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February 24 2014

Four short links: 24 February 2014

  1. Understanding Understanding Source Code with Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (PDF) — we observed 17 participants inside an fMRI scanner while they were comprehending short source-code snippets, which we contrasted with locating syntax error. We found a clear, distinct activation pattern of five brain regions, which are related to working memory, attention, and language processing. I’m wary of fMRI studies but welcome more studies that try to identify what we do when we code. (Or, in this case, identify syntax errors—if they wanted to observe real programming, they’d watch subjects creating syntax errors) (via Slashdot)
  2. Oobleck Security (O’Reilly Radar) — if you missed or skimmed this, go back and reread it. The future will be defined by the objects that turn on us. 50s scifi was so close but instead of human-shaped positronic robots, it’ll be our cars, HVAC systems, light bulbs, and TVs. Reminds me of the excellent Old Paint by Megan Lindholm.
  3. Google Readying Android Watch — just as Samsung moves away from Android for smart watches and I buy me and my wife a Pebble watch each for our anniversary. Watches are in the same space as Goggles and other wearables: solutions hunting for a problem, a use case, a killer tap. “OK Google, show me offers from brands I love near me” isn’t it (and is a low-lying operating system function anyway, not a userland command).
  4. Most Winning A/B Test Results are Illusory (PDF) — Statisticians have known for almost a hundred years how to ensure that experimenters don’t get misled by their experiments [...] I’ll show how these methods ensure equally robust results when applied to A/B testing.

February 20 2014

Four short links: 20 February 2014

  1. Practical Typography — informative and elegant.
  2. Nokia Treasure Tag — Bluetooth-chatty locators for keyrings, wallets, etc.
  3. Stanford Guidelines for Web Credibility — signals for those looking to identify dodgy content, as well as hygiene factors for those looking to provide it.
  4. App Trains You to See Farther (Popular Mechanics) — UltimEyes exercises the visual cortex, the part of our brain that controls vision. Brain researchers have discovered that the visual cortex breaks down the incoming information from our eyes into fuzzy patterns called Gabor stimuli. The theory behind UltimEyes is that by directly confronting the eyes with Gabor stimuli, you can train your brain to process them more efficiently—which, over time, improves your brain’s ability to create clear vision at farther distances. The app shows you ever fuzzier and fainter Gabor stimuli.

January 31 2014

Four short links: 31 January 2014

  1. Bolts — Facebook’s library of small, low-level utility classes in iOS and Android.
  2. Python Idioms (PDF) — useful cheatsheet.
  3. Michael Abrash’s Graphics Programming Black Book — Markdown source in github. Notable for elegance and instructive for those learning to optimise. Coder soul food.
  4. About Link Bait (Anil Dash) — excellent consideration of Upworthy’s distinctive click-provoking headlines, but my eye was caught by we often don’t sound like 2012 Upworthy anymore. Because those tricks are starting to dilute click rates. from Upworthy’s editor-at-large. Attention is a scarce resource, and our brains are very good at filtering.

January 10 2014

Four short links: 10 January 2014

  1. Software in 2014 (Tim Bray) — a good state of the world, much of which I agree with. Client-side: Things are bad. You have to build everything three times: Web, iOS, Android. We’re talent-starved, this is egregious waste, and it’s really hurting us.
  2. Making Systems That Don’t Suck (Dominus) — every software engineer should have to read this. Every one.
  3. IBM Struggles to Turn Watson Into Big Business (WSJ) — cognition services harder to onboard than seemed. It smells suspiciously like expert systems from the 1980s, but with more complex analytics on the inside. Analytic skill isn’t the problem for these applications, though, it’s the pain of getting domain knowledge into the system in the first place. This is where G’s web crawl and massive structured general knowledge is going to be a key accelerant.
  4. Reading This May Harm Your Computer (SSRN) — Internet users face large numbers of security warnings, which they mostly ignore. To improve risk communication, warnings must be fewer but better. We report an experiment on whether compliance can be increased by using some of the social-psychological techniques the scammers themselves use, namely appeal to authority, social compliance, concrete threats and vague threats. We also investigated whether users turned off browser malware warnings (or would have, had they known how).

