Saturday, December 31, 2011

Occupy Gatesville

Yesterday, I logged in to my Hotmail account, using my Chrome browser to do so. Today, I opened Chrome and what to my wondering eyes should appear? MSN is now my Chrome homepage!

This is outrageous! 

I normally open Hotmail from within my Explorer browser. I have a few other sites that are optimized for IE, so I habitually switch browsers for certain sites. I have a few other sites that work best with Mozilla Firefox. And you know what? Switching is no problem for me. I like the options, and the differences, and the way the companies are forced to compete with each other. Normally, the healthy competition benefits us all.

But when MSN inserts itself into my preferences and makes itself the homepage for Chrome, replacing my preference for an iGoogle homepage for Chrome, that is going too far! That is underhanded. That is, if not a crime, at the very least an egregious party foul. 

Has anyone else noticed this? Are there other concerned citizens out there? Is it time for an "Occupy" movement on Bill Gates' front lawn?

Friday, December 30, 2011

Connecting Brains with Machines

I have an exciting book recommendation:

Beyond Boundaries: The New Neuroscience of Connecting Brains with Machines---and How It Will Change Our Lives (9780805090529): Miguel Nicolelis

This book recommendation goes out to my friends at the Army Research Institute for Behavioral Sciences, my colleagues at the US Army MANPRINT Directorate, and all interested in human-systems integration for performance enhancement or for post-injury rehabilitation.

Dr Nicolelis and his team are completing neurological research in which monkeys are able to control a joystick just by thinking.  That is amazing. They first mapped a monkey's thoughts as she used a joystick to get a juice treat. They then used her brain signals to power a robotic arm in another room. They "tuned" the monkey's brainwaves until the robotic arm copied the monkey's real arm. Then they removed the monkey's joystick, but not her juice treats. They brought the robotic arm and joystick into view. The monkey soon figured out how to move the robotic arm and control the joystick to get a reward, just by thinking.

This research has obvious implications for performance enhancement. Can you imagine an astronaut or a race car driver or a mechanic who is literally "at one" with his tools?

More subtle applications are doubly intriguing: imagine being a quadriplegic, like the late Christopher Reeves, or like so many soldiers and Marines returning from war. And now imagine donning an exoskeleton with robotic arms and legs which respond to signals from your brain.


Sex, fire, alcohol, electricity, nuclear power... There are down-sides to every advance. I am sure this technology can be abused in the wrong hands. However, I am hopeful it will be a net benefit to humanity, and the risks will be managed well.

Incidentally, to my animal-loving friends and family, the testing in these experiments was gentle on the subjects. Dr. Nicolelis intends to begin testing on human subjects in 2012. Personally, I think this is a very exciting development.
Interview with Dr. Nicolelis on the Diane Rehm Show

Dr. Nicolelis's website (includes a link to his interview with Jon Stewart)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Connect the Dots

I really enjoyed and highly recommend the article The Key To Creativity, According To Steve Jobs: Connecting the Dots which appeared in a recent edition of Edudemic

The author points to several instances in which Steve Jobs used the analogy of connecting the dots to explain his success. He was able to see seemingly different ideas and connect them in unique ways. He points out that this skill is the essence of creativity. If Ford had asked customers what they wanted, they'd have asked for a faster horse. Creative people are not limited by evolutionary improvements. Instead, like Jobs and Ford before him, they give people what they don't even know they want yet.

Another point that resonates with me is the combination of art and science in one person. Jobs not only understood the science of technology, but he also understood the importance of design and marketing. In this way, I would describe Jobs as an architect, that profession that most perfectly blends the science of materials and function with the art of form and perception.

Read it here: The Key To Creativity, According To Steve Jobs


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Belgian beer | The Economist

Credit: this photo appears in The Economist

I recommend this awesome article. Belgian beer: Brewed force | The Economist

The Economist + Belgian Beer = Brewed Force

H/T: Scott

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Visit from St. Nicholaus

‘Twas the night before Christmas, no reindeer in sight
When a low rumbling sound split the still night.

With black rubber soles and a rugged red coat,
St. Nick rides a Harley and has no need for oats.

Fur-trimmed red leather from head to toe,
The Harley’s bright chrome reflecting the snow.

The saddlebags overflowed with all kinds of toys
Labeled for delivery to good girls and boys.

His eyes how they twinkled like headlights so bright,
The beard of his chin was glowing bright white.

The stump of his stogie clenched tight in his teeth,
Puffed plumes of smoke in the shape of a wreath.

