joke less effective.

The more unexpected the punchline, the less the probability that one will guess it beforehand. This distance between what we expect, and what we get is what we might call the funniness of the joke.

Note: One can heighten the tension, or draw contrast by modulating the clarity or ambiguity of the antecedent, but this aspect of the dynamics of meaning will differ in a system of iteration, such as knock-knock jokes, or ‘inside’ jokes (internet memes/macro image series’), where one has “heard this joke before”.

For example:
“What happened when Chuck Norris got stabbed in a dark alley?” [antecedent]
“He punched his assailant in the face.” [consequent, highly probable]
--this is a reasonable outcome; it could have been predicted easily
“The knife bled to death.” [consequent, less probable]
--this is unexpected
--note the difference in effect, however, if one is already familiar with Chuck Norris jokes, as it changes the probability of prediction.

-something music 

IN MUSIC, a system of repetition, the interplay between antecedent and consequent is much more developed, but still derives the intensity of its meaning from the modulation of ambiguity/clarity of the antecedent, expectedness of the consequent, and the time delay between the two. Music can act as a very accessible entrypoint into thinking about information and meaning.

-something information network interaction
Ebon Fisher, Media Rituals, 1990-2000?


Meaning is the difference between expectation and actual.”
(Meyers, p9-10)

“If we want to explain this absence of meaning [caused by the cognitive semiotic] and with it the emergence of a specifically human sense of reality, of time, space, and self, we have to assume that human cognition is based upon a very peculiar system of representation (or ‘pattern matching’) which allows us to process what is seen and heard at the same time, both in terms of stable patterns and of global, concrete and necessarily ‘fuzzy’ patterns. This double processing generates a difference between the stable pattern, which corresponds to what we have called memory, on the one hand, and an instable, always changing pattern corresponding to what one could name the ‘here and now’ or the ‘present’, on the other hand. In a conscious human mind the two patterns never merge completely.”
(Cognitive Semiotics, p122)

Deviation requires meaning, or more specifically, active creation of ‘new’ meaning.”
(Meyers, p9-10)

Aside: Between the passages immediately referenced above, we can begin to see the interplay of the past, the present and the future, and how they work to construct our world. Out of the double-processing of the past and the present, we create the present; and out of the simultaneous processing of all possible futures, we create the future. I would interject here furthermore, for there must be something said about the individual vs. the collective. The individual has the most power over the present, and the least over the future. The collective, though it conditions individual behavior (absolutely, though?) and helps to solidify the past (without any say from an independent self?), is largely more responsible for creating the future. Individuals cancel each other as they move forward, each on their own way. You can create your present, you can modify your past, but you cannot create your future, unless, of course, you are not.


Information is measured by the randomness of the choices possible in a given situation.
[does this read as ‘lack of connections’ between the choices?]

If a situation is highly organized and the possible consequents in the pattern process have a high degree of probability, the information (or entropy) is low.
[can this read as a ‘dense network’?]

If, however, the situation is characterized by a high degree of shuffledness so that the consequents are more of less equi-probably, then information (or entropy) is high.
[what is the relationship between network density and entropy?]

(Meyers, p11)


“Both are looking at the world, and what they look at has not changed. But in some area, they see different things and they see them in different relations to one another. […] The transition between competing paradigms [^expectations] cannot be made one step at a time [via the left brain], but forced by logic and neutral experience. Like the gestalt switch, it must occur all-at-once [the right brain] or not at all.”
(Kuhn, p150), (“all-at-once”: Mass Transference Device, p50, p74)


Music, the Arts and Ideas
Leonard B. Meyers, 1967

Cognitive Semiotics
“Dealing with Difference: From cognition to semiotic cognition”, Barend van Heusden
Issue 4 (Spring 2009), pp. 116–132

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
Thomas S. Kuhn, 1962

Mass Transference Device

A.L. Barabasi, 2010

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Process of Creation

A composite false-color image of fire in space. The bright yellow traces the path of a drop of fuel, shrinking as it burns, producing green Paul Ferkul / NASA

When an artist creates a sketch of a work she intends to implement more fully in another medium, the sketch does much more than function as external memory to remind the artist what she intended. Rather, the sketch enters actively into the cognitive process of artistic creation.