January 08 2014

Four short links: 8 January 2014

  1. Launching the Wolfram Connected Devices Project — Wolfram Alpha is cognition-as-a-service, which they hope to embed in devices. This data-powered Brain-in-the-Cloud play will pit them against Google, but G wants to own the devices and the apps and the eyeballs that watch them … interesting times ahead!
  2. How the USA Almost Killed the Internet (Wired) — “At first we were in an arms race with sophisticated criminals,” says Eric Grosse, Google’s head of security. “Then we found ourselves in an arms race with certain nation-state actors [with a reputation for cyberattacks]. And now we’re in an arms race with the best nation-state actors.”
  3. Intel Edison — SD-card sized, with low-power 22nm 400MHz Intel Quark processor with two cores, integrated Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
  4. N00b 2 L33t, Now With Graphs (Tom Stafford) — open science research validating many of the findings on learning, tested experimentally via games. In the present study, we analyzed data from a very large sample (N = 854,064) of players of an online game involving rapid perception, decision making, and motor responding. Use of game data allowed us to connect, for the first time, rich details of training history with measures of performance from participants engaged for a sustained amount of time in effortful practice. We showed that lawful relations exist between practice amount and subsequent performance, and between practice spacing and subsequent performance. Our methodology allowed an in situ confirmation of results long established in the experimental literature on skill acquisition. Additionally, we showed that greater initial variation in performance is linked to higher subsequent performance, a result we link to the exploration/exploitation trade-off from the computational framework of reinforcement learning.

December 16 2013

Four short links: 17 December 2013

  1. WebGraph a framework for graph compression aimed at studying web graphs. It provides simple ways to manage very large graphs, exploiting modern compression techniques. (via Ben Lorica)
  2. Learn to Program with Minecraft PluginsYou’ll need to add features to the game itself: learn how to build plugins for your own Minecraft server using the Java programming language. You don’t need to know anything about programming to get started—-this book will teach you everything you need to know! Shameless Christmas stocking bait! (via Greg Borenstein)
  3. In Search of Perfection, Young Adults Turn to Adderall at Work (Al Jazeera) — “Adderall is just the tip of the iceberg,” Essig said. “There are lots more drugs coming down the pike. The way we set up our cultural model for dealing with psychologically performance-enhancing drugs is a real serious question.”
  4. Explain Shell — uses parsed manpages to explain a shell commandline. (via Tracy K Teal)

October 31 2013

Science Podcast - Neural predisposition to music and speech learning, spinal cord scar formation, tackling depression, and more (1 Nov 2013)

Neural predispositions to music and speech learning with Robert Zatorre; Jonas Frisén spotlights the role of scar formation following spinal cord injury; Emily Underwood traces the neural circuitry underlying depression.

August 20 2013

Four short links: 20 August 2013

  1. — attempt to crowdsource rankings for tutorials for important products, so you’re not picking your way through Google search results littered with tutorials written by incompetent illiterates for past versions of the software.
  2. BBC ForumAmerican social psychologist Aleks Krotoski has been looking at how the internet affects the way we talk to ourselves. Podcast (available for next 30 days) from BBC. (via Vaughan Bell)
  3. Why Can’t My Computer Understand Me (New Yorker) — using anaphora as the basis of an intelligence test, as example of what AI should be striving for. It’s not just that contemporary A.I. hasn’t solved these kinds of problems yet; it’s that contemporary A.I. has largely forgotten about them. In Levesque’s view, the field of artificial intelligence has fallen into a trap of “serial silver bulletism,” always looking to the next big thing, whether it’s expert systems or Big Data, but never painstakingly analyzing all of the subtle and deep knowledge that ordinary human beings possess. That’s a gargantuan task— “more like scaling a mountain than shoveling a driveway,” as Levesque writes. But it’s what the field needs to do.
  4. 507 Mechanical Movements — an old basic engineering textbook, animated. Me gusta.