He had a broad face and a little round gut,
And the bar and shield tattooed on his butt.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
Like a fat back tire right off of the shelf.

With a wink of his eye and a nod of his Kevlar,
I was stunned and speechless—nothing rhymes with Kevlar.

Santa spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.

He nibbled a cookie and swallowed the stout
Fired up the Harley, and headed back out.

Up the chimney he rose as he cracked the throttle,
You could hear him scream for a nitrous bottle.

Then I heard him exclaim as he rode out of sight,
Merry Christmas to all, let’s ride Harleys tonight!

Ode to Christmas

While enjoying NPR this afternoon, I heard the annual rebroadcast of Chuck Kraemer's brilliant ode to the insane National commercial blitzkrieg formerly known as Christmas. It made me think.

Please note the correct spelling of Mr. Kraemer's surname if you are planning to Google him.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Odds-On Favorite Redux

Here is a follow-up to an earlier post regarding calculating the odds of a particular country being the next to have three unique visits to PhilosFX.

On 12 Dec, there were a total of approx 2500 flag views on the Flag Counter. (Compare that total and the picture above with the new total and current status below.)

At that time, the top 47 countries had 3 or more flag visits. There is room for 48 countries in the display, so the question was, which country would be the next to have 3 flag visits and thus fill a spot in the display?

Thirteen countries had 2 visits each, from # 48 (Georgia) shown on the screen capture above, to # 60 (Vietnam). Note: If you click on the live Flag Counter display at the bottom of the page, you can see all 90 or so countries that have one or more flags.

I commented that one of those thirteen countries with 2 flags at the time would most likely be the 48th country to boast three or more unique visits to PhilosFX. I allowed that it was also possible, but unlikely, for a country with one or fewer visits to get to three faster.

Then I posed these two questions:

1. How would you calculate the odds of any one of these countries becoming the 48th country to boast 3 or more unique visits to PhilosFX?

2. Using your approach, which country do you predict will be the 48th country to boast 3 or more unique visits to PhilosFX?

My unpublished answer:

1. The odds of any one of those 13 countries which already had 2 flags  being next to get a third are about the same, approximately 0.12% each (2/2500 + 1/2500).

2. I would use momentum to weight the odds in favor of those countries with the most recent activity. Using a sliding scale, I would put Georgia's odds of being the next country to get its third flag at  about 0.15%

3. The odds of a country with one flag getting two more before any of those with two get a third are remote (1/2500 * 1/2500 * 1/2500).

4. The odds of a country with zero flags getting three before any of those with two get a third are vanishingly small.

Based on this logic, my guess was that Georgia had a slight advantage to become the 48th country with two flags to get the third, which--if all else remained unchanged, would push Georgia up to 41st place and drop Chile into 48th on the display.

A week later, on 19 December, it happened! All 48 countries in the display had 3 or more flags. By then, lots of changes had taken place to the rankings in the range from 27 to 61.  Nine countries in this range moved up in the rankings, only one stayed at the same position, and the remaining 15 slipped due to inactivity.

Georgia's slight advantage over the competition was not enough to produce the weakly predicted result. Here are some thoughts as to why it did not: 

1. The list is volatile. Only one country (Israel) out of 35 in this range did not move up or down in the rankings.

2. At the low-volume end of the spectrum, small increases of just one flag can produce fairly wide swings in the rankings.

       a. Biggest rank gainers: Serbia and Argentina went from 2 flags to 3 and climbed 16 and 14 positions, respectively.   

       b. The rising countries displaced some inactive ones more than others, depending on the date of the most recent activity. Bulgaria, Ecuador, and New Zealand fell 4, 4, and 5 positions, respectively

       c. Iceland got its 2d flag and moved up 11 positions to #50, ahead of idle Georgia!

3. Big jumps in the rankings by Pakistan (43 to 38) and Portugal (46-39) within the Top 48 and more dramatically by Serbia (59 to 43) and Argentina (58 to 44) into the Top 48 caused two countries to drop out of the Top 48: Chile (47 to 49) and Georgia (48 to 51).

As a result of dramatic gains by a few countries, Saudi Arabia, formerly #45, was knocked down three positions to occupy the 48th position on the display. My pick, Georgia, still waiting for flag #3, dropped three positions to #51.

It'll all change daily, and it doesn't really matter much in the grand scheme of things.

I guess the bottom line to all of this is simple: I really like knowing that people from all around the planet have discovered PhilosFX, and many of them have come back. There are, as of this writing, about 2750 unique visitors from about 90 countries, and over 14,000 visits in all. Clearly many of the 2750 are repeat visitors. 

