Man's greatest addiction is...

Man's greatest addiction is controlling other people's lives

".... should be banned because it didn't work out so well for one person"
".... should not be allowed because it affects the view from my house"
".... should be taxed to death. Put those damn rich people back where they belong."
".... is evil, could lead to any number of bigger problems and should be banned."
".... cannot be installed by anyone other than a highly trained professional because one person died trying"
".... is bad for the environment and should not be allowed."
".... should not be allowed to sit in a playground by himself because he might be a future paedophile"
  • Current Music: Beyond the Borderless by Legion of Green Men

Quantum honeybees

[Too bloody important to lose via only a link so reproduced here entirely]

Adam Frank
How could bees of little brain come up with anything as complex as a dance language? The answer could lie not in biology but in six-dimensional math and the bizarre world of quantum mechanics.

Honeybees don't have much in the way of brains. Their inch-long bodies hold at most a few million neurons. Yet with such meager mental machinery honeybees sustain one of the most intricate and explicit languages in the animal kingdom. In the darkness of the hive, bees manage to communicate the precise direction and distance of a newfound food source, and they do it all in the choreography of a dance. Scientists have known of the bee's dance language for more than 70 years, and they have assembled a remarkably complete dictionary of its terms, but one fundamental question has stubbornly remained unanswered: How do they do it? How do these simple animals encode so much detailed information in such a varied language? Honeybees may not have much brain, by they do have a secret.

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  • Current Mood: hopeful hopeful
  • Current Music: LunaSol - Butterfly

Smart People Choke Under Pressure

[Quoted from Slashdot]

Smart People Choke Under Pressure

People perceived as the most likely to succeed might also be the most likely to crumble under pressure. A new study finds that individuals with high working-memory capacity, which normally allows them to excel, crack under pressure and do worse on simple exams than when allowed to work with no constraints. Those with less capacity score low, too, but they tend not to be affected by pressure

Neuroscience of music

[Quoted from BoingBoing]

In the new issue of Scientific American, UC Irvine neurobiologist Norman Weinberger looks at how the brain processes music. Surveying the research in his and others' labs, Weinberger examines how our brain "retunes" itself to various kinds of musical input and how we've evolved our response to music.

"An imaging experiment in 2001 by Anne Blood and Zatorre of McGill sought to better specify the brain regions involved in emotional reactions to music. This study used mild emotional stimuli, those associated with people's reactions to musical consonance versus dissonance. Consonant musical intervals are generally those for which a simple ratio of frequencies exists between two tones. An example is middle C (about 260 hertz, or Hz) and middle G (about 390 Hz). Their ratio is 2:3, forming a pleasant-sounding "perfect fifth" interval when they are played simultaneously. In contrast, middle C and C sharp (about 277 Hz) have a "complex" ratio of about 8:9 and are considered unpleasant, having a "rough" sound.

What are the underlying brain mechanisms of that experience? PET (positron emission tomography) imaging conducted while subjects listened to consonant or dissonant chords showed that different localized brain regions were involved in the emotional reactions. Consonant chords activated the orbitofrontal area (part of the reward system) of the right hemisphere and also part of an area below the corpus callosum. In contrast, dissonant chords activated the right parahippocampal gyrus. Thus, at least two systems, each dealing with a different type of emotion, are at work when the brain processes emotions related to music. How the different patterns of activity in the auditory system might be specifically linked to these differentially reactive regions of the hemispheres remains to be discovered.

In the same year, Blood and Zatorre added a further clue to how music evokes pleasure. When they scanned the brains of musicians who had chills of euphoria when listening to music, they found that music activated some of the same reward systems that are stimulated by food, sex and addictive drugs."

Reflections on reflection - Henk Barendregt

[Quoted from Lambda the Ultimate - Programming Languages Weblog]

Reflections on reflection - Henk Barendregt


Here's something to exercise both brain hemispheres. Henk Barendregt needs no introduction for many LtU readers - he literally wrote "the book" on the lambda calculus, and that only hints at the profound impact his work has had on lambda calculus and type theory.

The page linked above lists two overlapping papers, both about reflection:

Reflection plays in several ways a fundamental role for our existence. Among other places the phenomenon occurs in life, in language, in computing and in mathematical reasoning. A fifth place in which reflection occurs is our spiritual development. In all of these cases the effects of reflection are powerful, even downright dramatic. We should be aware of these effects and use them in a responsible way.

A prototype situation where reflection occurs is in the so called lambda calculus. This is a formal theory that is capable of describing algorithms, logical and mathematical proofs, but also itself.

As the first paragraph quoted above implies, the scope of these two papers extends far beyond the lambda calculus, into fields such as biology and meditation. Between the two papers, there's something for everyone:

"Reflection and its use, from science to meditation" is wide-ranging, covering reflection related to living cells, formal languages, mathematics, art, computers, and the human mind.

"Reflection and its use, with an emphasis on languages and lambda calculus", focuses specifically on reflection in formal languages, including combinatory logic and lambda calculus.

Entanglement breaks new record

Entanglement breaks new record
Physicists have succeeded in entangling five photons for the first time. Although four photons have been entangled before, five is the minimum number needed for universal error correction in quantum computation. Moreover, the same team has demonstrated a process called "open-destination teleportation" for the first time (Z Zhao et al. 2004 Nature 430 54). The results represent a major breakthrough in efforts to exploit the laws of quantum mechanics in quantum information processing.

