This is one reason you should CHECK instead of relying on memory

I ran a 5K (3.25 mile actually; the course is “long”) run this morning; I ran the same race on the same course last year.

The difference: I REMEMBERED that last year was not as cold but windier. I was wrong on BOTH counts when I checked via Weather Underground:

This year (via Weather Underground)

Last year (via Weather Underground)


I think this is what happened this year: this time, I went in knowing the course and expecting that long, difficult stretch toward the end (.8 miles against the wind). And as far as the wind: the winter has sucked almost the entire time, so we are more used to it.

March 1, 2014 Posted by | mind, science | | Leave a comment

What do you see in these pictures?



What do you see first?

January 6, 2014 Posted by | mind, science | | 1 Comment

How someone with Asperger’s syndrome sees things…

From here.

Imagine the following: Mary goes to a fast food place and is very thirsty. She says: please give me the largest cola you have. The worker replies: “Today, there is a special. Our largest size soda is served in a special commemorative cup.”
She replies: “I don’t care about the cup; just give me the largest cola you have.” So she gets her large soda with the special cup.”

Now answer the question: did she intentionally get the commemorative cup?

Now consider the following situation: Mary goes to a fast food place and is very thirsty. She says: please give me the largest cola you have. The worker replies: “We’ve raised the price on the largest size by 1 dollar more than it was yesterday.
She replies: “I don’t care about the extra dollar; just give me the largest cola you have.” So she gets her large soda with the special cup.”

Now answer the question: did she intentionally pay a dollar more?

Most people answer the questions: question 1: “no”, question 2: “yes”.

Why? My thought: “in the first situation, the cup was just an extra; she had to put forth no more effort/expense to get it. In the second case, she knew that the drink would cost more but decided that it was worth it.”

But someone with Asperger’s syndrome is likely to answer differently. My guess: to them, both questions are “I want my large drink; both have extra conditions which are irrelevant to wanting the large drink; the type of condition (whether there is a cost or not) is irrelevant. The INTENTION was the size of the drink, period.

Update I thought about this some more. Now let’s change this: this time Mary goes to the store after haven been, say, bitten by a rattlesnake and the store sells anti-venom and it is the ONLY nearby place to get it. The worker says: “we’ll, our anti-venom price just rose by 100 dollars” and Mary says “I don’t care, I need the anti-venom” and pays it.

Did she intentionally pay an extra 100 dollars?

I’d say “no” because I see this sort of “want” as an essential need whereas I see the “largest drink” as a “inessential want”.

September 16, 2013 Posted by | mind, science | | Leave a comment

Budgets, Weather, One’s choices…

Yes, people’s moods ARE affected by the seasons: (via the New York Times)

A new study using the patterns of Google search queries suggests that mental illnesses flourish in winter and decline in summer.

In both the United States and Australia, researchers found distinct seasonal patterns, high in winter and low in summer, in searches pertaining to anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, depression, suicide, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and schizophrenia. The study appears in the May issue of The American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Searches related to eating disorders varied the most — 37 percent higher in winter than summer in the United States and 42 percent higher in Australia. The smallest variations were in searches related to anxiety: 7 percent and 15 percent more common in winter than summer in the United States and Australia, respectively. The variations persisted after he researchers controlled for seasonal differences in Internet use, mentions of the diseases in news articles and other factors.

Why this happens, and whether it is connected to increased incidence, is unclear, but it is known that varying hours of daylight, variations in physical activity and seasonal changes in blood levels of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids can affect mood. [...]

The drought in the southwest: probably not CAUSED by global warming:

Extreme natural events, not man-made climate change, led to last summer’s historic drought in the Great Plains, a new federal study said Friday.
Drought occurred in six Plains states between last May and August because moist Gulf of Mexico air “failed to stream northward in late spring,” and summer storms were few and stingy with rainfall, said a report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“Neither ocean states nor human-induced climate change, factors that can provide long-lead predictability, appeared to play significant roles in causing severe rainfall deficits over the major corn producing regions of central Great Plains,” the report summary said.
The drought in Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota was the worst since record keeping began in 1895, even eclipsing the notorious Dust Bowl droughts of 1934 and 1936, said study leader Martin Hoerling, a NOAA meteorologist.