As the artist works the sketch, erasing lines, drawing arrows, rearranging objects and so forth, the external object becomes part of her external mind, not just recording her thoughts, but transforming…

(Joseph Tabbi, Cognitive Fictions, p125)

In Space, Flames Behave in Ways Nobody Thought Possible:
Combustion experiments conducted in zero gravity yield surprising results
Ker Than, Smithsonian magazine, December 2012

Inside-OutsideVia the –membrane-, the cell controls exchange between interior/exterior to its own advantage in order to maintain a high level of internal organization, but in so doing it also requires reciprocation of the exterior – the two coevolve. (p155)
-Lee Smolin, The Life of the Cosmos, 1997, Oxford

Ray Bradbury on the Secret of Life

"How did you predict all this stuff, Ray, how did you predict all these technologies?"
Ray Bradbury
"The secret of life, is being in love
And by being in love, you predict yourself
Whatever you want is whatever you get.
You don't predict things, you make them.
You've gotta be a Zen Buddhist like me.
-audience giggles-
Don't think about things, just do them.
Don't predict them, just make them.

SoundCloud (listen)
Full Audio
Mass Transference Device

Just What You Want to Hear

To be popular with your fellow man, tell him what he wants to hear. He wants to hear about himself. So tell him about himself. But not what you know to be true about him. Oh no! Never tell him the truth. Rather, tell him what he would like to be true about himself.

“Cold Reading: How to Convince Strangers that You Know All About Them”, Ray Hyman, Skeptical Inquirer, Spring/Summer 1977.

found on p98 of Metamagical Themas
Douglas R. Hofstadter, 1985

Friday, November 23, 2012


Laurie Lipton_Illusion-of-Control Tower_2010

Growing up in an era when [graffiti] artists were trying just as hard not to get figured out, as they were trying to get famous, and when the handwritten signature became a document-insertable jpeg, I watched the concept of authentication twitch and struggle to redefine itself in a world of increasingly evaporating identity.

I just finished reading Albert-Laszlo Barabasi’s Bursts. To grossly gloss, it says that humans are painfully predictable. If, for example, you give me access to a couple weeks of reasonable frequent mobile data, I can predict your whereabouts on any given day to an accuracy of at least 80%. Let’s also remember things like the fact that even Target can figure out you’re pregnant before you do. (Not really, but almost.)

One day I got a call from my credit card company:
“You buying some hardhats?”
“Okay, we didn’t think so. We’re gonna open up a fraud claim and send you a new card.”
How did they know that it wasn’t me buying a couple hardhats at home depot?
People are predictable, that’s how.

Finally, this brings me to the recent Wired article,
I wonder then, what does one benefit in offering more personal data in exchange for a more robust, accurate prediction analysis that can be used by authentication services?

Kill the Password: Why a String of Characters Can’t Protect Us Anymore
Mat Honan 11.15.12

Bursts, Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, 2010

How Companies Learn Your Secrets
CHARLES DUHIGG, February 16, 2012


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Truth Has to Fight Constantly for It’s Life

Parquet Deformations_metamagical themas_hofstadter_1985

That an idea has been discovered and printed in a “reputable journal” does not ensure that it will become well known and accepted. In fact, usually it will have to be rephrased and reprinted many different times, often by many different people, before it has any chance of taking hold. (p94)

Metamagical Themas
Douglas R. Hofstadter, 1985

What Makes Bots Bots

artwork: Sakke Soini

A new computer game 'bot' acts just like a real person
27 September 2012, BBC

The test involved computer bots playing humans at Unreal Tournament

A computer "bot" that hunts down and kills opponents in a video game has been judged to display behaviour that is indistinguishable from a human.

UT^2 [a bot] fooled other players and judges that it was human during a game to win the prize.

During the BotPrize competition humans and bots use a special "judgement gun" to shoot opponents that they believe are human.

Simple bots can be programmed to be extremely fast and accurate, but game players don't find these as fun to play against as real opponents, and they are easily distinguished from humans, he added.

That is because these bots act predictably, rarely make mistakes, and when they do make errors they repeat them again and again.

see also:
Twitter Bots Fight It Out to See Who’s the Most Human

Anonymity in the 21st Century

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Reason for Irony

A response to The Stone article: How to Live Without Irony

credit: Leif Parsons

IRONY: “It pre-emptively acknowledges its own failure to accomplish anything meaningful. No attack can be set against it, as it has already conquered itself [do I even need to cite Anonymous here]. The ironic frame functions as a shield against criticism […] to dodge responsibility…to secretly flee…”
-OR, are we just unconsciously recognizing, finally, the fallacy of causality?