August 08 2013

Four short links: 8 August 2013

  1. Reducing the Roots of Some Evil (Etsy) — Based on our first two months of data we have removed a number of unused CA certificates from some pilot systems to test the effects, and will run CAWatch for a full six months to build up a more comprehensive view of what CAs are in active use. Sign of how broken the CA system for SSL is. (via Alex Dong)
  2. Mind the Brain — PLOS podcast interviews Sci Foo alum and delicious neuroscience brain of awesome, Vaughan Bell. (via Fabiana Kubke)
  3. How Often are Ineffective Interventions Still Used in Practice? (PLOSone) — tl;dr: 8% of the time. Imagine the number if you asked how often ineffective software development practices are still used.
  4. Announcing Evan’s Awesome A/B ToolsI am calling these tools awesome because they are intuitive, visual, and easy-to-use. Unlike other online statistical calculators you’ve probably seen, they’ll help you understand what’s going on “under the hood” of common statistical tests, and by providing ample visual context, they make it easy for you to explain p-values and confidence intervals to your boss. (And they’re free!)

June 26 2013

Four short links: 26 June 2013

  1. Memory Allocation in Brains (PDF) — The results reviewed here suggest that there are competitive mechanisms that affect memory allocation. For example, new dentate gyrus neurons, amygdala cells with higher excitability, and synapses near previously potentiated synapses seem to have the competitive edge over other cells and synapses and thus affect memory allocation with time scales of weeks, hours, and minutes. Are all memory allocation mechanisms competitive, or are there mechanisms of memory allocation that do not involve competition? Even though it is difficult to resolve this question at the current time, it is important to note that most mechanisms of memory allocation in computers do not involve competition. Does the dissector use a slab allocator? Tip your waiter, try the veal.
  2. Living Foundries (DARPA) — one motivating, widespread and currently intractable problem is that of corrosion/materials degradation. The DoD must operate in all environments, including some of the most corrosively aggressive on Earth, and do so with increasingly complex heterogeneous materials systems. This multifaceted and ubiquitous problem costs the DoD approximately $23 Billion per year. The ability to truly program and engineer biology, would enable the capability to design and engineer systems to rapidly and dynamically prevent, seek out, identify and repair corrosion/materials degradation. (via Motley Fool)
  3. Innovate Salone — finalists from a Sierra Leone maker/innovation contest. Part of David Sengeh‘s excellent work.
  4. Arts, Humanities, and Complex Networks — ebook series, conferences, talks, on network analysis in the humanities. Everything from Protestant letter networks in the reign of Mary, to the repertory of 16th century polyphony, to a data-driven update to Alfred Barr’s diagram of cubism and abstract art (original here).

May 30 2013

Four short links: 30 May 2013

  1. Facebook IPO Tech Post-Mortem (PDF) — SEC’s analysis of the failures that led to the NASDAQ kicking Facebook’s IPO in the NADSAQ. (via Quartz)
  2. Run That Town — SimCity for real cities, from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and using real census data. No mention of whether you can make your citizens shout “Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi!” after three cans of lager at an Aussie Rules game. (via John Birmingham)
  3. Maintaining Focus (The Atlantic) — excellent Linda Stone interview. We may think that kids have a natural fascination with phones. Really, children have a fascination with what-ever Mom and Dad find fascinating. If they are fascinated by the flowers coming up in the yard, that’s what the children are going to find fascinating. And if Mom and Dad can’t put down the device with the screen, the child is going to think, That’s where it’s all at, that’s where I need to be! I interviewed kids between the ages of 7 and 12 about this. They said things like “My mom should make eye contact with me when she talks to me” and “I used to watch TV with my dad, but now he has his iPad, and I watch by myself.”
  4. Networked Motion Sensors in Hospital Bathrooms (NY Times) — At North Shore University Hospital on Long Island, motion sensors, like those used for burglar alarms, go off every time someone enters an intensive care room. The sensor triggers a video camera, which transmits its images halfway around the world to India, where workers are checking to see if doctors and nurses are performing a critical procedure: washing their hands. [...] the video monitoring program, run by a company called Arrowsight, has been adapted from the meat industry, where cameras track whether workers who skin animals — the hide can contaminate the meat — wash their hands, knives and electric cutters.

February 19 2013

Four short links: 19 February 2013

  1. Using Silk Road — exploring the transactions, probability of being busted, and more. Had me at the heading Silk Road as Cyphernomicon’s black markets. Estimates of risk of participating in the underground economy.
  2. Travis CIa hosted continuous integration service for the open source community. It is integrated with GitHub.
  3. Chinese Cyber-Espionage Unit (PDF) — exposé of one of China’s Cyber Espionage Units. (via Reddit /r/netsec)
  4. $250 Arduino-Powered Hand Made by a Teenthe third version of his robotic hand. The hand is primarily made with 3D printing, with the exception of motors, gears, and other hardware. The control system is activated by flexing a pre-chosen muscle, such as curling your toes, then the movement is chosen and controlled by a series of eyeblinks and an EEG headset to measure brainwaves. The most remarkable part is that the hand costs a mere $250.