“The event was rare, and we estimated maybe a once in a couple of hundred years event,” Hoerling said. “But for as extreme as it was, it didn’t have any strong indications for early warning.


“I’m an advocate of global warming because science tells me that greenhouse gases have warmed the planet by about 1 degree Celsius in the last 100 years. So there’s no question about that,” he said. “But the science also tells that every drought that’s occurring isn’t a result of climate change.”

Some people’s minds might not be THAT hard to change, if you are willing to stoop to trickery:

Researchers in Sweden have discovered a clever way to trick partisan voters into switching parties, through the application of a simple survey and some slight of hand.

Exploiting a known defect in human psychology called “choice blindness,” researchers writing for the journal PLoS One got 162 voters to fill out surveys pinpointing their views on key issues like taxes and energy, then covertly switched the survey with one created to show the exact opposite answers. Participants were then confronted on why they gave the faux responses.

What the researchers found is astonishing: A whopping 92 percent of respondents did not catch that their answers were manipulated, and only 22 percent of the switched answers were noticed by participants. During questioning after the survey, 10 percent of the subjects actually switched their preference in political party, while another 19 percent of previously partisan voters said they’d become undecided. [...]

Bitcoins: ever hear of them? This is a decent article about them and the general nature of money (recommended by Paul Krugman). Upshot: money is about putting your faith in something.

President Obama’s budget: too centrist for many on the left.

I’m not sure what to think. It appears to me that second term Presidents drift somewhat to center during their second terms. I wonder if this is what is happening here.

April 13, 2013 Posted by | Barack Obama, climate change, economics, economy, environment, mind, politics, politics/social, social/political | Leave a comment

science and economics

Does excessive salt in your diet harm your autoimmune system? There is some evidence that it might;

Salt may play an important role in autoimmune diseases, according to two new papers published today (March 6) in Nature. Exposure to high levels of salt was found to make both cultured mouse and human T cells more pathogenic, and high-salt diets worsened autoimmune disease in mice.

“I thought the papers were very exciting and provocative,” said John O’Shea, a doctor at the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), who wrote a Nature commentary accompanying the new findings and was not involved in the study.


Meanwhile, David Hafler’s lab at Yale University was coming to similar conclusions from the opposite direction. The group had completed a study where they measured TH17 cells in the blood of healthy human subjects, sequenced the people’s microbiomes, and had them fill out questionnaires about their diets. While the study was supposed to be focused on the influence of the microbiome, the researchers noticed that participants who frequently ate in fast food restaurants had elevated levels of pathogenic TH17 cells. They hypothesized that the saltiness of the food could be part of the explanation.

“That led to a whole series of experiments trying to figure out the role of salt,” Hafler said. Unlike Regev and Kuchroo’s labs, which looked at TH17 differentiation in mouse cells, Hafler’s lab added salt to human cell cultures. They also found that it was associated with more pathogenic TH17 cells. “Salt just seems to trigger all the genes associated with bad autoimmune T cells,” Hafler said.

But the effect hasn’t been proven in humans. There is proof for mice, and some correlation in humans.

The Brain: help for us oldies:

The flip of a single molecular switch helps create the mature neuronal connections that allow the brain to bridge the gap between adolescent impressionability and adult stability. Now Yale School of Medicine researchers have reversed the process, recreating a youthful brain that facilitated both learning and healing in the adult mouse.

Scientists have long known that the young and old brains are very different. Adolescent brains are more malleable or plastic, which allows them to learn languages more quickly than adults and speeds recovery from brain injuries. The comparative rigidity of the adult brain results in part from the function of a single gene that slows the rapid change in synaptic connections between neurons.