Irony is a defense, “a shield against criticism” but it also a weapon, or rather, a tool. It is what we use to sift through the bullshit. It is what we use to shift the power structures.

Value? From whence, for whom? In the old clothesline paradox, as value recedes, retreats, packs it bags and gets on a plane to Iceland, we use irony to make sure it doesn’t come back home. Back home to the banks and the corporations.

Irony is a shield, not just for us the users, but for the value itself, the lambswool that hides the wolf, but, in this case, not to penetrate and attack, instead to escape, like Iranian-crisis hostages.

It is not us who are hiding. We are hiding something, a game of hot-potato, or hide-and-seek, or just keep-away, just long enough for Big Everything and Big Everyone to lose track, or lose interest.

MEANING: “Moving away from the ironic involves saying what you mean, meaning what you say and considering seriousness and forthrightness as expressive possibilities, despite the inherent risks.” Sounds as if being absurd were a cop-out, yet the author says just prior, that being a hipster entails processing “several stages of self-scrutiny”.

In a world where it is almost possible to predict the future, (Barabasi’s Bursts, Sandy and the success of meteorological prediction, election forecasting, speculative futures, financial engineering, predictive analysis, etc…), how else can you avoid being a foregone conclusion unless you completely make no sense.

Absurdity is the antidote to the probabilistic world. Interestingly, Hipsters ^here are referred to as Harlequins; John Twelve Hawks, in his 2005 future-fiction, also writes of  Harlequins’ using random number generators to help them make decisions randomly, thus subverting the Vast Machine (or as PKD called it, the Vast Active Living Information System).

If Big Data has given us anything thus far, it is “The Search for Meaning”, and if culture has offered any comfort, any insulation, as is its purpose, it is giving us new ways of meaning, new ways of being.

How do you make meaning out of absurdity? That, of course, is the new frontier. Artists, in all regards, are  always one step ahead; Hipsters, with their slieght-of-hand tautologies, giving us a glimpse of the future, ghettouflaged in junk data – an encrypted program for a ‘way of living’: a generation not-yet has the cipher.

partially unrelated image

As my own page for a few years now has read in its subtitle: ‘Clarification, Contradiction, and Confusion’, I somehow seemed to have fallen victim to this pre-emptive defense. Or have I?

I gave feliz navidad christmas cards to my family for years (we don’t speak Spanish). It is not because I fear dislike, however, it is because I’ve tried to give away all my fucks, like an anti-Scrooge McDuck.

If I do not speak in the language of the world around me, how can I live? And yet, as such, I write, for cultural critics of the future to point out with effortless accuracy, the Greta Garbo Lips of my portraits.
How to Live Without Irony

Bursts: Can Human Behavior Be Predicted And Controlled?
Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, 2010

“Sandy shows storm-prediction progress”, Business of Federal Technology
Frank Konkel, The, Nov 05, 2012

[Argo, the 2012 film]

Stevens Institute, “Financial Engineering”

The Traveler, John Twelve Hawks, 2005

VALIS, Philip K. Dick, 1981

Greta Garbo Lips and the Van Meegeren effect, in:
The Forger’s Art, Denis Dutton, ed., 1983


U.S. Cities Relying on Precog Software to Predict Murder
KIM ZETTER 01.10.13
The software parses about two dozen variables, including criminal record and geographic location. The type of crime and the age at which it was committed, however, turned out to be two of the most predictive variables.
“People assume that if someone murdered then they will murder in the future,” Berk told the news outlet. “But what really matters is what that person did as a young individual. If they committed armed robbery at age 14 that’s a good predictor. If they committed the same crime at age 30, that doesn’t predict very much.”
-Richard Berk, criminologist at the University of Pennsylvania who developed the algorithm

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Ramachandran vs. The Mirrorbox

V.S. Ramachandran on Culture:

3-400,000 years ago the brain was already at its present size. 75,000 years ago humans took a great leap forward, discovering a vast number of new skills

The emergence of a sophisticated mirror neuron system at this time allowed for emulation of another’s actions

Accidental discoveries, instead of dying out, spread rapidly horizontally across the populations or are transmitted vertically down the generations.