September 06 2012

Four short links: 6 September 2012

  1. ENCODE Project — International project (headed by Ewan Birney of BioPerl fame) doxes the human genome, bigtime. See the Nature piece, and Ed Yong’s explanation of the awesome for more. Not only did they release the data, but also the software, including a custom VM.
  2. 5 Ways You Don’t Realize Movies Are Controlling Your Brain — this! is! awesome!
  3. RC Grasshoppers — not a band name, an Israeli research project funded by the US Army, to remotely-control insects in flight. Instead of building a tiny plane whose dimensions would be measured in centimeters, the researchers are taking advantage of 300 million years of evolution.
  4. enquire.js — small Javascript library for building responsive websites. (via Darren Wood)

August 08 2012

Four short links: 8 August 2012

  1. Reconstructing Visual Experiences (PDF) — early visual areas represent the information in movies. To demonstrate the power of our approach, we also constructed a Bayesian decoder by combining estimated encoding models with a sampled natural movie prior. The decoder provides remarkable reconstructions of the viewed movies. These results demonstrate that dynamic brain activity measured under naturalistic conditions can be decoded using current fMRI technology.
  2. Earth Engine — satellite imagery and API for coding against it, to do things like detecting deforestation, classifying land cover, estimating forest biomass and carbon, and mapping the world’s roadless areas.
  3. Microlives — 30m of your life expectancy. Here are some things that would, on average, cost a 30-year-old man 1 microlife: Smoking 2 cigarettes; Drinking 7 units of alcohol (eg 2 pints of strong beer); Each day of being 5 Kg overweight. A chest X-ray will set a middle-aged person back around 2 microlives, while a whole body CT-scan would weigh in at around 180 microlives.
  4. Autistics Need Opportunities More Than Treatment — Laurent gave a powerful talk at Sci Foo: if the autistic brain is better at pattern matching, find jobs where that’s useful. Like, say, science. The autistic woman who was delivering mail became a research assistant in his lab, now has papers galore to her name for original research.

July 19 2012

“It’s impossible for me to die”

Julien Smith believes I won’t let him die.

The subject came up during our interview at Foo Camp 2012 — part of our ongoing foo interview series — in which Smith argued that our brains and innate responses don’t always map to the safety of our modern world:

“We’re in a place where it’s fundamentally almost impossible to die. I could literally — there’s a table in front of me made of glass — I could throw myself onto the table. I could attempt to even cut myself in the face or the throat, and before I did that, all these things would stop me. You would find a way to stop me. It’s impossible for me to die.”

[Discussed at the 5:16 mark in the associated video interview.]

Smith didn’t test his theory, but he makes a good point. The way we respond to the world often doesn’t correspond with the world’s true state. And he’s right about that not-letting-him-die thing; myself and the other people in the room would have jumped in had he crashed through a pane of glass. He would have then gone to an emergency room where the doctors and nurses would usher him through a life-saving process. The whole thing is set up to keep him among the living.

Acknowledging the safety of an environment isn’t something most people do by default. Perhaps we don’t want to tempt fate. Or maybe we’re wired to identify threats even when they’re not present. This disconnect between our ancient physical responses and our modern environments is one of the things Smith explores in his book The Flinch.

“Your body, all that it wants from you is to reproduce as often as possible and die,” Smith said during our interview. “It doesn’t care about anything else. It doesn’t want you to write a book. It doesn’t want you to change the world. It doesn’t even want you to live that long. It doesn’t care … Our brains are running on what a friend of mine would call ‘jungle surplus hardware.’ We want to do things that are totally counter and against what our jungle surplus hardware wants.” [Discussed at 2:00]

In his book, Smith says a flinch is an appropriate and important response to fights and car crashes and those sorts of things. But flinches also bubble up when we’re starting a new business, getting into a relationship and considering other risky non-life-threatening events. According to Smith, these are the flinches that hold people back.