When I was young I loved connecting to the world around me by collecting postage stamps from around the globe. In this day of electronic communication, stamps are becoming a thing of the past. These days I am watching my flag count instead, feeling somehow connected to the global stream of consciousness, and counting my many blessings.

But then again, I just like to count.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Extraordinary photos!

Presented for your viewing pleasure are these selected photos from neferjournal galleries. Depicting natural and man-made beauty, these photos are so stunning they will take your breath away. Lightly edited captions are lifted from the email which alerted me to these incredible pictures. 


Dubai. The view from the skyscraper Burj Khalifa. The height of the building is 828 m (163 floors).
And this is the view looking down
I have no idea, but I like it

The world's highest chained carousel, located in Vienna, at a height of 117 meters.

Emerald Lake in the crater of an extinct volcano. Tongariro National Park, New Zealand

Madrid: Office of Selgas Cano

Thor's Well aka "the gates of the dungeon" on Cape Perpetua, Oregon. At moderate tide and strong surf, flowing water creates a fantastic landscape
These trees grow in the forest near Gryfino, Poland. The cause of the curvature is unknown

A cafe on the border between Belgium and the Netherlands
Twice a year in the Gulf of Mexico rays migrate. About 10 thousand stingrays swim from the Yucatan Peninsula to Florida in the spring and back in the fall.
In the resort town of Skagen you can watch an amazing natural phenomenon. This city is the northernmost point of Denmark, where the Baltic and North Seas meet. The two opposing tides in this place can not merge because they have different densities.
In the Chinese province of Shandong is a bridge across the Gulf of Jiaozhou . The bridge length over 36 km is calculated for eight car lanes, and is the longest sea bridge in the world.


Day and night views of a monument in Kaunas, Lithuania
This statue, created by Bruno Catalano, is located in France
Family portrait

China. The longest recorded traffic jam in the world, 260 kilometers
Paris computer games store. In fact, the floor is absolutely flat.
Marcus Levine creates his art by nailing a white wooden panel. At his latest series of works exhibited in a gallery in London, Marcus used more than 50,000 nails.
In the city of Buford (USA) lives just one person. He works as a janitor and as a mayor.
Haus Rizzi - Germany .
Lena Pillars. Russia, the Lena River.
Favelas of Brazil . The boundary between wealth and poverty.
Lost paradise in the Indian Ocean. Isle of Lamu.
Chicago. Balcony on the 103rd floor.

Same balcony as seen from outside
View of the sunset from inside the wave.
China. This unique geological phenomenon known as the Danxia landform is located in Zhangye, Province of Gansu. The color is from red sandstone and other rocks.
In northwestern Montana, USA. The water is so transparent that it seems that this is a quite shallow lake. In fact, it’s very deep.
Airport in the Maldives is located on an artificial island in the middle of the Indian Ocean

Lighthouse in Mare, France. The guard must be one of the most courageous people on the planet! Not everyone will have a smoke in such weather, and in such a place!

Photo of storm in Montana, USA, 2010

Dubai: Skyscraper Crescent Moon Tower
Heavy fog in Sydney, which enveloped the whole city

The river above the river: Magdeburg Water Bridge, Germany.
Wind rows
Cars and buses wait at a plane crossing
Restaurant on a cliff on the east coast of Zanzibar. Depending on the tide the restaurant can be reached both on foot and by boat.
Desert with Phacelia (Scorpion Weed) flowering once in several years
Balloons over Cappadocia, Turkey
Banpo Bridge in Seoul, South Korea
Autumn camouflage
An unusual tunnel in California 's Sequoia National Park

The $350 million Dynamic Architecture building, a project of an eponymous Florence, Italy-based firm led by architect David Fisher, will literally spin--with each individual floor self-propelled, voice-controlled and even capable of generating environmentally friendly power.

Meet my little blue-eyed friend

Incidentally, the email which alerted me to these incredible pictures invites the recipient to download the photos, which is something I do not recommend one do without checking the original source!

Naturally, I want to share these images, too. But rather than forwarding the email, I simply copied the images here and credited the original source. Formatting was a pain (and I am still not happy), but this way I can share the views without passing along any potential viruses.

  • Comments on the quality of the photography?
  • Do you have favorite photos?
  • Thoughts on the security issue?
  • Links to similar photo compilations?
  • Corrections to any of the captions?

Hat tip: H.E., who also contributed one of my most popular posts, a reformatted email about paraprosdokianisms