In this way, Culture is Lamarckian – it takes humans five minutes to learn what a species subject to Darwinian evolution takes 100,000 years to learn.

Vilayanur Ramachandran
Lecture at TEDIndia 2009, Filmed Nov 2009, Posted Jan 2010

 The Mirror Box:
There is increasing evidence that an optical apparatus called the Mirrorbox contributes to the breakdown of discrete identity. Through an immersive helmet design and specially sequenced lighting program, the Mirrorbox helps collapse personal boundary thresholds allowing participants to enter into a state of temporary shared identity with one another.

Imaginary Foundation, Aug2012

Megan Daalder is an instructor at UCLA’s Art/Science Nanolab. Nanolab is a two-week program for high school students at the intersection of art and science. Daalder’s video tells the story about how one of her art projects morphed into an investigation into the psychology and neuroscience of empathy.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Programmed By Who

(No Wires) Free Roam above the Mist, Jonathan Zawada

Hod Lipson on Programmable Matter: Shape of Things to Come
OTV Big Ideas Lecture, 2011

"...Breeding robots in a simulated, Darwinian environment..."

Humans don't design them per se.

The designer doesn't get so specific, you just explain what you want and the program/AI/bot/algo/software figures it out.

Only because they feel the strings on their fingers do they say they have done it. It was really someone else.
-Mass Transference Device

Crows Don't Understand Shit

Crows can 'reason' about causes, a recent study
18 September 2012, BBC
If I only had a brain...

Time and again, I can't help but think it is us who are more animal than we think. Even our thinking is a product of evolution. We don't make the decisions; ours is to produce variety. Something else makes the decisions, something else calls the mind rational. Perhaps crows do understand. If so, then, we do not.
clipped article:
Tool-making crows have the ability to "reason", say scientists.

In an experiment, researchers found that crows were more likely to forage when they could attribute changes in their environment to a human presence.

This behaviour may suggest "complex cognition", according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study is the first to suggest that animals have the ability to make reasoned inferences, although scientists added that the phenomenon could be more common among animals than previously thought.

see also:
Joshua Klein: The intelligence of crows
FILMED MAR 2008 • POSTED MAY 2008 • TED2008
Watch him explain how he taught crows to recycle, as well as pickpocket

Dogs understand human perspective, say researchers
Sean Coughlan, 11 February 2013
They found dogs were four times more likely to steal food they had been forbidden, when lights were turned off so humans in the room could not see.

On Memory Non-Neuronal

Brainless slime mould has an external memory
By Ella Davies, BBC Nature
9 October 2012
Slime Mold_Paul Zahl-NG-Getty Images

clipped article:
"The whole organism is made up of bits of pulsating tissue, which are constantly expanding and contracting, using a similar mechanism to our own muscle cells," explained PhD student Christopher Reid.

"Each part changes the speed at which it pulsates according to what it can sense in the environment around it - for example food, light or heat - which are detected by chemical receptors on the cell's surface."

"The pulsating parts are also influenced by the throbbing of their neighbours within the cell, which means that they can communicate with each other, to pass information through the organism about what is happening in the environment outside. The different speeds of contraction directly influence which direction the cell will then move in."

"In essence, the slime mould is memorising where it has been - storing this memory in the external environment and recalling the information when it later touches the slime-coated area.

"For a single-celled organism, it has continually surprised researchers with its abilities, such as solving mazes, anticipating periodic events, and even making irrational decisions like we do," he told BBC Nature.

"It is truly a remarkable creature that is redefining our notions of 'intelligence'."

Slime mold uses an externalized spatial “memory” to navigate in complex environments
Chris R. Reid, Tanya Latty, Audrey Dussutour, and Madeleine Beekman
Behaviour and Genetics of Social Insects Laboratory, School of Biological Sciences, and Centre for Mathematical Biology, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia; and Centre de Recherches sur la Cognition Animale, UMR 5169 Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Université Toulouse III, 31062 Toulouse, France

Edited by John G. Hildebrand, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, and approved September 7, 2012 (received for review June 24, 2012)