“Your world has a safety net,” Smith writes in the book. “You aren’t in free fall, and you never will be. You treat mistakes as final, but they almost never are. Pain and scars are a part of the path, but so is getting back up, and getting up is easier than ever.”

There are many people in the world who face daily danger and the prospect of catastrophic outcomes. For them, flinches are essential survival tools. But there are also people who are surrounded by safety and opportunity. As hard as it is for a worrier like me to admit it (I’m writing this on an airplane, so fingers crossed), I’m one of them. A fight-or-flight response would be an overreaction to 99% of the things I encounter on a daily basis.

Now, I’m not about to start a local chapter of anti-flinchers, but I do think Smith has a legitimate point that deserves real consideration. Namely, gut reactions can be wrong.

Real danger and compromised thinking

To be clear, Smith isn’t suggesting we blithely ignore those little voices in the backs of our heads when a real threat is brewing.

“You can’t assume that you’re wrong, and you can’t assume that you’re right,” he said, relaying advice he received from a security expert. “You can just assume that you’re unable to process this decision properly, so step away from it and then decide from another vantage point. If you can do that, you’re fundamentally, every day, going to make better decisions.” [Discussed at 4:10]

I was surprised by this answer. I figured a guy who wrote a book about the detriments of flinches would compare threatening circumstances with other unlikely events, like lightning strikes and lottery wins. But Smith is doing something more thoughtful than rejecting fear outright. He’s working within a framework that challenges assumptions about our physical and mental processes. You can’t trust your brain or your body if you’re incapable of processing the threat. The success of your survival method, whatever it may be, depends on your capabilities. So, what you have to do is know when you’re compromised, get out of there, and then give yourself the opportunity to assess under better circumstances.

Other things from the interview

At the end of the interview I asked Smith about the people and projects he follows. He pointed toward Peter Thiel because he admires people who see different versions of the future. Smith also tracks the audacious moves made by startups, and he looks for ways those same actions and perspectives can be applied in non-startup environments. The goal is to to “see if we come up with a better society or a better individual as a result.”

You can see the full interview from Foo Camp in the following video:

Associated photo on home and category pages: Broken Glass on Concrete by shaire productions, on Flickr


May 04 2012

Four short links: 4 May 2012

  1. Common Statistical Fallacies (Flowing Data) -- once you know to look for them, you see them everywhere. Or is that confirmation bias?
  2. Project Hijack -- Hijacking power and bandwidth from the mobile phone's audio interface. Creating a cubic-inch peripheral sensor ecosystem for the mobile phone.
  3. Peak Plastic -- Deb Chachra points out that if we’re running out of oil, that also means that we’re running out of plastic. Compared to fuel and agriculture, plastic is small potatoes. Even though plastics are made on a massive industrial scale, they still account for less than 10% of the world’s oil consumption. So recycling plastic saves plastic and reduces its impact on the environment, but it certainly isn’t going to save us from the end of oil. Peak oil means peak plastic. And that means that much of the physical world around us will have to change. I hadn't pondered plastics in medicine before. (via BoingBoing)
  4. web.go (GitHub) -- web framework for the Go programming language.

March 23 2012

Top Stories: March 19-23, 2012

Here's a look at the top stories published across O'Reilly sites this week.

Why StreetEasy rolled its own maps
Google's decision to start charging for its Maps API is leading some companies to mull other options. StreetEasy's Sebastian Delmont explains why and how his team made a change.

What is Dart?
Dart is a new structured web programming platform designed to enable complex, high-performance apps for the modern web. Kathy Walrath and Seth Ladd, members of Google's developer relations team, explain Dart's purpose and its applications.

My Paleo Media Diet
Jim Stogdill is tired of running on the info treadmill, so he's changing his media habits. His new approach: "Where I can, adapt to my surroundings; where I can't, adapt my surroundings to me."

The unreasonable necessity of subject experts
We can't forget that data is ultimately about insight, and insight is inextricably tied to the stories we build from the data. Subject experts are the ones who find the stories data wants to tell.

Direct sales uncover hidden trends for publishers
A recent O'Reilly customer survey revealed unusual results (e.g. laptops/desktops remain popular ereading devices). These sorts of insights are made possible by O'Reilly's direct sales channel.