By monitoring the synapses in living mice over weeks and months, Yale researchers have identified the key genetic switch for brain maturation a study released March 6 in the journal Neuron. The Nogo Receptor 1 gene is required to suppress high levels of plasticity in the adolescent brain and create the relatively quiescent levels of plasticity in adulthood. In mice without this gene, juvenile levels of brain plasticity persist throughout adulthood. When researchers blocked the function of this gene in old mice, they reset the old brain to adolescent levels of plasticity.

That would be nice; I’ve found it is harder for me to absorb brand new material, though I have more context for other material.

Nature Cicadas have interesting wings: they have a structure that enables them to kill bacteria by an interesting mechanism:

The veined wing of the clanger cicada kills bacteria solely through its physical structure — one of the first natural surfaces found to do so. An international team of biophysicists has now come up with a detailed model of how this defence works on the nanoscale. The results are published in the latest issue of the Biophysical Journal1.

The clanger cicada (Psaltoda claripennis) is a locust-like insect whose wings are covered by a vast hexagonal array of ‘nanopillars’ — blunted spikes on a similar size scale to bacteria (see video, bottom). When a bacterium settles on the wing surface, its cellular membrane sticks to the surface of the nanopillars and stretches into the crevices between them, where it experiences the most strain. If the membrane is soft enough, it ruptures

Note: this is “rupture by stretching” rather than by puncturing.

Austerity during a recession does NOT drive down the deficit; remember that stimulus puts money into the economy.

March 10, 2013 Posted by | biology, economics, economy, mind, nature, science | , , | Leave a comment

Fun: is what you see really there?

I don’t know who to give credit to, but this is fun:

Is there really a woman in this picture? Look carefully.

Actually, I see the human figure in all of these cropped pictures.

May 13, 2012 Posted by | mind | Leave a comment

Purple crabs and swimsuits with no confusion at all

Swim workout 2650 yards (1.5 miles); 500 of long/free, 500 of fist/free, 500 of 3g/free, 500 of (50 side/50 free), 6 x (25 fly, 25 free, 25 back, 25 free), 50 free.
This was routine and seemed “short”, at least in terms of duration.

Yes, Ms. “purple suit” was back! :)

Paul Krugman points out that Keynesian economic ideas ARE/DID win the day, so to speak, though the conservatives constantly lie or attempt to distort what actually happened.

Pretty crabs I am not one to call a crab “pretty”, but Jerry Coyne has an article about such a species.

(click on the small photo to see the larger one at the source, along with the article)

Religion and the mind

Friendly atheist has an article with a provocative title: If you can answer this math problem correctly, you may be an atheist. Yes, the title is illogical: you might get the problems correct and not be an atheist….and….well, there are plenty of atheists who would miss the problems. :)

What are the problems?

1. “If 5 machines in 5 minutes can make 5 widgets, how long will it take 100 machines to make 100 widgets?”
2. “A population of lily pads in a pond doubles every day. On day 48, the pond is completely full. On what day was the pond half full?”
3. “A baseball and a baseball bat together costs 110 dollars. The bat costs 100 dollars more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?”

What was curious to me wasn’t “what group did better” on the questions; it was THIS (via Scientific American):

But the researchers went beyond this interesting link, running four experiments showing that analytic thinking actually causes disbelief. In one experiment, they randomly assigned participants to either the analytic or control condition. They then showed them photos of either Rodin’s The Thinker or, in the control condition, of the ancient Greek sculpture Discobolus, which depicts an athlete poised to throw a discus. (The Thinker was used because it is such an iconic image of deep reflection that, in a separate test with different participants, seeing the statue improved how well subjects reasoned through logical syllogisms.) After seeing the images, participants took a test measuring their belief in God on a scale of 0 to 100. Their scores on the test varied widely, with a standard deviation of about 35 in the control group. But it is the difference in the averages that tells the real story: In the control group, the average score for belief in God was 61.55, or somewhat above the scale’s midpoint. On the other hand, for the group who had just seen The Thinker, the resulting average was only 41.42. Such a gap is large enough to indicate a mild believer is responding as a mild nonbeliever—all from being visually reminded of the human capacity to think.