Spatial memory enhances an organism’s navigational ability. Memory typically resides within the brain, but what if an organism has no brain? We show that the brainless slime mold Physarum polycephalum constructs a form of spatial memory by avoiding areas it has previously explored. This mechanism allows the slime mold to solve the U-shaped trap problem—a classic test of autonomous navigational ability commonly used in robotics—requiring the slime mold to reach a chemoattractive goal behind a U-shaped barrier. Drawn into the trap, the organism must rely on other methods than gradient-following to escape and reach the goal. Our data show that spatial memory enhances the organism’s ability to navigate in complex environments. We provide a unique demonstration of a spatial memory system in a nonneuronal organism, supporting the theory that an externalized spatial memory may be the functional precursor to the internal memory of higher organisms.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

High-Stakes Testing as the Inverse of Morality

On this day, as

I think a lot about cheating in school, and have very strong opinions about it, usually falling into the category of ‘I don’t care if people cheat, because everyone is cheating at something’. I have been thinking also of things quantum-mechanical in nature, about self-fulfilling prophecy and the like. One day I read the article below. The next day I woke up with a thought in my head that read as such:

High-Stakes Testing is the Inverse of Morality

Most assertions that come from unconsciousness are not befitting of explanation and theoretical underpinning. Once I woke up with the maxim: “The active chemical in Listerine can be found between the lips of two people kissing.” Once else, however: “Bombs don’t scare people; people scare people.” Needless to say, in light of the way things seem to be working around here (i.e. American Politics and its utter disregard for truth in favor of a simply constructed story), I really don’t feel the need to explain why this is true, just that it is. And so, once again, the third time really is the charm, according to the basic tenets of advertising, at least:

High-Stakes Testing is the Inverse of Morality

After all, truth is only a thing that has been repeated many times.

Stuyvesant Students Describe the How and the Why of Cheating
Vivian Yee, September 25, 2012

Newark teachers union approves landmark contract offering merit pay bonuses
Jeanette Rundquist/The Star-Ledger, November 14, 2012

3 Newark charter school officials investigated for cheating breached test security
Jessica Calefati/The Star-Ledger, November 13, 2012

Quantum Pedagogical Theory

Quantum Pedagogical Theory

WE BEGIN with a glimpse at the future of education:

The Global Arbitrage of Online Work
Quentin Hardy, OCTOBER 10, 2012

Recently two of the biggest online staffing companies, oDesk and Elance, have released surveys concerning the companies that hire workers over the Internet to do things like write software, and the mindset of online workers themselves.
 Education alone probably won’t help you get hired. Only 6 percent of the survey respondents rated schooling as a “very important” reason to hire someone. It was the lowest-rated reason to hire someone. Work experience was first, followed by how other people rated the contractor, pay, portfolio of work, references, and scores on skills tests that oDesk offers online.

In the future, having a degree may be helpful, but having a reputation will be even better.

NOW for the real subject at hand:

It’s Not Me, It’s You [aka "conditional stupidity"]
Annie Murphy Paul, October 6, 2012

Experiments show that when people report feeling comfortable with a conversational partner, they are judged by those partners and by observers as actually being more witty.

It’s just one example of the powerful influence that social factors can have on intelligence. As parents, teachers and students settle into the school year, this work should prompt us to think about intelligence not as a “lump of something that’s in our heads,” as the psychologist Joshua Aronson puts it, but as “a transaction among people.”

-truth, people, social dynamics, reality, the construction of reality, ‘quantum’
-truth becomes irrelevant. you tell them they are smart, and they become smart
-ignore the truth, make shit up, and watch it become reality

"Mr. Aronson, an associate professor at New York University, has been a leader in investigating the effects of social forces on academic achievement. Along with the psychologist Claude Steele, he identified the phenomenon known as “stereotype threat.” Members of groups believed to be academically inferior — African-American and Latino students enrolled in college, or female students in math and science courses — score much lower on tests when reminded beforehand of their race or gender."

-if you believe you are inferior, you will score lower on tests.

please follow to the next logical extension:

Resistance to Ohm's Law

Can't help it; this is an essay, culled from Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolution. I imagine it has something to do with electromagnetism and the process of consensus. But who cares what it's about, look at that title!

"Resistance to Ohm's Law"
Morton Schagrin, American Journal of Physics XXI (1963), pp563-47

meme-etymology:xhibit, the man who puts cars in cars for people who like cars, may also be referred to as the inception meme

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Ethiopian Kids Hack PLPCS in 5 Months with Zero Instruction

What happens if you give a thousand Motorola Zoom tablet PCs to Ethiopian kids who have never even seen a printed word? Within five months, they’ll start teaching themselves English while circumventing the security on your OS to customize settings and activate disabled hardware. Whoa.