Where Conference 2012 is where the people working on and using location technologies explore emerging trends in software development, tools, business strategies and marketing. Save 20% on registration with the code RADAR20.

My Paleo Media Diet

I've been on a train to New York City for about 20 minutes and it just occurred to me that I haven't checked Twitter today. In fact, I sat on a bench in the station for 30 minutes without even touching my phone. I watched people walk by, I daydreamed, thought about my plans for tomorrow, stared at the ceiling and generally just sort of zoned out. That would be no big deal except that later I realized I didn't get that itchy urge to check my phone and do the circuit: email, Twitter, Yammer, G+, Email, Twitter, Yammer, G+ … my little socmed treadmill.

That's huge! This is the first time I can remember sitting down somewhere in at least three years without immediately feeling the urge, or more like compulsion, to pull out my phone and twiddle with it. And this was at the train station, for 30 minutes! I feel like a smoker just realizing that I forgot to light up when I stepped outside for an afternoon break.

For too long I've been killing time on that treadmill, which would be fine if I had time that needed killing, but that's rarely the case. Plus, once that circuit gets started it tends to keep on going well into time that really should be better used. After a while I began feeling like I was never really present anywhere. Whether I was riding the train, sitting at dinner, watching a movie, whatever … every few minutes I'd get that tug. "See if there's a pellet. Give the bar a push."

Maybe you'll scoff at this, but I'm an addict. I have been for a long time, and I'm sick of it. I'm tired of having the attention span of a meth addict. I'm tired of reaching for my phone at every red light because the urge has been building inexorably since the last one. I'm irritated that my first impulse after any real world human experience is to tweet it. What the hell? Narcissist much?

I'm tired of walking down busy sidewalks full of interesting people and places with my head down staring at a rectangle. I want to be present, in the moment and the place. I want to experience mental flow by the river full and I want to be more productive. And above all, I want to nurture the relationships I have with people that I actually see and touch in all of their materialized-in-atoms glory.

If you have never experienced addiction, be happy. This post isn't for you. But I'm addicted to those little bursts of pleasure that pile into my inbox, or are prefaced with an "@" in my stream. Each one a new affirmation. "You mean something to someone" they seem to say. Although they needn't even say that to adequately stimulate. A Skinner Box really doesn't take much. Hell, I'd probably reach for my phone if it actually dropped little pellets from a chute.

If you've read Clay Johnson's thought provoking book "The Information Diet" you know that he describes his diet in terms of infoveganism. While I get what he means by that, I think it's the wrong analogy, at least as it relates to my addiction. Going vegan is a moral choice. An approach to food designed to satisfy first and foremost the conscience. Which makes a lot of sense in the context of government and political ideology in which he uses it. But my problem isn't one of extremism, or TMZ, or empty calorie media of any kind. Most of the pellets I chomp are just fine, probably even nutritious. It's the fact that I immediately crave the next one so much that is driving me crazy.

So a few weeks ago I decided to take advantage of a mini-sabbatical and go paleolithic. I guess I'll call it the Paleo Media Diet because for me it's not about the content per se, but its medium of conveyance. The medium is the message, and the stimulant.

I'm not doing this to satisfy my conscience, I'm doing it to satisfy evolution. Or more specifically, my evolutionary state. If my ancient and maladaptive wiring, that evolved in a different time, can't resist the lever and the pellet, then I figured I was going to have to get rid of the damned lever. So I did.

Now I own the world's dumbest smart phone. I removed all of the "social" apps - Yammer, Twitter, G+, LinkedIn, Path ... all gone. I open up preferences and turn off "cellular data" for long stretches of each day. If there is a specific email I'm waiting for I'll go through the multiple steps to turn it on and check, otherwise data stays turned off. I'll get my mail when I'm at my computer, with intention. But I turn my computer off when I'm not actively using it too, and leave it off for most of each day. The first time I turn it on is at lunch. I don't check anything electronic in the morning — that was the first thing I needed to stop. Compulsively checking messages before brushing my teeth is just ridiculous.

If I'm using my computer to write (like right now) I turn off the Wi-Fi. Sometimes I turn it off at the router to make it a little bit more difficult to "just check that one thing." In fact, maybe I'll make a T-shirt with this on it:

NoFi icon

Who knows, maybe it will become the symbol of a movement.