Another experiment used a different method to show a similar effect. It exploited the tendency, previously identified by psychologists, of people to override their intuition when faced with the demands of reading a text in a hard-to-read typeface.

The bottom line: reminding people of thinking (turning on the “logic vs. intuition” switch) immediately made people MORE skeptical.

Atheism and labels
The following video troubled some fellow atheists (including a couple that I have a lot of respect for):

I admit that I had no trouble at all with this; all Dr. Tyson was saying is that he really isn’t interested in taking part in this debate, so to speak.

Yes, I think a lot about it and I self identify as an atheist (strictly speaking, I am an agnostic atheist with respect to some amorphic “spirit of the universe”, “higher power”, “creative force”, etc. and an “almost gnostic” atheist with regards to the deities that I am aware of (the Hindu ones, the Mormon ones, the Abrahamic deity(s), etc.)

But, well, I ENJOY thinking about some things. I really don’t care how Dr. Tyson identifies (or doesn’t identify) himself.

This is good enough for me:

And anyone who thinks that we are here because of naturalistic processes and that there is no direct divine intervention in the universe and that we (the earth and humans) were not the intentional outcome of some plan…well, they are a kindred spirit, IMHO.
I really don’t care about the rest.

April 27, 2012 Posted by | atheism, biology, economics, economy, evolution, mind, religion, science, swimming | Leave a comment

Religious reasoning, hidden brains

We know some things are wrong (e. g., racism) but sometimes, when under stress, we seem to not be able to help ourselves. What gives? This is a Salon article called “The Hidden Brain”; my reading list has gotten even longer.

For some reason, humans almost seem to enjoy a persecution complex. We see this with Christians in the United States; evidently hearing criticism means “persecution”.

Speaking of believers: Mano Singham points out that while some believers admit “hey, it is faith”. But many (most) attempt to use “reason” (even if they do it poorly).

Speaking of brains: it has been shown that specific memories lay in specific brain cells!

Human evolution: yes, we belong to the ape family; check out this post for details.

On the lighter side (sort of): you can’t make this up. An international sporting event thought that the Borat version of a national anthem was the real one!

Social: I thought that this tribute by the Miami Heat to Trayvon Martin was touching.

March 25, 2012 Posted by | evolution, mind, nature, religion, science, social/political | Leave a comment


Workout notes
Leg weights (up to 200 on adduction and abduction; 135 on push backs; some lunges and hip hikes)
Swimming: 2200 yards: 10 x 25 fist, 25 free, 5 x 25 fist, 75 free, 5 x 25 free, 25 back, 50 free, 5 x 25 fly, 50 side, 25 free, 200 cool down.

It went ok.


Fallacies of thinking: there are times when I commit some of these. I am ok at overriding my “natural” distrust of probabilities. But there are times when I make up my mind on emotion and then try to “argue the case” with logic; that is, use logic to reinforce my current opinion. Giving up securely held beliefs is tough. I am good about avoiding some of these.

No a penny dropped off the Empire State Building won’t kill you; it reaches terminal velocity at a drop of 50 feet. But a ball point pen is another matter.

Religion and fundamentalism
This is how some creationists see evolution.

Surf to PZ Myers’ blog to see more.

So yes, this claim about “Village Idiots” is not really an exaggeration.

Then we have this:

That is right: Pat Robertson said that prayer could have turned the tornadoes away. It is astonishing how superstitious some adults are.

March 6, 2012 Posted by | mind, religion, science, shoulder rehabilitation, superstition, swimming | Leave a comment

Icy Moons, Insulated Americans, Infantile Altruism and the Science of Sarcasm

Nature reports on a paper that claims that the wave function in quantum mechanics is not some mere mathematical/statistical metaphor but rather represents an actual physical “object”:

The debate over how to understand the wavefunction goes back to the 1920s. In the ‘Copenhagen interpretation’ pioneered by Danish physicist Niels Bohr, the wavefunction was considered a computational tool: it gave correct results when used to calculate the probability of particles having various properties, but physicists were encouraged not to look for a deeper explanation of what the wavefunction is.