The One Laptop Per Child project started as a way of delivering technology and resources to schools in countries with little or no education infrastructure, using inexpensive computers to improve traditional curricula. What the OLPC Project has realized over the last five or six years, though, is that teaching kids stuff is really not that valuable. Yes, knowing all your state capitols how to spell “neighborhood” properly and whatnot isn’t a bad thing, but memorizing facts and procedures isn’t going to inspire kids to go out and learn by teaching themselves, which is the key to a good education. Instead, OLPC is trying to figure out a way to teach kids to learn, which is what this experiment is all about.

Rather than give out laptops (they’re actually Motorola Zoom tablets plus solar chargers running custom software) to kids in schools with teachers, the OLPC Project decided to try something completely different: it delivered some boxes of tablets to two villages in Ethiopia, taped shut, with no instructions whatsoever. Just like, “hey kids, here’s this box, you can open it if you want, see ya!”

Just to give you a sense of what these villages in Ethiopia are like, the kids (and most of the adults) there have never seen a word. No books, no newspapers, no street signs, no labels on packaged foods or goods. Nothing. And these villages aren’t unique in that respect; there are many of them in Africa where the literacy rate is close to zero. So you might think that if you’re going to give out fancy tablet computers, it would be helpful to have someone along to show these people how to use them, right?

But that’s not what OLPC did. They just left the boxes there, sealed up, containing one tablet for every kid in each of the villages (nearly a thousand tablets in total), pre-loaded with a custom English-language operating system and SD cards with tracking software on them to record how the tablets were used. Here’s how it went down, as related by OLPC founder Nicholas Negroponte at MIT Technology Review’s EmTech conference last week:

“We left the boxes in the village. Closed. Taped shut. No instruction, no human being. I thought, the kids will play with the boxes! Within four minutes, one kid not only opened the box, but found the on/off switch. He’d never seen an on/off switch. He powered it up. Within five days, they were using 47 apps per child per day. Within two weeks, they were singing ABC songs [in English] in the village. And within five months, they had hacked Android. Some idiot in our organization or in the Media Lab had disabled the camera! And they figured out it had a camera, and they hacked Android.”

This experiment began earlier this year, and what OLPC really want to see is whether these kids can learn to read and write in English. Around the world, there are something like 100,000,000 kids who don’t even make it to first grade, simply because there are not only no schools, but very few literate adults, and if it turns out that for the cost of a tablet all of these kids can simply teach themselves, it has huge implications for education. And it goes beyond the kids, too, since previous OLPC studies have shown that kids will use their computers to teach their parents to read and write as well, which is incredibly amazing and awesome.

via: DVICE
Evan Ackerman, Oct 30, 2012

source: MIT
A bold experiment by the One Laptop Per Child organization has shown “encouraging” results.
By David Talbot on October 29, 2012

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Bars and Tone

“This is a test of your emergency broadcast system.”

Television was the internet of the 20th century. No matter what show you were watching, it automatically became less important than the overriding emergency broadcast.

The United States East Coast experienced an emergency on ~Halloween of 2012; a powerful hurricane/nor’easter sent strong winds and high coastal surges into very densely populated areas, causing large-scale power outages and widespread flooding.

I lost power that night, as did everyone. NJ’s centralized media source,, based in Newark, went down at the height of the storm due to flooding in their building. The rest of the night was spent reading social media feeds through the BBC. Facebook had stopped working; it was too heavy to fit through my weakening signal.

The day after the storm it was reported that 25% of the cellular network was not working, and emergency services were having a difficult time communicating. People were being asked to SMS only.

Facebook eats up a lot of bandwidth; it’s media-rich – pictures and video (and advertising…save that for another post). Twitter is a text-messaging platform. This uses very little bandwidth, and so it is very useful in these emergency situations where everyone is trying to talk to everyone else, all at the same time.

The Emergency Broadcasting System needs to be updated. I don’t think I should have been allowed to even try to get on facebook that night. I’m not talking Chiranian control, but we need to start talking about government authority over bandwidth during emergencies.

You can’t expect people to just stay off the roads, even when it means making room for higher-priority vehicles. That is why we declare it illegal during a state of emergency. And you certainly can’t expect people to not communicate with their loved ones in any way they can, even if they know what bandwidth is.