Oh, also, out of a sense of new media / old media fairness I'm leaving the TV off too unless there is a specific thing I planned to watch. No more flicking it on to just see what's on. After all, for the first 30 years of my life we railed against the "tube" as a flood of stupid coming into our living rooms. There's no point in letting it off the hook now just because there is a new even raw'er media that has a pellet bar attached to it.

To fill the time I'm getting back I'm meeting people for coffee, drinks, dinner, whatever. I'm spending time face to face with old friends and making new ones. I'm going to great lengths to try to make my social interactions more "around the campfire" and less mediated by a glowing rectangle. I'm reading, a lot.

The inspiration for this change was simple. First, I was getting nothing done. My productivity had been decimated by my inability to focus for more than a few minutes at a time and I desperately had to do something about it. So when I had the chance to take a break from work I knew I had to detox, and more importantly, change my habits permanently. This can't be a temporary "cleanse." This has to be me taking control of my interactions with media again, for the long run. These new habits have to be ingrained before I get back to work and back in front of my computer all day.

Second, I started a paleo-inspired dietary regimen in December in response to a different set of addictions: sugars and gluten. I started following the Perfect Health Diet because it seemed reasonable that during the bulk of our evolutionary past we ate very differently than we do today. As a result, the way we are eating now is poorly aligned with our biology and is probably killing us. We simply haven't had enough time to adequately adapt to what we actually eat in the mere 10,000 or so years of agriculture. Especially as our recent style of agriculture is being warped by farm subsidies into producing huge quantities of cheap fructose.

With three months' worth of results I think there is something to the theory. It was brutal to get off of sugar. It took two painful weeks of feeling like my head was made of wood, but then it passed and I'm eating and feeling better than ever. Energy is up, weight and body fat are down and blood work is trending in all of the right directions.

Once that basic idea — that in the timeline of human history and pre-history we simply haven't had time to adapt to our new circumstances — took root in my brain it seemed natural to apply it to other domains besides food. I think "going paleo" is going to be the catch phrase of an emerging counter culture and it isn't going to mean just diet. For me, at this point, it means a variety of lifestyle choices that recognize the limitations of my physical self to adapt to modern life. My approach now is going to be: "Where I can, adapt to my surroundings, where I can't, adapt my surroundings to me."

I know that we've always worried about the development of new media and what impact it might have on our culture. "The loss of oral culture will devastate us" etc. etc. I know I run the risk of getting lumped in with Nicholas Carr and all of the other Internet pessimists. But really, that's not what I'm saying. I just believe that my brain is maladapted to the networked Skinner Box, so I want out. My brain is plastic, but not in a sufficiently adaptive way. In fact it's probably adapting just fine, but in a fashion that creates a destructive feed forward loop.

I'm not trying to get all Walden Pond on you, and many of you will no doubt see this as nothing more than faddish crazy talk, but I'm going to work really hard to be both present and informed. I'll keep taking advantage of networks to live a better and more productive life, just as soon as I get through the part of my transition that makes my head feel like wood, but they're not going to keep taking advantage of me. And well, if a paleo media diet sounds stupid, do what works for you. We're probably different. But I'm turning off, opting out, and disconnecting as much as I can to save my brain for more of the things I really want to use it for. I'll let you know how it goes.


January 30 2012

Four short links: 30 January 2012

  1. Improvisation and Forgiveness (JP Rangaswami) -- what makes us human is not repetitive action. Human occupations should require human intellect, and there's no more human activity than making a judgement call when processes have failed a customer.
  2. Kinect Tech in Laptop Prototypes -- "waving your hands around at your laptop" will be the new "bellowing into your walkie-talkie phone". (via Greg Linden)
  3. Beautiful Web Type -- demo page for the best from Google's web fonts directory. Source on GitHub.
  4. Ethics of Brain Boosting, Discussion (Hacker News) -- this comment in particular: in my initial reckless period of self-experimentation, I managed to induce phosphenes by accident -- blue white flashes in the entire visual field, blanking out everything else. Both contacts were in the supraorbital region. I ceased my experiments for a while and returned to the literature. And you thought that typo where you accidentally took the database offline was bad ....

January 24 2012

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