Albert Einstein also favoured a statistical interpretation of the wavefunction, although he thought that there had to be some other as-yet-unknown underlying reality. But others, such as Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger, considered the wavefunction, at least initially, to be a real physical object.

The Copenhagen interpretation later fell out of popularity, but the idea that the wavefunction reflects what we can know about the world, rather than physical reality, has come back into vogue in the past 15 years with the rise of quantum information theory, Valentini says.

Rudolph and his colleagues may put a stop to that trend. Their theorem effectively says that individual quantum systems must “know” exactly what state they have been prepared in, or the results of measurements on them would lead to results at odds with quantum mechanics. They declined to comment while their preprint is undergoing the journal-submission process, but say in their paper that their finding is similar to the notion that an individual coin being flipped in a biased way — for example, so that it comes up ‘heads’ six out of ten times — has the intrinsic, physical property of being biased, in contrast to the idea that the bias is simply a statistical property of many coin-flip outcomes.

OF COURSE, this is just a preprint and the paper is undergoing peer review…and we know how this often turns out. Nevertheless, this article interests me as it talks about a key issue.

Does Eurpoa (one of Jupiter’s moons) contain liquid water? Here is a recent paper which says “yes”: a lot of it in shallow lakes. I’ve linked to the paper which actually has some details along with the mathematical modeling.

Yes, Americans are fat and getting fatter:

If Americans stay on this path, 83 percent of men will be overweight or obese by 2020. Women are right behind them, with 72 percent projected to be overweight or obese by then.

The implications go far beyond tight pants and groaning sofas. Obesity is a big risk factor for cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Imagining an America of overweight, unhealthy people gives public health officials the willies. And it should be frightening to us civilians, too.[...]

He looked at current rates for cardiovascular risk factors including smoking, lack of exercise, diet, weight, blood pressure and cholesterol. He found that reductions in smoking, high cholesterol and high blood pressure since 1988 have been offset by weight gain, diabetes, and pre-diabetes.

Then he took the increases in weight, diabetes, and prediabetes, and predicted where they would go in the next two decades. That’s how he came up with more than three-quarters of Americans becoming overweight.

“It’s really striking,” Huffman told Shots. “It, gosh, it makes you want to figure out solutions.”

That’s especially true because we aren’t exemplars of healthy living right now. Right now, 32 percent of men and 34 percent of women are obese. Those numbers are projected to rise to 43 and 42 percent in 2020, nudging up toward half of all people.

The number of people who have diabetes or are pre-diabetic is also projected to increase, from 6.3 percent and 37 percent of women to 8.3 percent and 44 percent. Huffman said: “That’s more than half of women, if current trends continue. It’s not much better for men, as you would imagine.”

Clearly we need some help. Just about everybody knows they need to eat well and exercise more, but just knowing that isn’t doing the trick.

And, of course, this is a sign of the times: the article points out that doctors avoid discussing their patient’s weight with them, because the oh-so-sensitive patients won’t go to the doctor anymore!

Hmmm, I get snarky and sarcastic at times. Well, there are some studies on the topic of…yes, sarcasm! This made for some interesting reading; here are a couple of findings which surprised me:

Sarcasm seems to exercise the brain more than sincere statements do. Scientists who have monitored the electrical activity of the brains of test subjects exposed to sarcastic statements have found that brains have to work harder to understand sarcasm.

That extra work may make our brains sharper, according to another study. College students in Israel listened to complaints to a cellphone company’s customer service line. The students were better able to solve problems creatively when the complaints were sarcastic as opposed to just plain angry. Sarcasm “appears to stimulate complex thinking and to attenuate the otherwise negative effects of anger,” according to the study authors.

The mental gymnastics needed to perceive sarcasm includes developing a “theory of mind” to see beyond the literal meaning of the words and understand that the speaker may be thinking of something entirely different. A theory of mind allows you to realize that when your brother says “nice job” when you spill the milk, he means just the opposite, the jerk.