FCC searching for ways to avoid widespread communication troubles in Hurricane Sandy's wake
The Associated Press

Post Script with Off the Hook: 

This topic was offered to the knowledgeable gentlemen at 99.5 fm wbai's most tech-savvy show, Off the Hook (heard Wednesdays at 7pm).

Emmanuel Goldstein, the host of the show, responds that emergency personnel use additional methods of communication such as 2-way radios etc.

Bernie S., co-host, (and first time on wbai/off the hook via skype) responds that people of authority can use the prioritization of their calls over the network compared to other traffic, citing the Government Emergency Telecommunications System (GET).

He also mentions that the National Guard of NJ set up generator-powered portable cellular networks [or, 'mobile mobile units'].

Off the Hook
Wednesday, November 28, 2012 7:00 pm, @40-45mins

partially related link:
Next Caller Please

Friday, November 2, 2012


How Companies Learn Your Secrets
[aka: how target knows you’re pregnant before you do]
CHARLES DUHIGG, February 16, 2012

modified article:
For companies like Target, the exhaustive rendering of our conscious and unconscious patterns into data sets and algorithms has revolutionized what they know about us and, therefore, how precisely they can sell.

Basically, habits help us think less:
An M.I.T. neuroscientist named Ann Graybiel told me that she and her colleagues began exploring habits more than a decade ago by putting their wired rats into a T-shaped maze with chocolate at one end. The maze was structured so that each animal was positioned behind a barrier that opened after a loud click. The first time a rat was placed in the maze, it would usually wander slowly up and down the center aisle after the barrier slid away, sniffing in corners and scratching at walls. It appeared to smell the chocolate but couldn’t figure out how to find it. There was no discernible pattern in the rat’s meanderings and no indication it was working hard to find the treat.

The probes in the rats’ heads, however, told a different story. While each animal wandered through the maze, its brain was working furiously. Every time a rat sniffed the air or scratched a wall, the neurosensors inside the animal’s head exploded with activity. As the scientists repeated the experiment, again and again, the rats eventually stopped sniffing corners and making wrong turns and began to zip through the maze with more and more speed. And within their brains, something unexpected occurred: as each rat learned how to complete the maze more quickly, its mental activity decreased. As the path became more and more automatic — as it became a habit — the rats started thinking less and less.

This process, in which the brain converts a sequence of actions into an automatic routine, is called “chunking.” There are dozens, if not hundreds, of behavioral chunks we rely on every day. Some are simple: you automatically put toothpaste on your toothbrush before sticking it in your mouth. Some, like making the kids’ lunch, are a little more complex. Still others are so complicated that it’s remarkable to realize that a habit could have emerged at all.

Take backing your car out of the driveway. When you first learned to drive, that act required a major dose of concentration, […] Now, you perform that series of actions every time you pull into the street without thinking very much. Your brain has chunked large parts of it. Left to its own devices, the brain will try to make almost any repeated behavior into a habit, because habits allow our minds to conserve effort.

To understand this a little more clearly, consider again the chocolate-seeking rats. What Graybiel and her colleagues found was that, as the ability to navigate the maze became habitual, there were two spikes in the rats’ brain activityonce at the beginning of the maze, when the rat heard the click right before the barrier slid away, and once at the end, when the rat found the chocolate. Those spikes show when the rats’ brains were fully engaged, and the dip in neural activity between the spikes showed when the habit took over. From behind the partition, the rat wasn’t sure what waited on the other side, until it heard the click, which it had come to associate with the maze. Once it heard that sound, it knew to use the “maze habit,” and its brain activity decreased. Then at the end of the routine, when the reward appeared, the brain shook itself awake again and the chocolate signaled to the rat that this particular habit was worth remembering, and the neurological pathway was carved that much deeper.

The process within our brains that creates habits is a three-step loop. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future. Over time, this loop — cue, routine, reward; cue, routine, reward —becomes more and more automatic. The cue and reward become neurologically intertwined until a sense of craving emerges. What’s unique about cues and rewards, however, is how subtle they can be. Neurological studies like the ones in Graybiel’s lab have revealed that some cues span just milliseconds. And rewards can range from the obvious (like the sugar rush that a morning doughnut habit provides) to the infinitesimal (like the barely noticeable — but measurable —sense of relief the brain experiences after successfully navigating the driveway). Most cues and rewards, in fact, happen so quickly and are so slight that we are hardly aware of them at all. But our neural systems notice and use them to build automatic behaviors.