Kim Jong Il's fanatical food fetish

[Quoted from Boing Boing]

Kim Jong Il's fanatical food fetish

Todays' LA Times has a great story about North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il's obsession with expensive, exotic food. He sends trusted aides all over the world to buy morsels of gourmet food and eats sashimi carved from live fish, while his subjects dig in the dirt with sticks looking for bugs to eat.
Kim insists that his rice be cooked over a wood fire using trees cut from Mt. Paektu, a legendary peak on the Chinese border, according to a memoir written by a nephew of Kim's first wife. He has his own private source of spring water. Female workers inspect each grain of rice to ensure that they meet the leader's standards. (The nephew, Lee Young Nam, who defected to South Korea in the 1980s, was assassinated by suspected North Korean agents in Seoul in 1997.)

Kim's refined palate is not merely a matter of idle gossip, but the subject of serious study by political psychologists trying to understand the North Korean leadership.

Jerrold M. Post, a psychiatrist who founded and was the longtime director of the CIA's Center for the Analysis of Personality and Political Behavior, says Kim's obsession with eating the best food comes from being the son of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, revered by the propaganda machine as a god-like figure. Post diagnosed the younger Kim as a malign narcissist in large part based on information about his eating habits.

"This is how you prepare food and water for a god."

The former South Korean Ambassador says this is a good thing: "Kim Jong Il loves life. He is a drinker, a womanizer, a gourmet. To start a war requires an ascetic like Hitler who doesn't care if he lives or dies. But I can't see Kim starting a war that he will surely lose." Link

Ian sez: This is an update to the post on Kim Jong Il's food fanaticism. The link is an excerpt from a book by his former cook (who is now hiding) and it's very interesting. It's from the Jan/Feb issue of Atlantic Monthly, and I believe it's the only part of the book available in English.

Neurology of humor

[Quoted from Boing Boing]

Neurology of humor

Cognitive neuroscientists at Dartmouth College have shown that the part of your brain that "gets" a joke is not the same as the region that deems it funny or not. To test their hypothesis, the researchers conducted functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) on subjects while they watched Seinfeld and The Simpsons. From a Scientific American report on the study:
"The investigators found that instances of humor detection lit up the left inferior frontal and posterior temporal cortices--the left side of the brain. Humor appreciation, in contrast, led to spikes in activity in the emotional areas deeper inside--specifically, in the bilateral regions of the insular cortex and the amygdala... Past research has shown the left inferior frontal cortex to be involved in reconciling ambiguous meanings with prior knowledge. And ambiguity, incongruity and surprise are key elements in many jokes."
Still, the results are preliminary. When SciAm asked an outside psychologist for his expert opinion on the research, he commented: "If some people don't find The Simpsons funny, it's premature to say that they have a defective frontal lobe." Of course, he's wrong. Link

You actually can fold a piece of paper in half more than 8 times

[Quoted from]

You actually can fold a piece of paper in half more than 8 times

After lunch today, I ate a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, which came individually wrapped in a surprisingly thin tin foil wrapper. Using the back of my fingernail, I smoothed the foil out into a perfect square with only the tiniest wrinkles remaining. Then I started folding the foil repeatedly in half, flattening it out between each fold. After 7 foldings, a tiny rectangle remained, unwilling to be further folded. I...

Human Locator

[Quoted from Play with the Machine]

Human Locator

Human Locator / "The Human Locator analyses a camera feed in real time, sending detailed information about people's location, size, and movements. This data is then used as input to control projections, video, graphic animations, and sound. The Human Locator offers a complex analysis procedure and precise controls for accurate tracking in a variety of conditions. The variables it outputs can be used in an infinite variety of ways, limited only by your imagination." Remember those advertising scenes from the movie Minority Report? Minus the personalization, this is what the Human Locator enables. All off the shelf stuff hardware/software too.

Passwords you'll never forget, but can't recall

[Quoted from CleverCS :: Articles :: News Articles]

Passwords you'll never forget, but can't recall

From the paper:

"Imagine having a password or other method of certifying your identity that doesn't have to be consciously remembered, and can't be stolen or coerced from you. Not biometrics, such as fingerprints or iris patterns, which are observable (with special hardware) and can be copied, but something unobservable... With imprinted memories, it is important to distinguish between recognition and recall. We easily recognize them as familiar, but to systematically recall what we have learned and transfer it to another ranges from difficult to impossible."

Clustering by Compression

Clustering by Compression

From the abstract:

"We present a new method for clustering based on compression. The method doesn't use subject-specific features or background knowledge, and works as follows: First, we determine a universal similarity distance, the normalized compression distance or NCD, computed from the lengths of compressed data files (singly and in pairwise concatenation). Second, we apply a hierarchical clustering method. The NCD is universal in that it is not restricted to a specific application area, and works across application area boundaries. A theoretical precursor, the normalized information distance, co-developed by one of the authors, is provably optimal but uses the non-computable notion of Kolmogorov complexity. We propose precise notions of similarity metric, normal compressor, and show that the NCD based on a normal compressor is a similarity metric that approximates universality. To extract a hierarchy of clusters from the distance matrix, we determine a dendrogram (binary tree) by a new quartet method and a fast heuristic to implement it. The method is implemented and available as public software, and is robust under choice of different compressors."