But others researchers have found that the mocking, smug, superior nature of sarcasm is perceived as more hurtful than a plain-spoken criticism. The Greek root for sarcasm, sarkazein, means to tear flesh like dogs.

According to Haiman, dog-eat-dog sarcastic commentary is just part of our quest to be cool. “You’re distancing yourself, you’re making yourself superior,” Haiman says. “If you’re sincere all the time, you seem naive.”


Northerners also were more likely to think sarcasm was funny: 56 percent of Northerners found sarcasm humorous while only 35 percent of Southerners did. The New Yorkers and male students from either location were more likely to describe themselves as sarcastic.

And here is one finding that didn’t surprise me:

Sarcasm detection is an essential skill if one is going to function in a modern society dripping with irony. “Our culture in particular is permeated with sarcasm,” says Katherine Rankin, a neuropsychologist at the University of California at San Francisco. “People who don’t understand sarcasm are immediately noticed. They’re not getting it. They’re not socially adept.”

Sarcasm so saturates 21st-century America that according to one study of a database of telephone conversations, 23 percent of the time that the phrase “yeah, right” was used, it was uttered sarcastically. Entire phrases have almost lost their literal meanings because they are so frequently said with a sneer. “Big deal,” for example. When’s the last time someone said that to you and meant it sincerely? “My heart bleeds for you” almost always equals “Tell it to someone who cares,” and “Aren’t you special” means you aren’t.

“It’s practically the primary language” in modern society, says John Haiman, a linguist at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and the author of Talk is Cheap: Sarcasm, Alienation and the Evolution of Language.

Altruism: is it fundamental?

In a new study, researchers had 15-month old babies watch movies of a person distributing crackers or milk to two others, either evenly or unevenly. Babies look at things longer when they’re surprised, so measuring looking time can be used to gain insight into what babies expect to happen. In the study, the infants looked longer when the person in the video distributed the foods unevenly, suggesting surprise, and perhaps even an early perception of fairness.

But the team also say they established a link between fairness and altruism. In a second part of the experiment, the babies chose between two toys, and were then asked to share one of the toys with an experimenter. About a third of the babies were “selfish sharers”: they shared the toy they hadn’t chosen. Another third were “altruistic sharers”: they shared their chosen toy. (The rest chose not to share. They may have been inhibited by the unfamiliarity of the experimenter, or maybe they just weren’t that into sharing.)

What’s interesting about the second half of the study was that by and large it was the babies who had previously been surprised by the unfair cracker and milk distribution who tended to share the preferred toy with the experimenter (the altruistic sharers). The babies who shared the rejected toy hadn’t expressed much surprise over unequal distribution. This led the researchers to suggest that there’s a fundamental link between altruism and a sense of equity.

An alternative interpretation for babies’ perception of fairness could be that babies merely show surprise when physical things are divided unevenly, the authors suggest. For example, that they could just be taken aback by “violations of non-moral conventions,” naturally assuming “that goods are usually divided into equal amounts.” But, the authors argue, the fact that the second part of the study connected the “altruistic” behaviors to the perception of unevenness speaks to the fact that babies “evaluate events along morally relevant dimensions.” This led the researchers to conclude that social and moral development occur in tandem. [...]

In fact, argue the authors, it’s even possible that babies are more likely to be altruistic than older people, because they think less about it. Study author Jessica Sommerville says that “some researchers have suggested that young children and infants may be more blindly altruistic than older children and adults, because they don’t yet possess the ability to be discerning.”

So maybe we should take a lesson from the youngsters who share their toys with random people without a second thought. Maybe thinking about it less is the key to kindness.

That is interesting, isn’t it. But this type of study have more value than “hey, this is neat”; it has some practical applications as well, as Schneier points out on his security blog:.

What does this have to do with security? Everything. It’s not until we understand the natural human tendencies of fairness and altruism that we can really understand people who take advantage of those tendencies, and build systems to prevent them from taking advantage.

November 18, 2011 Posted by | astronomy, health, mind, nature, physics, science, social/political, space, Uncategorized | Leave a comment


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