Our relationship to e-mail operates on the same [cue-routine-reward] principle. When a computer chimes or a smartphone vibrates with a new message, the brain starts anticipating the neurological “pleasure” (even if we don’t recognize it as such) that clicking on the e-mail and reading it provides. That expectation, if unsatisfied, can build until you find yourself moved to distraction by the thought of an e-mail sitting there unread — even if you know, rationally, it’s most likely not important. On the other hand, once you remove the cue by disabling the buzzing of your phone or the chiming of your computer, the craving is never triggered, and you’ll find, over time, that you’re able to work productively for long stretches without checking your in-box.

Find the customers who have children and send them catalogs that feature toys before Christmas. Look for shoppers who habitually purchase swimsuits in April and send them coupons for sunscreen in July and diet books in December.

In the 1980s, a team of researchers led by a U.C.L.A. professor named Alan Andreasen undertook a study of peoples’ most mundane purchases, like soap, toothpaste, trash bags and toilet paper. They learned that most shoppers paid almost no attention to how they bought these products, that the purchases occurred habitually, without any complex decision-making. Which meant it was hard for marketers, despite their displays and coupons and product promotions, to persuade shoppers to change.

But when some customers were going through a major life event, like graduating from college or getting a new job or moving to a new town, their shopping habits became flexible in ways that were both predictable and potential gold mines for retailers. The study found that when someone marries, he or she is more likely to start buying a new type of coffee. When a couple move into a new house, they’re more apt to purchase a different kind of cereal. When they divorce, there’s an increased chance they’ll start buying different brands of beer.

Consumers going through major life events often don’t notice, or care, that their shopping habits have shifted, but retailers notice, and they care quite a bit. At those unique moments, Andreasen wrote, customers are “vulnerable to intervention by marketers.” In other words, a precisely timed advertisement, sent to a recent divorcee or new homebuyer, can change someone’s shopping patterns for years.

And among life events, none are more important than the arrival of a baby. At that moment, new parents’ habits are more flexible than at almost any other time in their adult lives. If companies can identify pregnant shoppers, they can earn millions.

…able to identify about 25 products that, when analyzed together, allowed him to assign each shopper a “pregnancy prediction” score. (like unscented lotion)

One Target employee I spoke to provided a hypothetical example. Take a fictional Target shopper named Jenny Ward, who is 23, lives in Atlanta and in March bought cocoa-butter lotion, a purse large enough to double as a diaper bag, zinc and magnesium supplements and a bright blue rug. There’s, say, an 87 percent chance that she’s pregnant and that her delivery date is sometime in late August. What’s more, because of the data attached to her Guest ID number, Target knows how to trigger Jenny’s habits. They know that if she receives a coupon via e-mail, it will most likely cue her to buy online. They know that if she receives an ad in the mail on Friday, she frequently uses it on a weekend trip to the store. And they know that if they reward her with a printed receipt that entitles her to a free cup of Starbucks coffee, she’ll use it when she comes back again.

About a year after Pole created his pregnancy-prediction model, a man walked into a Target outside Minneapolis and demanded to see the manager. He was clutching coupons that had been sent to his daughter, and he was angry, according to an employee who participated in the conversation.

Using data to predict a woman’s pregnancy, Target realized soon after Pole perfected his model, could be a public-relations disaster. So the question became: how could they get their advertisements into expectant mothers’ hands without making it appear they were spying on them? How do you take advantage of someone’s habits without letting them know you’re studying their lives?

“We have the capacity to send every customer an ad booklet, specifically designed for them, that says, ‘Here’s everything you bought last week and a coupon for it,’ ” one Target executive told me. “We do that for grocery products all the time.” But for pregnant women, Target’s goal was selling them baby items they didn’t even know they needed yet.

“With the pregnancy products, though, we learned that some women react badly,” the executive said. “Then we started mixing in all these ads for things we knew pregnant women would never buy, so the baby ads looked random. We’d put an ad for a lawn mower next to diapers. We’d put a coupon for wineglasses next to infant clothes. That way, it looked like all the products were chosen by chance.

“And as long as we don't spooky her, it works."

As Pole told me the last time we spoke: “Just wait. We’ll be sending you coupons for things you want before you even know you want them.”