Thursday, 23 March 2017

down the rabbit hole that is Google

I was reading an article on mitochondria, and it mentioned HIIT could boost their energy output.

I didn’t know what HIIT was, so I googled it: High-Intensity Interval Training.  It mentioned burpees.

I didn’t know what a burpee was (and the picture didn’t really help), so I googled it: How to do a burpee (video): it’s a combination of a squat thrust (I had to google that, too), a pushup, and a jump.

Google furthermore let me find a better graphic:

More like, how to do a burpee

The HIIT page says: Do as many burpees as possible in 20 seconds.

So, that would be zero, then?  Sounds do-able.  Not sure how it helps the mitochondria, though.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017


Interesting article on emotions, and how we can train them.
Emotions are not universal – we build them for ourselves 
Japan has arigata-meiwaku, the negative feeling when someone does you a favour that you didn’t want, are perhaps inconvenienced by, yet must still be grateful for.

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Update 23 March 2017:
A commenter says this article is behind a paywall. I didn't realise, as I subscribe to New Scientist.

So I'll provide a few more representative quotes.

Emotions are not hard-wired and universal:
If you look at the literature on facial expressions, most studies that support universality use a kind of psychological cheat – experimenters might force subjects to pick from a small set of emotion words when shown a facial expression, or unwittingly train subjects in the appropriate emotion concepts. 
My lab and others have shown that if you remove these cues, say, by asking subjects what a face means without a list of words to choose from, the whole effect falls apart. 
Thinking that they are causes damage to people:
The example that really gets me is the training of autistic children to recognise the stereotyped expressions stipulated by the classical view. This training is supposed to improve children’s social functioning. But nothing changes for these kids because these facial expressions don’t generalise outside the lab. 
Huge amounts of money are being spent on technology rooted in the idea that facial expressions are universal. For example, the US Transportation Security Administration spent $900 million on a method of reading faces and bodies that is rooted in the classical view. It didn’t work.
It's an incorrect stereotype:
... this stereotype is extremely damaging – there is evidence that when you refer to a woman as emotional, it usually means too emotional. So there’s a catch-22: if a woman is emotional, she’s seen as childish or out of control. If she’s not emotional enough – she defies the stereotype – she’s seen as a cold, untrustworthy bitch. For men the rules are not so strict. This is a real problem in courtrooms. There are people who can’t get a fair trial because jurors – and judges – accept the stereotype and believe that, generally, emotions can be easily read.
Reconstructing our own emotions can help us:
a student preparing for a test will be in a high arousal state. They might experience this arousal as anxiety, but they could learn to recategorise it as determination, which research shows will allow them to perform better on tests. This recategorisation can reduce stress, so they feel physically better too.
And there's a book:
Lisa Feldman Barrett. How Emotions are Made: The secret life of the brain. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2017 

Monday, 20 March 2017

when laziness and idealism coincide

Excellent boycott suggestion:

I will not log in to your website

Two or three times a day, I get an email whose basic structure is as follows:
Prof. Aaronson, given your expertise, we’d be incredibly grateful for your feedback on a paper / report / grant proposal about quantum computing.  To access the document in question, all you’ll need to do is create an account on our proprietary DigiScholar Portal system, a process that takes no more than 3 hours.  If, at the end of that process, you’re told that the account setup failed, it might be because your browser’s certificates are outdated, or because you already have an account with us, or simply because our server is acting up, or some other reason.  If you already have an account, you’ll of course need to remember your DigiScholar Portal ID and password, and not confuse them with the 500 other usernames and passwords you’ve created for similar reasons—ours required their own distinctive combination of upper and lowercase letters, numerals, and symbols.  After navigating through our site to access the document, you’ll then be able to enter your DigiScholar Review, strictly adhering to our 15-part format, and keeping in mind that our system will log you out and delete all your work after 30 seconds of inactivity.  If you have trouble, just call our helpline during normal business hours (excluding Wednesdays and Thursdays) and stay on the line until someone assists you.  Most importantly, please understand that we can neither email you the document we want you to read, nor accept any comments about it by email.  In fact, all emails to this address will be automatically ignored.
Every day, I seem to grow crustier than the last.

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Sunday, 19 March 2017

unread books

tsundoku: n.
buying books and not reading them; stockpiling books

Via Danny Yee’s ever-interesting and pathologically polymathic blog, I recently came across the following article:
There’s a word in Japanese for the literary affliction of buying books you don’t read 
So many books, so little time. In the age of media binging, too often we end up buying books we never actually read. 
The moment goes something like this: Skim fascinating book review online. Buy on Amazon with 1-click. Scroll down. Buy two other titles with 1-click. Leave books on bedside table. Repeat two weeks later. Scold yourself for killing the trees. 
It’s an affliction so common that there’s a word for it in Japanese, and a support group on Goodreads.
I don’t know what’s worse about this article: the use of the term “affliction”, implying there might be some sort of problem with this behaviour; or the thought that one so afflicted could make do with the storage space provided by a bedside table.

I belong to a different demographic where books are concerned.  I much prefer the philosophy of Nassim Nicholas Taleb, as expounded on the very first page of his book The Black Swan:
a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allow you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books.

I will continue to buy faster than I read; I will continue to commit tsundoku: it’s my pension fund.  It also provides a pleasing two-stage book choice process: what am I going to buy next, and then, given what I’ve bought, what am I going to read next.

This is nothing like my own to-read pile.  It’s possibly the right size, but I shelve mine much more tidily.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored.

Why would GCHQ spy on Trump?  Their job is to gather intelligence.

GCHQ dismisses ‘utterly ridiculous’ claim it helped wiretap Trump
“Recent allegations made by media commentator judge Andrew Napolitano about GCHQ being asked to conduct ‘wiretapping’ against the then president-elect are nonsense. They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored.”

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Friday, 17 March 2017

the future's orange

Faith in humanity restored (for now).

Dutch election: Wilders defeat celebrated by PM Rutte
my, what big hands you have!

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Thursday, 16 March 2017

not even pseudoscience

Sabine Hossenfelder nails it again – an argument against the simulation hypothesis from physics – but a much better one than usual.  The usual one tries to extrapolate physics from our universe to the “outside” one, which doesn’t work: they need not be the same.  Sabine argues about the physics of our universe within our universe: how hard it is to get consistent explanations, and why the hypothetical external programmer would have difficulties keeping up with our (simulated) scientists poking their noses into everything.

She’s a little grumpier than usual:
No, we probably don’t live in a computer simulation 
All this talk about how we might be living in a computer simulation pisses me off not because I’m afraid people will actually believe it. No, I think most people are much smarter than many self-declared intellectuals like to admit. Most readers will instead correctly conclude that today’s intelligencia is full of shit. And I can’t even blame them for it.

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